Perfect recipe: Saudi women chefs are putting change on the menu at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton

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Chef Al-Maha Al-Dossary serves up a vegan delight. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)
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Sushi chef Habeeba Abdullah prepares her favorite cuisine.  (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)
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Ritz-Carlton’s women chefs (from left): Reem Al-Saeed, Nooriyah Al-Ghamdi, Areej Al-Juma’a, Al-Maha Al-Dossary, Basma Al-Jalal, Fadwa Al-Rumaih, Um Abdullah Al-Maliki and Habeeba Abdullah. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)
Updated 25 July 2018
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Perfect recipe: Saudi women chefs are putting change on the menu at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton

  • Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh opened its doors to female chefs two years ago, becoming one of the first hotels in the Kingdom to employ women in the kitchen
  • Chef Al-Maha Al-Dossary was a corporate banker before deciding to pursue her dream of cooking

RIYADH: In Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton, one of the most renowned hotels in the world, Saudi female chefs have taken over the kitchen. Their mission? To show the world the true meaning of Arabian hospitality by delighting visitors’ palates. Traditional Saudi dishes are their specialty, but the cuisine is international, ranging from Italian to Chinese.

The chefs work in the hotel’s three restaurants: Hong, which features classic and modern Chinese cuisine; Azzurro, where fresh, seasonal ingredients are used to prepare classic Italian dishes with a modern twist; and Al Orjouan, an all-day dining buffet that serves a large brunch on Fridays. 

In line with Vision 2030, the hotel opened its doors to female chefs two years ago, becoming one of the first hotels in the Kingdom to employ women in the kitchen. It now has 15 women chefs, with more on the way.

“The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh is working in line with Saudi’s Vision 2030 in employing females in all departments of the hotel, culinary included,” said hotel manager Mohammed Marghalani. “However, we haven’t recruited them simply because they are women but because they are competent and excel in what they do, and that has always been our vision: To have a dedicated team of professionals that work together.” 

Chef Al-Maha Al-Dossary, who grew up in Riyadh, was a corporate banker before deciding to pursue her dream of cooking. Her journey is one that will inspire others.

“Working at the bank was somewhat boring because it was routine. I would come back home, cook and bake. An epiphany hit me while cooking and doing what I love, and that was since I enjoy doing it so much, why don’t I make it my career? It was an impulsive decision, but one I don’t regret. If you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life.”

After deciding to advance her career as a chef, Al-Dossary graduated from Le Cordon Bleu culinary school  in London. “I studied there for three years. In the beginning, I was sure that I wanted to be a pastry chef, but then I studied cuisine and I found the hot kitchen engaging and active.

“Once I returned from my studies, I applied at the Ritz because it’s an excellent hub to improve yourself, since we have exposure and engagement.” 

The vegan chef, who enjoys a meat-free diet, is part of the Ritz-Carlton’s Voyager program, which prepares chefs to become managers. Al-Dossary said: “I began from the commissary, which receives food, and worked up to the Italian cuisine, going through all the stages of kitchen work and taking it step by step to learn the whole process.” 

Al-Dossary hopes to open a chain of vegan restaurants in the future. 

Sushi chef Habeeba Abdullah began cooking at the age of 11. She cooked her first full lamb with her uncle. “He kissed my forehead after we had completed the feast, and I felt a sense of pride. His encouragement helped pave the path of my culinary love, and his support made me feel I will be something big some day.” 

Abdullah is a member of the Saudi Arabian Chefs Association, which offered her the chance to learn the art of making sushi, inviting her to a course in Jeddah. The week-long course gave trainees a sense that they were truly in Japan, she said, with Japanese chefs teaching her how to make sushi from scratch. “It was a new experience and I wanted to be a part of the new generation and prepare foods that they will enjoy.” 

Asked about her ambitions, she said: “I aspired from the beginning, from cooking at home to cooking worldwide. I now consider myself (as if I were) working in the royal palace, which is the start of my launch to worldwide.” 

Fadwa Al-Rumaih attributes her love of cooking to her upbringing. “My mother was my inspiration. Ever since I was young, we would cook together. The Ritz-Carlton gave me the chance to work in a world-renowned hotel and further my skills.” Saudi food is Al-Rumaih’s  specialty, and she enjoys nothing more than seeing happy eaters who leave with a smile. 

Chef Um Abdullah Al-Maliki said: “I cook with love. Cooking is my passion. I make breakfast in the morning for my kids. Then, after taking them to school, I cook at the hotel and come back once more to make a delicious meal for my family.” 

Asked if she ever tires of the kitchen, since she basically spends all day in it, her reply was “never.”

 “How can you get bored with your passion? I consider myself lucky that I get to do what I love, with love. No day goes without me being in the kitchen, whether at home or in the hotel. It’s my element and one that I feel most happy in,” she said.

One of the most challenging dining seasons is during Ramadan. Buffets are served after sundown until the sun comes up. It is the busiest time of year for these chefs — but also the most enjoyable.

“The happiness we feel when the serving dishes come back to kitchen empty is indescribable,” Al-Maliki said. 

The demand was high, with the chefs serving more than 25 roasted lambs each day in Ramadan, along with more than 180 kilograms of rice.

“Ramadan usually is a stressful time for us because of the workload, but I can honestly say that it is the most memorable,” Al-Maliki said. 

No food is wasted or thrown away, since the Ritz-Carlton has partnered with a charitable organization to distribute excess food to the needy throughout the year. 

While interviewing the female chefs, I noticed a young male Saudi chef helping the women out. “We consider ourselves a family,” said Salah Al-Dien bin Taleb, a junior sous chef. 

He has been at the Ritz for two years, and was surprised when the women joined.

“I must say that I was surprised by their persistence in doing a good job and their high work ethic. Even in the simplest of things, they are extremely detailed. Also, they do not restrict themselves to a certain cuisine. The sky’s the limit, and they are always determined to learn new things.” 

“All of us have the same dream, which is to have Saudi cuisine featured internationally in restaurants worldwide. That is what we are working hard for,” said chef Reem Al-Saeed. 

“Saudi Arabia is large, with many different regions that serve a vast variety of dishes. All tastes are satisfied, because of the large selection we have.” 


A wellness interlude

The relaxation room at the Pearl Spa. (All images supplied)
Updated 20 September 2018
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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.