Sahar Al Awadhi, the first female Emirati chef to cook up a storm at the world-famous Burj Al Arab, speaks to us about her love of cooking, what makes the perfect dining experience and traditional dishes from the region.
Sahar Al Awadhi speaks to A&E on Emirati Women's Day 2019
When Sahar Al Awahi took on her role as Junior Sous Chef in the Pastry Kitchen at the Burj Al Arab in 2016, she became the first Emirati Chef to work at the iconic hotel. And after a recent promotion to Junior Pastry Chef, she now boasts the title of the first and only female Emirati Pastry Chef in the region.
While her passion for baking began at a young age, she put that aside for a while to study Communications and Design Management at the American University of Sharjah, only later realising that her love of the art and science of food was more than a hobby.
This led her to pursue her passion professionally, first securing a position at home-grown restaurant La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie in 2014 before being sent to Paris by Chef Izu Ani to master the art of baking. She returned to the eatery for another year before earning her role in the kitchens of the Burj Al Arab.
Speaking to A&E, Al Awadhi reveals more details on her career journey to date, the most unusual thing she’s ever eaten and how her upbringing in the UAE influenced her love of food.
A&E Interviews Sahar Al Awadhi, The Burj Al Arab’s
First Female Emirati Chef
Tell us about how your love of cooking began?
I come from a family that really enjoys exploring food, my parents would encourage us to try new things and experiment at home when I was young. My brothers and I all love to cook and food has always been a big factor in our family, especially our Friday lunches where we would all sit together and enjoy a big feast prepared by my mother.
I knew from a young age that cooking as a hobby wasn’t going to be enough and that I wanted to pursue it on a larger scale.
What’s your earliest memory of food?
My earliest memory of food is waiting for Eid morning to eat Belaleet, an Emirati breakfast dish made with sweetened Vermicelli noodles, spiced with saffron and cardamom and served with an egg omelette. It was much easier when we were younger to get together for this meal, nowadays with everyone’s busy schedule, it’s amazing how we hardly ever have breakfast together but still manage to make it to my parents Eid breakfast table for Belaleet!
It is a dish that I have tried to reimagine and recreate multiple times, so far my favourite has been the caramel cured yolk version with an egg-white omelette, which we have on the a la carte breakfast menu at Scape Restaurant at Burj Al Arab, but the original has a special place in my heart.
How has your taste changed over the years?
I think that as I’ve grown and become more experienced, my palate has grown as well. Flavour profiles are more apparent, combining and experimenting with ingredients now comes more naturally and my overall product is more refined.
What makes a perfect dining experience in your opinion?
For me, the most important part of the experience is the food. I’m happy to go to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant as long as the food is great.
What is the most exciting food trend in the region right now?
There is an interesting buzz around louz, otherwise known as tropical almonds. I’m really familiar with the ingredient as when I was growing up we would always have tropical almonds in the house, as we had the trees planted at home. Today, even though they are quite expensive, I’m seeing them being turned into jams and pickles.
The most exotic or unusual thing you’ve eaten?
Escamoles, otherwise known as ant eggs. They were super tasty, buttery and delicious but I just could not stop thinking about the fact that they were ant eggs.
How much has your heritage and upbringing influenced your passion for food?
As I work on creating and developing new recipes I often look to my Emirati heritage for inspiration, I am lucky that I have a great understanding of ingredients from growing up with local fruits like mulberries, sweet limes, tropical almonds, a variety of dates at different ripened stages, as well as different spice mixes. This gives me a better outlook on ingredients and how I can incorporate them using modern methods.
At Burj Al Arab, we don’t use products just because we can order them, anyone can do that, we are always looking at how we can make a difference by providing our guests with original and show-stopping creations.
What’s your go-to dinner party recipe?
Arabic coffee and chocolate panna cotta. Arabic coffee is lightly roasted and spiced with cardamom, saffron and a touch of clove. Panna cotta, for me, is super simple to make.
How does working in the Burj Al Arab differ from other kitchens?
I consider myself incredibly privileged to be part of the culinary team at Burj Al Arab and to have the opportunity to work with brilliant chefs whose careers have taken them around the world, many have worked alongside prolific chefs that I used to only dream about; Pierre Hermé, Hélène Darroze, Pierre Gagnaire and Joël Robuchon, to name a few.
Absorbing knowledge and experience from them has – and continues to be – extremely transformational to my skill set, techniques, my mindset and the way I look at ingredients and food. To me, the kitchen is a constant, never-ending learning process and I think that if someone is generous enough to share their knowledge with you then it should be your obligation to do the same for someone else.
The team at Burj Al Arab is incredibly hard-working, but we all make the time to share and educate each other because ultimately we all know that it can only make us better in the kitchen.
Are there any particular challenges you face being a woman in a male-dominated field?
I think in previous years it was harder for a woman to be successful in a typically male-dominated field, and there are still elements of prejudice in the industry today, which can be challenging for some. There has been a considerable shift though, and I think that women today are heard more than they ever were.
Together it is everyone’s responsibility to drive change and to recognize chefs for their talent and not their gender.
What has been your career highlight?
Recently, I created a plated dessert for the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Future Food Security’s new initiative ‘Bzar’, for their launch dinner. It is a project that is close to my heart as they asked me to be part of the initial research phase, with the main goal to get the younger generation of Emiratis interested in areas related to food (whether it’s farming, cooking at home, or becoming a chef).
I knew when I was creating the dessert concept that I wanted 90% of the flavour profiles and ingredients to be locally sourced. It may have made the dish more intricate but I still wanted to demonstrate that it could be done. And, as the initiative is called ‘Bzar’, which in Arabic translates to mixed spices – an ingredient that every Emirati household takes pride in making their own concoction of – naturally, I wanted to use my own blend and incorporate this too. I served Bzar Spiced Caramel with Salted Chocolate and Emirati Lime Mousse.
The preparation included visiting our ocean to fill bottles with seawater, boiling the water and creating homemade local Emirati sea salt and Earl Grey poached dates. This dish still makes me smile and reflects the ethos that I like to instil in all my cooking.
What do you still want to achieve?
I would love to open my own restaurant.
What’s your motto in life?
Always keep yourself a little uncomfortable; there is no growth in comfort.
Find out more about dining at the Burj Al Arab at jumeirah.com.