The accidental chef who is cooking up a storm in Saudi Arabia

Saudi chef Louloua El-Ezzah traces her journey from stay-at-home mum to cooking school entrepreneur and overall role model. (Photo supplied)
Updated 04 March 2018
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The accidental chef who is cooking up a storm in Saudi Arabia

DUBAI: Louloua didn’t start out wanting to be a chef. Although she grew up surrounded by food, watching her mother, aunts and grandmothers “cooking all the time,” her interest in food was sparked much later than her entrepreneurial ambitions — which she has had for as long as she can remember.
“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.”


Saudi home-bakers cooking up sweet business on internet

Nada Kutbi started baking from home for family and friends before setting up her Sucre De Nada pastry shop to expand her home business. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 22 May 2019
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Saudi home-bakers cooking up sweet business on internet

  • Thanks to social media, business is booming for Jeddah’s cake and pastry makers

JEDDAH: Enterprising Saudi home-bakers have been turning to social media to help cook up some sweet business success.
The Kingdom’s food producers are proving to be some of the rising stars of the internet, and none more so than 53-year-old mom Nada Kutbi.
Her Sucre De Nada pastry shop in Jeddah has become one of the go-to places for homemade desserts and cakes, and the online side of her business is also booming.
Kutbi’s daughter, Nassiba Khashoggi, told Arab News: “She has basically been baking all her life, especially after having children. She used to make cookies for us and whenever she tried a dessert somewhere else, she would recreate it.
“In restaurants or gatherings, she would always analyze sweets and make them at home for her family. That was how she started baking.
“I don’t think she ever thought she could pursue it as a career, but everyone loved her baking and one of her closest friends encouraged her to start her business when she was a stay-at-home mom.
“It was in 2011-2012, and her friend basically forced her to start by telling her, ‘yallah! make a cake and I will buy it from you now.’”
Khashoggi added: “In the beginning we just went by word of mouth, but when Instagram came along, we made an account and started posting pictures and the customers loved her creativity and uniqueness. I don’t think many people knew what banoffee was before my mom promoted it.”
Although Kutbi’s unique takes and touches went down a treat with customers, it was not until Ramadan last year that she officially opened her bakery in Jeddah.
But stepping up from running a home business presented new challenges. “When you are running a home business there are few staff and it is easy to control,” said Khashoggi. But expanding requires you to put more trust in other people and that was difficult for my mom. Also, when we increased the number of our products it became harder to maintain the quality of goods.”
Kutbi aims to avoid storing, pre-baking or freezing her products and is not a fan of mass production and blast freezing, according to her daughter. “In short, she is against commercial baking,” said Khashoggi. “What is unique about my mom is that everything she makes is made the same day from scratch. It makes it harder for her to redo everything but that’s what makes her special.”

HIGHLIGHtS

• The Kingdom’s food producers are proving to be some of the rising stars of the internet, none more so than 53-year-old mom Nada Kutbi.

• Kutbi’s unique takes and touches have been a hit with customer, but it was not until Ramadan last year that she officially opened her bakery in Jeddah.

Sometimes customers even send pictures or pieces of dessert to Kutbi asking her to recreate their favorite foods.
Another Jeddah-based bakery thriving on the internet is Ganache. Run by Anas Khashoggi, 58, and Jamila Ali Islam, 48, the pastry business has been operating for almost 20 years.
Khashoggi supported his wife after spotting her talent for baking and took a leap of faith by giving up his job and starting an online bakery.
“At that time, there was no social media, but we made an introductory website, which helped us gain popularity,” he said. That was in 1996, and the couple’s first store opened later the same year.
“Ganache has its own unique spirit as a family business, and it is run by Saudi youth who are managing the bakery and understand the Saudi market. The family committee is the one that approves the products,” added Khashoggi.