Amna Al Hashemi became the first female chef in the UAE to open her own restaurant. Her family eatery Mitts & Trays now has three prime locations in Dubai as it welcomes guests to experience home-style food in a comfortable and relaxed environment.
But food hasn’t always been at the forefront of Amna’s life. As a child, she was a picky eater who never spent much time in the kitchen. Her career in PR was a world away from her culinary work, but one day, after deciding to leave her job, Amna discovered her passion for cooking and soon decided she had found her calling in life. She trained as a pastry chef at Dubai’s International Centre for Culinary Arts and she opened her first branch of Mitts & Trays in City Walk. Taking inspiration from Emirati cuisine Amna put her own twist on classic dishes and gave them a modern touch.
Today, Mitts & Trays has three Dubai locations including the new branch in Dubai Hills. Amna delights in helping others, especially women, find their passion for cooking. She engages in mentorship programmes and helps to inspire young women to follow in her footsteps. We find out more.
Where did your passion for cooking begin?
I never knew that one day I would have a career associated with food! When I was young I was always a picky eater and extremely messy so my mother did her best not to let me in the kitchen! But in 2015, I left my job and I became very bored at home. I decided to experiment with different fields: art, design, makeup, and retail, but none of them felt right. Until one day my sister-in-law (who is an amazing cook) asked me to help her make a cheesecake from scratch. I couldn’t believe the relief and peacefulness I felt during the process and how pleased I was afterwards. From that day, I started reading and experimenting with pastries and hot dishes. I feel very lucky that I was able to discover my passion and to be working in the culinary field.
You switched careers to turn this passion into a career – tell us about your decision and what was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
It was definitely risky. Deciding to settle for a career with an unpredictable income in a very challenging and competitive field was tough. However, having a supportive husband, family and friends, in addition to working with a qualified team made it much easier. Sometimes your biggest challenge is changing yourself.
My biggest challenge has been delegation. Working alone at home is very different from running a restaurant in a public area. Letting go of some of the responsibilities and delegating to the rest of the team was hard but necessary and of course, eventually made my life easier.
Tell us about your mission for Mitts & Trays and why you decided to open it?
My goal with Mitts & Trays was and still is to have a family-owned and operated restaurant that’s genuine and authentic. And I think we have achieved that. I am always there, either working in a corner or in the kitchen with the chefs, and my husband also spends much of his time there engaging with customers. Before COVID, I even had the kids volunteer every Saturday as hosts! Our mission is to provide outstanding service and serve our guests high-quality, genuine wholesome dishes in a cosy and relaxed environment.
What is your vision for the company and can we expect to see it grow further?
We are definitely growing, steadily and consciously. We have big plans ahead of us. We are very keen to open new concepts, utilising our central kitchen, and exploring other culinary fields.
In a country with so many options when it comes to dining, how do you stand out from others?
I never thought of standing out to be honest. I truly believe that having a clear identity makes a big difference. Excellent food and service and maintaining this consistency have always been our target from the very beginning.
What is the biggest challenge you face in what you do?
There are a few challenges that come to mind but finding qualified employees that are willing to grow with you has been the biggest challenge so far.
How do you balance your time?
Barely! Having four young children and trying to run a business is very difficult. But as I mentioned before, being surrounded by supportive people has made this easier. For instance, when I need to be with the kids, my husband will take over in the restaurant.
What is your favourite cuisine or dish to cook?
It depends on my craving at that moment! I enjoy hot dishes more than pastries and right now I would say Asian cuisine is at the top of my list.
What are three dishes we should order from the menu at Mitts & Trays?
Watermelon Feta Salad, Mediterranean Salmon and Date Cake with ice cream.
In this issue we celebrate Emirati Women’s Day – what does this day mean to you?
Emirati women’s day is a day that celebrates determination, persistence, and complete commitment. It celebrates the ambitious Emirati woman who manages to hold the fort at home while working hard to pursue her dreams. A day that sheds the light on the superhero working mothers, the irreplaceable stay-at-home mums, the nurturing wives, the loving daughters, and the supportive sisters.
What is a message that you would send to other women in the UAE who are hoping to follow their dreams?
It is not an easy road, but having people around you who believe in you and are keen to support your growth makes it easier and more enjoyable.
How do you think it has become more accepted over the last few years for women in the UAE to follow their dreams and take on different types of jobs?
Throughout the years, our leaders have always been supportive of the youth in general and of women in particular. They have dedicated valuable time and resources to inspire and encourage us to pursue our goals. They helped us to understand that we are able to take on any career we wish, and they have encouraged us to grow and compete with global talents.
Tell us about some of the work you do to train and mentor other women who want to be part of the industry.
Currently, I am participating as one of the mentors in the Bentley Extraordinary Women Initiative, where we get the opportunity to mentor young women who are interested in pursuing a career in various fields including Food & Beverage and Hospitality. It is a three-month-long mentorship programme where the students get a chance to take a closer look at our field, go through the various departments, and shadow us. It has been an enjoyable experience so far, and I hope I get to do more of this in the future.
Who is a woman that inspires you?
I have to say that would be my mother. Her dedication to raising us and her tenacity has always inspired me to be who I am today.
What is the professional motto that you live by?
I keep reminding myself: “If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.”