How Saudi chef Nour Al-Zaben is transforming the country’s culinary scene

Saudi chef Nour Al-Zaben trained at Paris’s Cordon Bleu culinary school. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 14 January 2020

How Saudi chef Nour Al-Zaben is transforming the country’s culinary scene

  • The young chef earned her stripes as a professional cook shortly after graduating from the prestigious Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris
  • She is the brainchild behind the menus of hotspots across the Kingdom

DUBAI: In 2018, Saudi chef and food consultant Nour Al-Zaben single-handedly revived a tiny, obsolescent concept in Jeddah, now known as Urb Kitchen, which would go on to establish itself as one of the trendiest restaurants in the Kingdom.

The young chef earned her stripes as a professional cook shortly after graduating from the prestigious Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris, refurbishing and overhauling a number of restaurants dotted throughout Saudi Arabia. By the time she completed her chef training, Al-Zaben was the brainchild behind the menus of hotspots like Riyadh’s Poké Six.

Al-Zaben first discovered her passion for cooking at the age of 14, during her time at a boarding school in Lebanon. Without culinary help from her family, the blossoming chef had to fend for herself in the kitchen. She would provide meals for herself and her younger siblings, aged nine and 11 at the time, occasionally dialing up her mother for recipes.




Despite having a natural knack for cooking, Al-Zaben never would have thought to pursue it as a career. (Supplied)

“I used to call either my mom, grandma or the nanny back home that used to cook for us to ask how I could make certain recipes that I missed or dishes that my brother was craving,” shared Al-Zaben with Arab News.

It wasn’t long before Al-Zaben’s classmates began to enjoy the lunches and dinners she cooked. “It kind of became a thing,” she explained. “I began cooking for people who didn’t have families in the boarding school.”

But despite having a natural knack for cooking, Al-Zaben “never in a million years” would have thought to pursue it as a career.

“It wasn’t a common career path for Arab girls at the time,” she explained. “It was kind of looked down on.”




After a lot of persuasion, she was able to convince her parents to enroll in culinary school. (Supplied)

It wasn’t until one of the chef’s friends decided to go to culinary school that Al-Zaben opened up to the idea of cooking as a career path.

“After I graduated, I realized that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working at a desk job,” she reflected. “After a lot of persuasion, I was able to convince my parents to allow me to enroll in culinary school.”

As for what’s next? Well, you can expect to see the chef on your small screen come February.

Though Al-Zaben couldn’t share too many details, she revealed that she is currently filming a travel and cooking show that aims to introduce the Saudi audience to different cultures and cuisines around the world, while simultaneously showing the world what the Kingdom has to offer.

Watch this space.

 


Film review: Great storytelling makes for fascinating watch in Netflix’s ‘Yeh Ballet’

“Yeh Ballet” is no rags-to-riches story, but one of sheer fortitude and a bit of luck. (Supplied)
Updated 24 February 2020

Film review: Great storytelling makes for fascinating watch in Netflix’s ‘Yeh Ballet’

CHENNAI: Sooni Taraporevala gained immense fame by writing for Mira Nair’s films, such as “The Namesake,” “Mississippi Masala” and the Oscar-nominated “Salaam Bombay.” In 2009, Taraporevala stepped behind the camera to helm a small movie called “Little Zizou” about the Parsi community. It was a hit, and three years ago, she took up the camera again to create a virtual reality short documentary about two boys from Mumbai’s slums who became renowned ballet dancers. 

Taraporevala converted her documentary into a full-length feature, “Yeh Ballet,” for Netflix, and the work, though with a somewhat documentary feel, is fascinating storytelling — a talent we have seen in her writings for Nair. 

Happily, “Yeh Ballet” is no rags-to-riches story (of the kind “Gully Boy” was), but one of sheer fortitude and a bit of luck. The film begins with a breathtaking aerial shot of the Arabian Ocean on whose shores Mumbai stands — an element that points toward the director’s background as a photographer. 

The film chronicles the lives of Nishu and Asif Beg. (Supplied) 

A story inspired by true events, “Yeh Ballet” chronicles the lives of Nishu (Manish Chauhan) and Asif Beg (newcomer Achintya Bose). The two lads are spotted by a ballet master, Saul Aaron (British actor Julian Sands) who, driven away from America because of his religion, lands in a Mumbai dance school.

Nishu and Asif, despite their nimble-footed ballet steps, find their paths paved with the hardest of obstacles. When foreign scholarships from famous ballet academies come calling, they cannot get a visa because they have no bank accounts. And while Asif’s father, dictated by his religion, is dead against the boy’s music and dancing, Nishu’s dad, a taxi driver, feels that his son’s passion is a waste of time and energy.

Well, all this ends well — as we could have guessed — but solid writing and imaginative editing along with Ankur Tewari’s curated music and the original score by Salvage Audio Collective turn “Yeh Ballet” into a gripping tale. It is not an easy task to transform a documentary into fiction, but Taraporevala does it with great ease. Or so it appears. Of course, the two protagonists add more than a silver lining to a movie that will be long remembered — the way we still mull over “Salaam Bombay” or “The Namesake.” But what I missed was a bit more ballet; the two guys are just wonderful to watch as they fly through the air.