A Taste of Middle East

<i>Chef Mahmoud Alkahwaji from Dubai wins over gourmands in the city with Lebanese cuisine</i>

Written by Alexandre Vella | Published:February 28, 2013 2:36 am

The aroma of a mix of spices wafts through The Café at Hyatt Regency,as Syrian chef Mahmoud Alkahwaji works his wonders. Making the kitchen his own for the 10 days that he’s leading it,Alkahwaji puts together a mix of minced parsley,onion and finely diced tomatoes for the tabbouleh. The outcome,some patrons say,is “divine”. The chef has been giving the city a taste of authentic Lebanese cuisine at an ongoing food festival at the hotel.

Presenting his Mezzes,a selection of small dishes used as starters — hummus,tabbouleh,shakshouka,beetroot moutabel,chicken shawarma and baby marrow salad,among others — Alkahwaji says it was not so hard to find all the ingredients he needed for his menu. “Most things are available in India,but their quality is different because the environment is different. I don’t mean that in a bad way,but ingredients here are different from the Middle East. So for some preparations,I use alternative options,” he says.

Main course dishes such as seabass fish and kofta with tahinasawa sauce are served with a variety of rice,green beans,spinach and potatoes. “Though Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines use the same ingredients,they are totally opposite in the way they’re prepared. Middle Eastern cuisine is not spicy at all,” he says,adding that the latter is,in fact,more organic and healthy. “All of our dishes are cooked with olive oil,and we don’t use butter or any other fat,” he says. The chef further explains,“Food from that part of the world is all the same — be it Jordanian,Syrian or Lebanese.”

Serving gourmands a mouthful of exotic desserts,Alkahwaji offers Oum Ali,Basbousa and Eish Al Saraya. Between making sure everything is under control in the kitchen and keeping a tab on people reactions,the chef gets nostalgic.

He says that he was not inclined towards cooking and it was not his first step into the hospitality industry. “When I left my country eight years ago to move to Dubai and work at the Hilton,I joined the managing staff. The kitchen at the hotel developed in me a passion for food and cooking,” he says.

Alkahwaji then went on to sign a contract with The Hilton and got training in baking and cooking the French cuisine. “But I trained myself in cooking Middle Eastern cuisine and after working with Hilton for four years,I left it for Café Arabesque where I cook breakfast,lunch and dinner,” he says.

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