How did you discover your passion for cooking?
Food and cooking have always been a passion of mine since I was young – even though I was an alarmingly skinny child. I would skim my mothers’ recipe books, looking for things I wanted her to cook for my brothers and I. I’d ask her about the ingredients and what they were like. My first experiment was to try and mix in a decent barbecue sauce; it turned out OK, but not great. I’ve definitely improved since!
What do you envision for the future of Egypt’s food industry?
It’s a very complex equation, but I’ll try to be brief: Egypt tends to lag behind the prevalent restaurant world trends. The issue lies with the fact that the majority of diners in Egypt tend to look for the familiar, albeit with a few minor twists; but restaurant food is still seen as a purely business transaction; I like to refer to this as the Caloric Economic Value. We’re still not at the stage where food can be enjoyed as an experience or art form. In the meantime, we will see more ‘Frankenfood’ and food truck concepts: both are responses to the economic transactions involved in the restaurant industry. ‘Frankenfood’ is a marriage between seemingly unrelated food items -a hot dog burger with onion rings, for example- and primarily serves to fulfil the Caloric Economic Value. The Food truck concept serves as an alternative to the rising rental costs of operating a static outlet, since once you buy the truck, your monthly overheads are greatly reduced and it can be a more profitable option to opening a café in a trendy mall.
Can you tell us what made you switch your path to being a chef after graduating with a degree in Medicine?
I didn’t switch my career immediately after graduating; in fact I switched seven years later. I worked at Yale University conducting clinical trials and then later here in Egypt for Quintiles. My decision came before my 30th birthday – I realized I’d rather spend my time doing work I loved instead of chasing a paycheck. Initially, I wanted to work in a professional kitchen to make me a better food writer, but I ended up falling madly in love with the pressure and insanity of being a chef in a restaurant.
How was your experience with working on your famous TV Program “Matbakh 101” (kitchen 101)? And what did you learn from it?
Fantastic! People who know me well already know that I have no problems addressing large crowds, so getting in front of a camera was never a scary prospect for me. The program pushed me to hone my technique and also teach myself new ones so I can pass that information onto the viewer.
How was your experience with your restaurant ‘Chef’s Market’? And why did it shut down?
Chef’s Market was always meant to be a temporary restaurant; we always thought of it as a long-term pop up restaurant. The menu was developed over a year in my Development Kitchen and we used techniques typically reserved for fine dining restaurants. Some mistakes were made; primarily the location – in hindsight, a standalone location in a good neighbourhood would have made more sense. Also, I learned to temper my Chef’s Ego: I initially refused to put rice on the menu, but relented when customer requests grew too loud to ignore. The reason I closed it in January 2016 was because the economics of the business no longer made sense. I’m not one to give up easily and I also know when it’s time to reevaluate the situation. I try not to make the same mistake twice. Right now, Chef’s Market lives on in my mind, and will be returning to the dining scene at the right time.
How did Social Media contribute to your career path and to your success?
I’m not sure; my food writing is posted to my blog ‘Not Hungry Cuz I Ate’, and I used Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as a way to disseminate my writing. I think the reason I attracted the attention of CBC Sofra was because of my social media presence – even though it was miniscule! Social media also connected me with other like-minded people; food stylists like Hoda El Sherif and Jackie Haddad,
or photographers like Sherif Tamim and Yehia el Alaily. I get the opportunity to do special events for Flavor Republic and others, and most business inquiries I receive are through my Facebook page.
Are you responsible for cooking at home? And do you make use of your job to cook new dishes for your family?
I only cook at home when asked to, and that isn’t very often! Any new recipe testing I do is done at my Development Kitchen with the team I have there. We have two mantras: “Because I can” and “Let’s try it and find out” – which I think summarises my creative cooking process
What’s your favourite dish to eat and your favourite dish to cook?
Both are the same: Scrambled Eggs made by me. I love breakfast foods and often eat them for dinner. My scrambled eggs are the perfect harmonization of Egg and Dairy, since the quality of the butter makes a big difference.
What would you do if you were given a very small variety of raw foods and you were asked to cook five different types of food?
The easy path is to create a salad, but that wouldn’t be a challenge, so the menu would depend on the equipment and time I have available. Send me a list and I’ll see what I can do!
How do you react if you go to a restaurant and you’ve been served a non-delicious dish?
I can forgive a dish that isn’t as delicious as it can be, but I cannot forgive cooking or service errors. Delicious is a subjective characteristic, but an overcooked piece of chicken or over-reduced sauce is objective: we can quantify it and it will not change from one person to the next. And obviously hygiene is paramount; getting a moldy bread roll or hair in my salad will immediately set me off in a rage.
Did you ever give a special or creative dish that you’ve cooked as a gift?
As a gift? No. For some reason I feel that it would be too egotistical! I have cooked as a favour before, most recently saving a friend from not having anything to bring to a Ramadan dish party. The dish was a baked pigeon risotto, and yes it was awesome!
How do you deal with your fans?
I’m blessed to be in the position I am in right now, and every time someone recognizes me or asks to take a photo with me, I am humbled and honoured. I think I thank them more than they thank me!
Can you give a food recommendation or a word for our readers?
If you don’t know how to cook, learn. If you know how to cook already, then keep on cooking!
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