How this Saudi woman became the queen of the kitchen

Shouldering family responsibilities at an early age turned Tabaaji into a strong, determined individual. Photo/Supplied
Updated 04 July 2018
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How this Saudi woman became the queen of the kitchen

  • Tabaaji’s love for cooking was developed in difficult circumstances when she was forced to take on kitchen duties as a child following the death of her parents
  • Saudi society is welcoming development and change. It is aware of the crucial role women can play in all fields, not only cooking

JEDDAH: A 27-year-old Saudi woman chef has come up with a winning recipe for women who want to turn their passion for cooking into professional careers in the Kingdom.
“If a person has a talent in cooking, they must not neglect it because this is one of the most challenging and fun journeys anyone can have,” said Asma Abdulhadi Tabaaji.
A career cooking in hotels and restaurants is rare for Saudi women, but Tabaaji has worked hard to reach the peak of her profession and last month was head chef for the iftar table at the Ramadan Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center — the biggest in the Middle East.
Tabaaji’s love for cooking was developed in difficult circumstances when she was forced to take on kitchen duties as a child following the death of her parents.
“I have loved cooking since I was young,” she told Arab News
Shouldering family responsibilities at an early age turned Tabaaji into a strong, determined individual.
She entered the challenging catering field by working from home five years ago. “I started by selling traditional Saudi cuisines at Thumamah (desert district) in Riyadh, because it gets crowded at weekends. Then, I prepared buffets for small parties and celebrations.
“After that, I applied to Hyatt Regency Hotel and I made the food menu there, adding cuisines and modifying some recipes.”
Shortly afterwards, Tabaaji joined Fairmont Hotel and prepared the food menu there, adding Arab and international dishes to the menu. Now she is head chef with Premier Catering, a company that handles a host of major events and celebrations.
Tabaaji’s journey has not been easy, but she has tasted success, which makes her more determined to build her name in the field she has chosen.
“I am grateful for the presence of my family. They have been my supporters forever,” she said.
Tabaaji said she realized Saudi women were a rarity in the Kingdom’s professional kitchens, but hotels and employers had been welcoming.
“I expected them to be more surprised. But women are starting to step into the world of kitchens in all public places,” she said.
Asked how she could change the way Saudi society views female chefs, Tabaaji said: “Saudi society is welcoming development and change. It is aware of the crucial role women can play in all fields, not only cooking.
“Saudi women play the main role in the kitchen of each and every house in Saudi Arabia, so it did not take long to accept a female presence in hotel and restaurant kitchens.”
Tabaaji enjoys the positive feedback she gets for her delicious food, “especially traditional Saudi cuisines from the western province, Indonesian cuisines, and shrimp in all its forms.”
She believes her role is still not restricted to her family and work, but extends to encouraging women to take “a step further and become chefs of the future.”
“I want to give workshops for women on how to prepare catering and buffets because these are the most challenging duties any cook can face.
“I also dream of my own restaurant. I will be keen to give opportunities to Saudi female and male cooks equally because lots of them are talented and creative, but are shy of stepping into the market,” she said.


The man who leads 10 million chefs from his kitchen in Saudi Arabia

Thomas Gugler (left) is based in Saudi Arabia. (Photo supplied)
Updated 15 July 2018
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The man who leads 10 million chefs from his kitchen in Saudi Arabia

DUBAI: As far as a career in food goes, Thomas Gugler seems to have done it all — from working with five-star hotels and gourmet restaurants to hospitals, airlines, mass catering and teaching in universities. Having worked in 13 different countries across the spectrum of the food and beverage industry, Gugler moved to Saudi Arabia in 2002 to join Saudi Arabian Airlines as their executive master chef. In 2009, he co-founded the Saudi Arabian Chefs Association.

“I knew I wanted to become a chef since I was two,” Gugler told Arab News. “My mother and grandmother were both fantastic cooks and that’s how I fell in love with this profession.”

He’s come a long way since he was two in his 35-year-long career, 17 of which he has spent in Saudi Arabia.

Now, as president of the World Association of Chefs Societies, he is tasked with the significant responsibility of leading more than 10 million members from across 110 countries.

“We organize worldwide cooking competitions and educational programs, as well as look into issues such as sustainability and cultural cooking. Our role is to build bridges between the commercial part and the consumers.”

With the head of such a prestigious global organization being based in Saudi Arabia, the local industry should be poised for growth, but, according to Gugler, there is plenty of room for improvement.

“Generally, the cooking and food standards here are not the best but with time and effort all this will be developed more and more,” he said.

Socio-political changes and the boost to the Saudi tourism sector will go a long way in developing the food and beverage industry, he believes.

“This will motivate and benefit the entire hospitality industry and raise the level, which is necessary. Stricter rules, regulations and food safety practices will encourage young and talented people in the industry to become better. It’s a golden opportunity,” Gugler said

His personal preference in food veers toward the local. “I like Arabic cuisine. The best kind is the cultural ethnic cuisine, the heritage of which can be traced back centuries. The local Hijazi cuisine is something no one should miss,” he said.