Saleem Khan, 29, was hand selected by top generals to serve as an enlisted aide to the deputy chief of staff in the U.S. Air Force. Only a few enlisted aides are offered this opportunity, as they work closely with high profile dignitaries on a regular basis. In his role, Khan proved himself to be a dedicated worker over the course of a ten-year military career. An avid fan of Caribbean food, he has planned, prepared and executed dozens of social events from start to finish. Think of him as a master of high-end military catering...
When you were little what did you want to be when you grew up?
Ever since I was 5, growing up in Trinidad, I wanted to be in the US Military. My family came to the US when I was 15 to pursue greater opportunities. When I was 18, I enlisted.
What inspired you about the US Military?
The opportunities they can provide, the training, the education, the contacts, the experiences, everything! The way they have helped me prepare for life is not something I could have learned on the outside.
What has your military career been like?
I started in the Air Force in 1997 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. I was there for 5 years. During that time, I worked in healthcare management. After that, I cross trained into contracting and acquisitions and was then stationed at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, DC. I was in charge of negotiating multi million dollar deals. It was pretty exciting. During that time, I attended the Defense Acquisitions University, which is where I earned my certification as an acquisition professional.
Favorite TV show
When did your interest turn to catering and event planning instead of acquisitions?
A few years back, one of the senior enlisted aides, whom I greatly admired, suggested I apply for this opportunity. It sounded like something I’d be quite good at. I put together my resume and a few months later, I was offered the position. I’ve always been interested in food. I love eating food and I love cooking food. When my brother enrolled in the French Culinary Institute, I started thinking more about cooking as a career. When I joined the military, I was working in the healthcare management field. After a few years, I decided that I wanted to try something new, so I got into acquisitions. I earned my certificate and then this job opened. Since only a few are hand-selected for the job, I was thrilled to have a chance at the opportunity.
What is a typical day for you?
Every day is different. Today for example, I’m planning a social function for the Air Force 12 Outstanding Airman of the year. I spent the majority of my morning going to meetings about the event. Then I went to the site to evaluate the space, and then I met with the team to come up with a menu and a game plan. Tomorrow, I’ll be shopping for the food. The next day I’ll be cooking, setting up, serving and cleaning up. Basically, we do it all.
What have you learned about food and foodservice management over the past few years?
There is a lot you can do with food. It’s not nearly as easy to prepare as it may seem. It’s a lot of work and I commend chefs, especially in the noncommercial segments, for all the hard work they put in. What is your favorite kind of food? I like anything spicy! I grew up in the Caribbean, so those flavor profiles often find their way into my menu mix, within reason. If I had to pick one food to live on for the rest of my life, it would be rôti.
Are there any industry trends you’re watching?
Everyone talks about nutrition and health on the outside, but in the Air Force, it’s much more focused. Food is fuel. We have this program called “Fit to Fight” and everything we do is geared toward that motto. I try to keep current on the Food Network too. Any favorite shows? I like Bobby Flay and Iron Chef. Top Chef is okay too.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
In five years, I’d like to be promoted up the chain. I would love to be a senior enlisted aide working for the chief of staff for the Air Force or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but that’s more likely in ten years. Someday, when I’m out of the military, I’d like to enter the business world and perhaps find a way to combine my acquisitions and food management abilities. I’d love to open my own restaurant or even start