When Akram Said walks into work, the last thing he is expecting is a normal day. He and his staff are on their feet from the time they come in to the time they leave. Each day brings with it a new flavor during his 10- to 14-hour shift.

As a full-time sous chef at the downtown Brooklyn, New York restaurant French Louise, the 24-year-old Dallas native faces many different challenges orchestrating the kitchen. With the help of two other managers, he makes sure the restaurant maintains a productive flow and rhythm from the cooks to the servers to the diners. Being on the front-end of the cooking line seems like peaches and cream compared to one of the biggest challenges Said has to face on a daily basis: having to work with pork.

Muslims who decide to pursue a career in culinary arts are constantly faced with this challenge as well as having to cook or bake with alcohol and lard. Putting faith before food is conducive for these chefs.

“In culinary school, it was different,” shares Said, who studied culinary arts at Dallas’s Le Cordon Bleu for 14 months. “If our assignment had to do with pork, my instructor would simply swap mine with lamb or something else with a similar taste or texture.” However, the same liberty does not apply at work for Said, who specializes in French and Japanese fusion cuisine. Opting out of cooking pork is not as easy. “As a chef, I am responsible for the taste and integrity of all the food that comes out of the kitchen,” says Said. “It is a big risk sending out a dish I have not tasted. Thankfully, I have a dedicated team of amazing cooks who do the taste-tests for me and give their feedback.”

Zubair Mohajir, 30, is an entry level chef at the Pump Room in Chicago and is enrolled in a nine-month culinary arts certification program at Le Cordon Bleu. He has had the opportunity to work at places like The Ogden under Chef Chris De La Cueva, which originally opened his eyes to the fast-paced and challenging world of fine dining, as well as stage a few shifts at Chicago’s famous Alinea. With these amazing opportunities came challenges for Mohajir similar to those Said has had to face.

“Before culinary school, I never really had to handle working with pork or alcohol, so it was definitely something new,” says the Qatar-raised finance major-turned-chef. “French cooking involves many dishes where lard or bacon is rendered at the beginning in order to establish the base flavor. Obviously, tasting is out of the question, so I have always either had my head chef or classmates do the tasting in order to make sure the flavors are where they should be.” Mohajir continues, “Currently at work, there are a few instances where we have to deal with pork, but again there are always people there to taste. If I do need to handle the meat, I wear gloves.”

When Rod Westwood, 45, was a culinary student, cooking with pork and alcohol was a requirement in the curriculum. He attended Scottsdale Culinary Institute and Le Cordon Bleu Chicago. “Those Muslim students who chose not to taste the foods cooked with pork or alcohol potentially let their grades suffer if something was not correct,” says the current Chicago resident who originally grew up in Richmond, California. “Now [out of school], I simply try to avoid it or find suitable substitutes,” Westwood says.

After completing certification programs in culinary arts and patisserie and baking, Westwood, who is also a budding writer and pursuing an Islamic Studies degree from American Islamic College, chose not to deal with the stress of working full-time in a professional kitchen. This also eliminated the issue of having to work with prohibited foods. Instead he wants to offer ways to help teach people the basics of healthy, halal cooking.

“Since embracing Islam, it has opened my eyes to a whole new world of food,” he says. “It has challenged me to find new ways of cooking that actually end up making the food healthier and taste better.” Westwood continues, “I would like to start gardening and cooking clubs to teach people how to grow their own produce and then make healthy meals with it.”

Like Said, Mohajir, and Westwood, having to potentially work with alcohol or lard was a serious concern for new mother Uzma Hussain, 33, of Darien, Illinois. The part-time pharmacist by profession completed a five-month program from the French Pastry School in Chicago, specializing in wedding cakes, birthday cakes, show-piece cakes, every day cakes, chocolate art, and pastries.

“I had been baking all my life as a hobby but then realized in order to get to the next level I would need professional training,” says Hussain, a former intern at Christopher Garrens Cakes in Cosa Mesa, California, for six months post schooling. “I lucked out not having to use lard for my internship. In fact, it is rarely ever used by higher-end bakeries.”

However, despite the avoidance of baking with lard, working with alcohol was still a challenge for Hussain. “At pastry school, we did learn about the different alcohols used in baking,” she says. “I just told them that I would not be using alcohol. One trial cake we did that required alcohol in its recipe was an English fruit cake which I fortunately was able to do with a partner. I simply asked my partner to work with the alcohol.”

Hussain also mentions that there are misconceptions about the usage of lard and alcohol in baking cakes as she has found they are not very commonly used. Even the use of vanilla extract, which may contain alcohol, is generally replaced with pure vanilla paste to enhance the flavor, according to Hussain.

Another professional pastry chef, Sumaiya Banjee, 26, works at Eleven Park Madison in the flatiron district of Manhattan, New York. It is rated the number one restaurant in North America and number four in the world. Born and raised in California, she attended the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of California.

“Working in baking and pastry, I do not have to deal with pork but more so with alcohol,” says Banjee, who loves the intensity of her job. “Every professional I have worked for and worked with thus far has never forced me to work with alcohol. Although this career can be all-consuming, never lose yourself in anything. Always stay aware and true to yourself,” she recommends.

Not everyone is cut out to be a chef. It requires great stamina and dedication. For a Muslim chef, it even requires faith. Said says, “I know many people who thought they knew what being a chef entailed. However, when they were in the thick of it,” he continues, “they realized you have to be crazy to work as a chef in a kitchen. If you can do it for six months, then it is possible you really have a passion and belong in a kitchen.”

Westwood agrees, stating that there are three reasons one would pursue specializing in the culinary arts: a sincere love for cooking, a love for food, and a deep desire to share that love with the world. Any other reason is not worth it.

Tayyaba Syed has written for numerous publications and been featured on National Public Radio. She mentors and volunteers with the youth and lives in Illinois with her husband and three kids.