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.”


Evolution of coffee culture in KSA

Original local cafes are working hard to maintain their reputation for serving authentic coffee. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 09 December 2018
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Evolution of coffee culture in KSA

  • The growing number of cafes has helped people share their passion for coffee, proving that it is much more than a beverage

JEDDAH: Coffee has always been a major part of Arab culture, a traditional companion at gatherings, weddings and a wide variety of social events.
In Arab households, there is never an occasion where the “dallah” — the Arabic traditional coffee pot — is unavailable. Coffee is served over and over again in small Arabic cups.
Recently, however, there has been a rise in another branch of coffee culture, “specialty coffee.”
Western coffee culture has spread rapidly in Saudi Arabia, with local cafes popping up on the streets and in shopping malls. Their growing popularity is well deserved.
Original local cafes such as Brew 92, meddcoffee, Cup and Couch and others have worked hard to grow their reputation for serving authentic coffee, rather than using sugar and other elements to change the taste of the beverage.
The growing number of cafes has helped people share their passion for coffee, proving that it is much more than a beverage.
Atheer Al-Dhari, a barista at Ekleel cafe, said: “I love coffee. After four years’ experience in coffee, it is not just a career or a job but my biggest passion. My husband encouraged me to be more than a home barista.
“A couple of years ago, modern coffee was not popular,” the 26-year-old barista said. “But, then, as people observed the complexity of coffee they became curious. It was our responsibility to show them how coffee worked and that it was more than just a beverage. It takes years to even grow the coffee tree, so it is a lot of work and effort. There are farmers, roasteries, training, lots of money and so much more involved in serving a cup of coffee.”
Abbas Anwar Khan, a marketing specialist at Qatarat cafe, said: “We work on introducing a variety of coffee to the public, to familiarize them with the many flavors and textures.”
Rawan Jambi, a partner in the Rico Coast Lounge, said: “We are looking to introduce ourselves in many different areas, such as Riyadh and Dammam. Recently people have been following the trend of drinking coffee, and they try to include it in their routine from day to night.
“Back in the day, there was just Arabic coffee, but gradually Americanos, cappuccino and other types of hot coffee were introduced. Also due to the hot weather, cold coffees were introduced, which is a big change,” she said.
Recent events have been held to highlight the history and development of coffee in Jeddah. In November, two major events promoted different cafes and offered people a chance to taste their offerings.
“It is very significant for us. The coffee business is growing quickly and competition is strong. It is like a wildfire,” said 19-year-old barista Abdullah Babouk from Beyond Coffee.
“What I like about being a barista is that people who drink coffee have a routine where they come to us every day. Rather than it being a customer-provider relationship, we are a community. Every cafe should open with a vision to stand out and not just make money. Coffee should be treated like gold and that is our mission.”
Although coffee consumption has few health risks and considerable benefits, “anything and everything is harmful when we abuse it,” said dietician Dr. Ruwaida Idrees.
“Coffee bears some risks, and high consumption of unfiltered coffee has been associated with mild elevations in cholesterol levels,” she said.
“More than two cups of coffee a day can increase the risk of heart disease in people with a specific and fairly common genetic mutation that slows the breakdown of caffeine in the body.”
Caffeine addiction can be a serious problem for some people, including students and office employees who sacrifice sleep and drink coffee to stay alert.
“The first step is admitting you have a problem with coffee, then start to work on solving the problem,” Idrees said. “Drinking half-caffeinated or decaffeinated versions can help, as can walking around the office or getting other physical activity when you feel sleepy.”
As long as it is not consumed in large quantities, coffee is something to be cherished and each cup enjoyed.