3 UAE chefs on cooking something 'special' this Eid Al Adha

Dubai - Prepare to be inspired



Chef Ahmad Halawa
Chef Ahmad Halawa

By Somya Mehta

Published: Thu 30 Jun 2022, 5:41 PM

Last updated: Thu 30 Jun 2022, 5:44 PM

Food is an intrinsic part of festivities and traditions. It not only passes down cultural concoctions from generation to generation but also brings together families. The upcoming Eid Al Adha is one such occasion in the Middle East, which is known for its magnanimous spirit of bringing together friends and family for an evening of celebrating traditional delicacies, mixed with individual interpretations of what the festival means to each person. In a melting pot of cultures that is the UAE, the celebrations, too, become a blend of diverse traditions joining forces to celebrate the grand event. We speak to three Dubai-based chefs to uncover what their definition of traditional meals is and what they’d be preparing for Eid Al Adha.

Ahmad Halawa, Supper Club Chef

Ahmad Halawa, 33, from Palestine, has been a resident of Dubai for six years. He runs a private catering and local supper club in the UAE, offering authentic Levantine cuisine. Being brought up in a family where both his parents were talented cooks, when Halawa moved away from home to pursue his education, he had to rely on himself to cook meals he was used to having at home, which is when he discovered his passion for cooking.

How did your passion for cooking take root?

I was brought up amongst five siblings, and being the youngest, I learned a lot of life lessons from them, including cooking. We’d often cook simple dishes together like pasta, omelettes, woks, and prepare sandwiches. It was a way in which all of us came together. And when I moved to university for my undergraduate degree, I had to rely on myself to cook my meals in the same way I was used to eating at home. I started cooking the complex main dishes without even asking my family for recipes or tips and realised how much I enjoyed it.

The best part about being a chef is…

It is that I get to meet amazing people and touch their hearts through my food, and deliver a cultural message along with it.

The cuisine you enjoy cooking the most…

The closest to my heart are Levantine and Palestinian cuisine. I like to represent my country through the dinners I host at my house, introducing the food and culture to my guests. One of the main intentions is to preserve our heritage through food because food is a massive part of our culture.

Do you enjoy cooking traditional meals?

Certainly, traditional dishes are the best. They’re a reflection of the culture they have emerged from.

One of the reasons I became a chef is to help keep our traditional Palestinian cuisine alive and introduce it to as many people as possible.

The best part about cooking for festivities like the upcoming Eid Al Adha is…

That the two main ingredients are there, ‘love and sharing’. When the family is gathered for Eid lunch, all the worries are put to rest. Nothing is better than sharing a meal with your loved ones.

I intend to keep recreating these family-style dinners to remind and introduce my guests to the beauty of togetherness.

Your fondest memories of Eid Al Adha celebrations.

One of my favourite memories is when all the family (siblings, parents, aunts and cousins) would gather at my older aunt’s house in Jordan for lunch during Eid, the house would be filled with love and laughter. Usually, a more senior figure takes charge of filling our plates, and it’s a Middle Eastern thing to keep serving more food, even after we’re getting full; it’s a sign of showing love.

What are you planning to prepare for Eid Al Adha celebrations?

The word ‘Adha’ means sacrifice, we usually sacrifice a lamb on the first day of Eid, and cook ‘Mansaf’. It’s the Jordanian national dish that we have at main events like Eid. It’s a celebratory rice-based dish that contains lamb and a tangy yoghurt sauce that you add to the rice called Jameed. It’s a dish that both elders and youngsters crave.

Mustian Gadang, Chef de Cuisine, Hong Loong Restaurant

Chef Mustian Gadang, 34, is an Indonesian Chef de Cuisine at Hong Loong, Pan Asian Restaurant at Sofitel Dubai The Palm. He has worked his way up from the bottom of the ranks with his secret ingredient ‘patience’, starting out as a dishwasher to becoming head chef at a leading Dubai hotel. Chef Mustian firmly believes in holding on to his traditional ways of cooking while adapting to and blending modern methods to create his signature flavours.

How did your passion for cooking take root?

My great-grandmother had a small shop where they sold Indonesian cuisine. Also, Indonesians have a great variety of street food, and I always loved to eat and explore new dishes – that is how I grew up. Other than that, I love exploring and experimenting with different ingredients to create new dishes.

