The accidental chef who is cooking up a storm in Saudi Arabia
The accidental chef who is cooking up a storm in Saudi Arabia
“It all began when I began to make recipes to feed my children. I started cooking out of need,” says the effervescent mother-of-three. “My real passion for food was born when I started to teach … that’s when I felt like learning more, exploring food more … Then, gradually, I started working with different brands on food-related projects and over the years, acquired the title of a chef.”
Today she is the proud founder of Loulou’s Kitchen, a state-of-the-art cooking school where she conducts a variety of classes for ladies of all ages – ranging from basic culinary skills to exotic cuisines such as Thai, Japanese, and Italian.
The journey to get here, from her humble beginnings doing cooking classes in her home kitchen nearly two decades ago, has been arduous to say the least.
“I struggled between the house with having little kids that need attention and care, and having to build my career,” she says.
“The biggest challenge for me, however, was changing perceptions of society about being a chef. When I first started 18 years ago, people thought my job was insignificant. When people would ask my son ‘What does your mom do?’ he would tell his friends she’s a cook. Even he considered me a cook, not a chef. When I met people socially, they would be surprised to learn that I am the owner of Loulou’s Kitchen, and ask if I hire a chef to teach my students!”
The pioneering chef persevered in spite of the pushback she received, motivated by a drive to change the culture and, over the years, found that the shackles loosened.
“I really wanted more girls to know about this field as a career option. I wanted to convince more women to get into this, and that pushed me to continue what I was doing,” she says.
Along the way, she garnered a number of accolades, including being invited to do recipe development for leading brands such as Maggi Arabia, Goody and Unilever. She has also participated in numerous cooking competitions and culinary events, and participated in TV shows such as “Rotanna Kaligia”; “Doctor Chef”; “Sayidaty” and “Maggi Diaries,” a program themed around empowering women through food and cooking.
Her biggest turning point, however, was participating in “Top Chef Middle East” in 2011. “I had much more exposure among everyone in society. People who had heard of my kitchen would actually watch me on TV,” she says.
Combined with the social media explosion of recent years, which also helped in building her brand – although she is quick to admit that she is still playing catch-up on that front, as none of it existed when she first started out – she acquired nationwide recognition, which contributed to making her dream come true in 2012, when she finally opened her professional cooking studio.
The cooking school, in turn, is helping her in the mission to change societal perceptions about cooking, and inspiring Saudi Arabian youth to explore the culinary industry as a viable and fun career option.
“Nowadays the mentality has changed dramatically, and women are so proud to become chefs. Some people I know have left their jobs in administrative work to fulfill their dream of becoming a professional chef. Now in restaurants and hotels, we often see female chefs working in the kitchen,” she says. “I had this vision that in the coming years, there will be many more Saudi chefs in the hospitality industry, and that is definitely happening now.”
As any female chef anywhere in the world will reveal, however, it isn’t easy. “Having to work in a commercial kitchen all day long made me realize that the physical and mental effort needed to do everything that is expected in the kitchen is really hard work,” she admits.
But, as long as they are prepared for the long hours and physical rigors of the job, she encourages anyone who is interested in pursuing this as a career, as it can be very rewarding.
“My message to all women who want to become professional chef is to go ahead,” she says. “With lots of perseverance and commitment you will reach your goal. It has a lot of potential as it is booming in the Saudi Arabia at the moment.”
Ta’ateemah: Giving Eid a Hijazi flavor
- Dibyaza is made of melted dried apricots, roasted nuts, figs, peach and sugary dates to create a marmalade-like dish that can be enjoyed with or without bread
- The dibyaza is also similar to an Egyptian dish called khoshaf, but dibyaza is often partnered with shureik — a donut-shaped bread with sesame sprinkled all over it
JEDDAH: Ta’ateemah is the name of the breakfast feast Hijazis enjoy on the first day of Eid Al-Fitr. It is derived from the Arabic word, itmah, or darkness, because the dishes served are light, just like midnight snacks.
Muslims around the world celebrate Eid Al-Fitr to feast after fasting for the holy month of Ramadan. But it is called Al-Fitr from iftar, or breakfast when translated to English, which is a meal Muslims do not get to experience during that month.
The first day of Eid is a day where they finally can, and they greet the day with joy by heading to Eid prayers and then enjoying this traditional meal.
Amal Turkistani, mother of five from Makkah who now lives in Jeddah, told Arab News all about a special Eid dish.
“The most famous dish is the dibyaza, and making a dish of it is a work of art that I can proudly say I excel at. Dibyaza is made of melted dried apricots, roasted nuts, figs, peach and sugary dates to create a marmalade-like dish that can be enjoyed with or without bread.”
She revealed that dibyaza is not a quick meal — it is usually prepared a day or two before Eid with the ingredients simmered to reach the correct liquid thickness.
No one can trace the origins of dibyaza — it remains a mystery. Some people claim it originated in Turkey, while others attribute it to the Indians.
A number of women who are famous for their dibyaza agreed that it is a Makkawi dish. This marmalade dish was developed and improved, with tiny details to distinguish it.
The dibyaza is also similar to an Egyptian dish called khoshaf, but dibyaza is often partnered with shureik — a donut-shaped bread with sesame sprinkled all over it.
Turkistani said sweet shops sell 1 kg of dibyaza for SR50 ($13), competing with housewives who make their own.
“I think it is always tastier when it’s homemade because of all the love that goes into making it. It’s also a wonderful way to greet your family and neighbors with this special dish that you only enjoy once a year.”
Her younger sister, Fatin, said: “My siblings always have Eid breakfast at my place, so it’s up to me to prepare the feast. My sister spares me the exhausting dibyaza-making, so I prepare two main dishes: Minazalla, which is a stew of lamb chops with tahini and a tomato chicken stew.
“She also serves what we call nawashif, or dry food, like different types of cheese and olives, pickled lemon, labneh, red mish — a mixture of white cheese, yogurt and chili pepper and halwa tahini,” Amal said.
Mohammed Ibrahim, 23, from Makkah, told Arab News: “It always feels unique to have minazalla and nawashif during Eid, and not just because it is followed by the Eidiyah.”