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.
“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.”
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.