'My father was the reason I became a chef'

My father was the reason I became a chef

Ali Fouad, Head Chef, Al Nafoorah and Khaymat Al Bahar on all things food

Who do you admire most in the culinary world, and why?
It would be Chef Maroun Chedid, who stars in Top Chef Middle East as part of the judging panel and has a number of well-known eponymous restaurants across Lebanon and the GCC. He is a successful chef, passionate about both authentic Lebanese food and modern cuisines. I admire the passion he cooks with, and the time and effort he puts into maintaining and ensuring quality ingredients are used. He has completely changed my perspective of what a chef should be.
Your favourite culinary destination?
Switzerland! The high standards and quality of cooking they maintain really impressed me.
Your best food-related experience?
My father was the reason I became a chef. As a child, I spent a lot of time cooking with him and he encouraged me to pursue my career in culinary arts. I have several memories of learning to cook for the first time with him and still fondly remember the dishes. One of my favourite dishes that he taught me to cook was the traditional lentil soup. Another one I enjoyed creating with him was the Lebanese Mansaf and meat fatayer - now, whenever I visit a restaurant that prepares these dishes, I always think back and remember the times I cooked these with him.
How often do you eat out? What's your favourite place around town?
Usually, only over the weekends. I like to try different Lebanese restaurants around town, in addition to my own. Some of my other favourites are Leila and La Maison du Café.
If you could cook for a high-profile personality, who would it be and what would you serve him or her?
It would be an absolute pleasure to cook an old traditional Lebanese dish for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who has been a regular visitor of our venue, Al Nafoorah at Jumeirah Emirates Towers. I would serve him a dish from one of my grandmother's recipes, such as Ablama, which they prepared during winter as it helped in keeping us warm.
You're asked to invent an unusual dish - what would it be?
My passion is Lebanese cuisine and so I would turn a traditional Lebanese dish into a more modern dish. I would love to make smoked salmon stuffed with tabbouleh, served with cheese shanklish (traditional goat cheese), which would be served inside a watermelon!
One ingredient/dish you can't stand?
I am not a fan of chilli as an ingredient and prefer not to use it while cooking. As for one dish, I would say my least favourite is okra with tomato sauce when speaking of Lebanese cuisine. I tried it once during training and am still not a fan.
After cooking all day, do you cook for yourself at home too?
Honestly, I do so only when I'm craving a dish that I haven't had for a while. I love my wife's green beans and meat stew along with vermicelli rice on the side. It's my comfort food at home!
Favourite comfort food?
Definitely cheese. I once tried fondue with croutons in Switzerland. I still remember the taste and will never forget the flavour or quality of the different cheese varieties!
If you could choose a last meal, what would it be?
It would be a traditional Lebanese dish named 'Burgul Ala Shaareye', which basically contains ghee, Arabic vermicelli and brown burgul (crushed wheat). It's one of my favourite dishes - simple, yet healthy and full of flavour. This dish brings back so many memories as it is homemade comfort food, generally made by mums.
Where can we find you when you're not in the kitchen?
When I'm not in the kitchen, I enjoy watching movies. I spend a lot of time at family gatherings as well and we generally like to barbeque at home or in the park in the evenings and play some basketball!
- Staff reporter

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