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.”
A wellness interlude
- The Pearl Spa offers holistic wellness experiences
- It is themed around the region's pearling heritage
DUBAI: Few things can give you that instant holiday feeling as much as a spa treat. Of course, it helps if it’s within the tranquil beachside setting of the luxe-Arabesque Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach. Walking into its sun-drenched lobby bedecked with fresh floral arrangements puts you into relax mode, with the dial being cranked up higher as soon as you enter Pearl Spa.
Themed around the region’s pearling heritage, the spa doesn’t just nod to the gem in its name but also references it in the opulent yet understated design with mother-of-pearl inlays and pearly finishes throughout.
And if the spa’s decor is impressive, the couples’ suite will wow even the most jaded. A proper hotel-suite sized affair, it has a generous living area with sofas, an outdoor courtyard with a bubbling fountain providing the perfect backdrop, and separate treatment rooms and bathrooms. Once holed up in here, anyone could be forgiven for not trying out the rest of the wet facilities, which include a steam room, sauna, Jacuzzi and a sensory shower.
However, a spa is only as good as its therapists, and in this case they are among the best in town. The signature massage, a 90-minute therapy, combines a variety of strokes and pressures, together with regionally inspired oud, rose and frankincense oil to make for a truly indulgent experience.
The treatment protocol is merely prescriptive, however, as the therapists really take it upon themselves to fix whatever is required — knots were teased out, muscle aches I didn’t know existed eased away, and tensions soothed as the masseuse kneaded, pummeled and stretched, hopping on to the table to maximize the impact of the massage.
I waddled out in an utterly relaxed state, making a mental note that this is one of the best massages anyone can have in Dubai, bar none (and I have tried most).
At the end, herbal teas are served in the private lounge as you are left to ease yourself back into the real world at your own relaxed pace. The quintessentially Four Seasons touch of thoughtfulness punctuates the whole experience, whether it’s in the beauty gear provided in the ladies’ dressing room, or the nuts and dried fruit snacks accompanying the post-treatment snack.
When you combine a superlative treatment such as this with a spa lunch, then it can turn a dusty urban afternoon into a complete retreat like little else can.
Offering a holistic wellness experience, their new spa menu features light and nutritious yet delicious gourmet dishes: Marinated tuna carpaccio with seaweed and cucumber yuzu dressing and sunflower seeds; avocado and Boston lettuce salad with shaved Parmesan and poached apple and perfectly cooked Loch-Fynn salmon with sautéed kale and asparagus; and fresh, mousse-like low-fat mango yoghurt with acai sorbet and granola crumbs. The pre-treatment lunch is usually served in the Pearl Courtyard, but during the hotter months can be taken indoors at the lobby side Shai salon.