RIYADH: From pastry chef to CEO of the Saudi Culinary Arts Commission, cook Mayada Badr is on a mission to highlight the Kingdom’s food and put it on the global map.
“My ambition is to bring light to our strategy and elevate the culinary arts industry in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and also introduce it to the world,” she told Arab News.
“We have so much to offer. It’s amazing because it’s not like you’re trying to create something – it is all there,” she said, referring to the Kingdom’s different regions all with their own unique dishes.
Tourists and visitors could get a taste of tradition and authenticity from eating experiences. “Tourists want to understand us through our food,” she added.
The commission has been studying Saudi food and how it is viewed on the international stage.
“We’ve actually done that research, and we asked chefs around the world. Their answer was: ‘We honestly don’t know, it’s a shame. We do not have an idea of what you eat.’ And that’s probably why they can’t really relate sometimes to us, as we are so diverse,” said Badr.
The commission has hired researchers to allocate the origins of Saudi dishes. “We have a lot to offer, and we simply need to shed light on our diverse and unique offerings from ingredients to cuisine.”
The Saudi culinary landscape is set for a dramatic change under soon-to-be-announced commission plans for culinary schools, cooking classes, street food, and more.
“We’re going to announce our strategy which is very exciting. But it goes through the whole food chain in that sense: Basically, the farmers to the production of different products, to the cooking technique, through education, through the infrastructure, to the offering, and then to gastro diplomacy and food tourism routes,” she added.
Badr’s own journey started with a passion for food. Owner of a pastry shop, Pink Camel, and farmer-style restaurant, Black Cardamom, both in Jeddah, Badr became CEO of the Culinary Arts Commission, one of the 11 newly created commissions under the Ministry of Culture, in February.
While studying at the Parsons school of art and design in Paris, she saved up to eat in Michelin-starred restaurants around France. Another treat for her was getting cookbooks autographed by top chefs.
Apart from dining in French restaurants, she also decided to expand her culinary education and attended renowned Le Cordon Bleu Paris. After completing her grand diploma, she interned for three months at Laduree, the French luxury bakery and cafe famous for its macarons, where she met incredible chefs who taught her different skills in pastry making.
She then moved to the south of France and interned at La Bastide Saint Antoine, a two-star Michelin restaurant in the small city of Grasse.
Returning to Saudi, she craved macarons but could not find any of decent quality, so took it upon herself to make her own to satisfy her craving.
Realizing that the French pastry business was limited in the Kingdom, with only a few restaurants that offered top-quality products, Badr opened Pink Camel, her own French pastry shop, on July 21, 2012.
Not only does it represent Saudi culture, but Badr also infuses culture into her macarons by mixing Western and local flavors.
She first started gaining recognition through baking impeccable fresh macarons, focusing on quality over quantity and prompted by her “love for food and the simple joy it brings to everyone.”
On the secret to her macarons, she said: “I honestly think the key is that we make them fresh every day.”