The best part about being a chef is…

Being a chef is my passion; I love doing this and have always wanted to, so I don’t think of it as a job. It is just part of who I am, and I have made a career out of it. Of course, working at Sofitel Dubai The Palm makes it a more enjoyable experience, so I am grateful for that. I am really excited about working here alongside the talented culinary team. I am eager to put my passion, authentic Asian flavours and signature ingredients into each dish I make.

The cuisine you enjoy cooking the most…

When I first started, I would cook many dishes from my home country, but now I enjoy cooking other Asian cuisines, along with Indonesian food. Pan-Asian cuisine consists of unique dishes from different nations and cultures throughout the entire continent of Asia. On a Pan-Asian menu, you will likely find a spicy curry dish from Indonesia or a traditional Chinese rice and shrimp dish, all offered on the same menu. For those who want to venture outside their usual comfort zone, Pan-Asian cuisine allows diners to expand their cuisine horizons far beyond the usual.

Do you enjoy cooking traditional meals?

I love cooking traditional meals from my hometown. There is a dish called Beef Rendang, which has become famous all over the world now. It is meat cooked with coconut milk and spices and herbs. We cook it for 8-10 hours, then it becomes caramelised and the meat becomes tender and delicious to eat. It has been rated one of the best foods in the world.

The best part about cooking for festivities like the upcoming Eid Al Adha is…

I remember back in my childhood we would celebrate Eid Al Adha at home, and we would sacrifice a lamb or a cow or buffalo – we would marinate the meat with chilli soya and make satay by grilling the meat in burnt coconut shells. That is really flavoursome. I did the same style of cooking here at Sofitel Dubai The Palm at Hong Loong as well, where I made beef skewers and put chilli and soya sauces in them and grilled them, which turned out to be amazing

Your fondest memories of Eid Al Adha celebrations.

In Malayu, part of the Singapore, Malaysian, and Indonesian cooking, the most famous dish is rice cake with Gulai Ayam. This is a very memorable dish for me, especially on the occasion of Eid because we would make homemade rice cakes with coconut leaves, which they cook for like 3 to 4 hours.

What are you planning to prepare for Eid Al Adha celebrations?

Eid Al Adha is always a very special occasion in the UAE. It is celebrated in a grand way and so it is essential that we also celebrate it in our restaurants. I will make beef rendang and satay to bring my fondest food memories back and present the dishes to the diners here.

Bader Najeeb, Pastry Chef

Bader Najeeb, 26, is an Emirati pastry chef based in Dubai. Baking from the age of 13, Chef Bader discovered his passion early on while he’d accompany his mother to bake sumptuous carrot cakes for his family on the weekends. Participating in several different TV shows and growing a following of 100k+ followers on his Instagram, the young chef, whose bio reads ‘feel-good videos’, enjoys content creation and cooking colourful desserts in the kitchen.

How did your passion for cooking take root?

I’ve been into cooking since the age of 13. We would always eat together and have lunch and dinner as a family. My mother always baked a carrot cake or nuts cake every weekend for my grandfather’s house, and I used to help her in the kitchen. So, I think it started with them. I opened a cake business after high school, but it interfered with my studies. So, I stopped it and then I instead opened chef B’s social media account. I was 17 when I got my first TV show and then we’ve had several TV shows with different channels. Then I got a scholarship in Switzerland to study Swiss chocolate work and sugar art. Making sculptures, making pralines, basically whatever you can make out of chocolate literally from bean to bar, as well as sugar art, like making sugar flowers and sugar decorations.

The cuisine you enjoy cooking the most is…

From the beginning, it was always pastry. Honestly, I liked the smell. I like to lick my fingers and before it’s even baked, I would put my finger in it. When my mom was baking, I’d taste it. For me, dessert was always like a final meal everyone remembers before the night ends. And I was attracted to that. I have a sweet tooth.

The best part about being a chef is…

People’s reactions after you present to them the dessert you’ve made. You can judge from the face. It’s very pleasing to get such a reaction. Also having a platform where you can get responses from all around the world is even more fun.

Do you enjoy cooking traditional recipes for Eid Al Adha celebrations?

At home, we have traditional dishes that my mother always makes. We have certain traditional dishes that are always made, like rangina, which is a traditional date dessert. Especially now that it is summer, countries are starting to produce dates. So, that’s something I always look forward to.

A dessert recipe that Chef Bader would recommend for Eid…

Even though the focus is on traditional recipes, it’s also nice to have various options as part of your meal. I’d recommend you try Homemade Mille Feuille.

somya@khaleejtimes.com


More news from Food