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Recipes for success: chef Ali Fouad offers tips and a hearty traditional soup recipe

DUBAI: Ali Fouad, the award-winning chef at famed Lebanese restaurant Al Nafoorah in Dubai’s Jumeirah Al Qasr, started helping out in the food industry when he was nine years old, at his father’s bakery in the mountains of Dubai. west of the Beqaa. It was his father who inspired him to pursue a career as a chef, and Fouad gradually rose through the ranks in the industry, spending five years as a chef in Lebanon before moving to Dubai to join Al Nafoorah in 2006. Sixteen years in the same workplace is rare in the UAE, but Fouad explains: “This brand is something I believe in. The name is in my blood. He is a friend and family to me. Ten years ago, I felt that one day I would be able to run this restaurant. At the time, I was second in command. And my dream came true.

Here, Fouad offers some tips for amateur cooks, and a delicious soup recipe inspired by his grandmother’s cooking.

Varied grills. (Provided)

Q: What’s your best advice for home chefs?

A: Three words. Cook with love. If you do this, you will make everyone happy, regardless of the cuisine.

Is there a single ingredient that can make any dish better?

There are a lot of amazing ingredients, but if I had to pick one, then for me it’s olive oil. You can use it in many things. It’s healthy, and it works with a lot of dishes. It’s a major ingredient for me.

How are you as a chef? Are you strict?

I’m very relaxed, but nobody’s perfect, right? I think I’m very supportive and my team loves working with me — a lot of them are very loyal and have been with me since 2010 — so with them, not with new people, maybe I’m a bit strict, because they know exactly what i want, so i don’t like them to make mistakes. But in general, let’s say 80% of the time, I’m not strict. But 20%… (laughs).

Mixed seafood platter. (Provided)

What customer behavior or request frustrates you the most?

Oh…. You feel pain every day. If not every day, then every other day (laughs). I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily frustrating, but I might have a guest – not Lebanese, but other nationalities – saying, “That’s not how we eat it.” OKAY. I’m a Lebanese chef, I was raised on this food. I know every detail. I may add a simple ingredient to enhance the dish, but I will never change the traditional taste. Of course, I’m not going to tell the guest, but sometimes it upsets me. But you can never make everyone completely happy.

What’s your favorite dish when you’re in a hurry?

The Lebanese love raw meats. You know how you have tartar in Italian kitchens? We have kibbeh. It’s cracked wheat with ground beef and Lebanese spices — you add some herbs; basil and mint. It only takes about five minutes. Or I could make those very traditional dishes that my wife likes – mujaddara and loubia. Mujaddara is a mixture of lentils and rice and olive oil – you eat it with coleslaw. And the loubia are green beans with tomato sauce, garlic, onions and olive oil. They are both very quick to make.

Al Nafoorah is located at Jumeirah Al Qasr in Dubai. (Provided)

And you, what is your favorite dish to cook?

It’s something that reminds me of my grandmother. It’s very traditional, and when I visited my grandmother, she always cooked it for me. Whenever I cook it, I always remember her. I was so in love with her. We call it Addas bel Hamed. It’s a kind of soup and no soup at the same time. It is eaten especially in winter in Lebanon. It’s lentils with rice or potatoes and selek (chard). My grandmother was an excellent cook, believe me. A great cook. She had a salad that I put on my menu now, I call it Chef Ali Teta Salad. “Teta” means grandmother.

At the start of your career, what was your most common mistake?

There are plenty. (Laughs.) Every once in a while, you’ll forget to check that the recipe is being followed. It is so important to taste the dishes. Additionally, you need to keep checking the quality of the ingredients. It is really important to have high quality ingredients for Lebanese cuisine. It is therefore really necessary to remain in constant contact with the suppliers.

Al Nafoorah is a Lebanese restaurant. (Provided)

What is your favorite cuisine when you go out to eat?

Apart from the Lebanese? I love Asian food, especially Thai. I like Mexican food. And Italian. Of course, when I want a burger and a shake, it’s American, but I mostly choose Asian and Italian, if I don’t eat Lebanese.

And when you go out to eat, are you able to relax and enjoy it, or do you find yourself criticizing the food?

When I go out, I go out to enjoy it as a guest. I like to go to places where I expect to feel like I can be in Italy – if it’s Italian food, or Asia – if it’s Asian, the same way I try to make my guests feel like they’re in Lebanon. I’m not great at giving comments or feedback. Even if I don’t like it, I will still say thank you and appreciate that they did their best.

Chef Ali’s Addas Bel Hamed Soup

INGREDIENTS

200g brown lentils

150g red onion

200ml olive oil

750ml water

500g fresh potatoes

100g salt

30g ground cumin

20g black pepper

500 g Swiss chard leaves (aka selek)

20g garlic

30g fresh coriander

10g mint leaves

2x lemons

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Heat oil in a saucepan over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and stir until they brown and caramelize

2. Wash and cut the potatoes into cubes, add them to the pan with the lentils and stir

3. Add the garlic, coriander and mint

4. Add salt, cumin and black pepper

5. Add water and boil for about 10 minutes

6. Add the chard leaves, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until tender

7. Add a squeeze of lemon just before serving

About Wesley V. Finley

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