How one Kuwaiti chef is helping local farms and encouraging healthy eating 

Firas Al-Zaid is founder of Community Table, which has become one of the best-known culinary initiatives in Kuwait. (Supplied)
Firas Al-Zaid is founder of Community Table, which has become one of the best-known culinary initiatives in Kuwait. (Supplied)
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Updated 28 May 2021

How one Kuwaiti chef is helping local farms and encouraging healthy eating 

Firas Al-Zaid is founder of Community Table, which has become one of the best-known culinary initiatives in Kuwait. (Supplied)
  • Firas Al-Zaid’s farm-to-table dining project brings together young Kuwaiti chefs who prepare meals using the finest local ingredients
  • Community Table has stayed afloat through the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to Al-Zaid’s popular series of virtual cooking classes

KUWAIT CITY: A chef in the Middle East has taken the concept of giving back to the community to a new level with his popular farm-to-table project.

“The Community Table idea came about when I was studying and working in Miami,” said Firas Al-Zaid, founder of what has become one of the best-known culinary initiatives in Kuwait.

“I was constantly being inspired by other chefs and farmers, and those experiences evolved into a yearning to create a community back home — one that would allow us to grow as one force.”

The result is Community Table, which he launched in 2013 and is locally sourced in every sense. It brings together young Kuwaiti chefs from diverse culinary backgrounds to prepare multi-course menus made with ingredients that come directly from local farms.




Community Table brings together young Kuwaiti chefs from diverse culinary backgrounds to prepare multi-course menus made with ingredients that come directly from local farms. (Supplied)

“The typical format of a Community Table event is usually born with a single idea or food theme,” said Al-Zaid. “We then carefully build on that concept through sourcing from our farmers, as well as in collaboration with other entities, to bring the vision to life.

“Within the framework of a multiple-course tasting menu that highlights that particular theme, guests are seated at one table in an intimate setting of mostly strangers, which makes the experience even more exciting.”

Though the chefs and ingredients are local, the themes for the menus span diverse regions and cultures, and also the changing seasons.

For example, the beginning of the local harvest inspires a culinary adventure — “a uniquely themed ‘harvest special” — that explores our relationship with food, which has become somewhat strained in the modern era of takeaway menus and fast-food dining.

“Food is its own universe, and traveling through different cuisines allows us to remain curious,” said Al-Zaid.

FASTFACT

* All ingredients used by Community Table chefs come directly from local farms

“The most gratifying part of paying homage to other food regions is that we’re able to do so using local and indigenous ingredients, and the cultural parallels that are connected in that process are very mentally stimulating for a chef.”

The participants in a Community Table event almost always are total strangers who gather at a table simply to enjoy the group dining experience, which brings the focus on food back to where it belongs, he added.

“Through the power of food, long-lasting friendships have been built over the years,” said Al-Zaid.

He also emphasized the importance and significance of working together as a community to bring food to a table, an endeavor that goes beyond simply preparing a meal.




Though the chefs and ingredients are local, the themes for the menus span diverse regions and cultures, and also the changing seasons. (Supplied)

“We often have artists bringing their talent to our pop-up art and menu design,” he said. “Local baristas are often featured as a finale to the meal, and each table setting and the ambience is entirely re-imagined for each event.”

The venues and settings are carefully considered, too. The first Community Table took place at Sadu House, a popular historic landmark in Kuwait. Subsequent events have been held in a variety of locations, including farms, restaurants and even museums.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced social gatherings to be suspended, but even in these challenging times Al-Zaid has found ways to share his vision of bringing the community together through a love of food, this time online with virtual cooking classes. These include a box of fresh ingredients that is sent to participants to use during the group sessions.

The chef also presents regular tutorials in the form of 60-second Instagram videos that explain some basic “how to” cooking techniques that are handy in the kitchen.




The COVID-19 pandemic forced social gatherings to be suspended, but even in these challenging times Al-Zaid has found ways to share his vision of bringing the community together through a love of food. (Supplied)

In a country that has long been ranked as one of the worst in the world in terms of obesity and health issues, initiatives such as Community Table offer a much-needed counterforce. They encourage people to ask questions about what goes into the food they eat and where it comes from, while also raising awareness of the benefits of choosing natural, locally sourced ingredients.

On a more personal level, Al-Zaid said his professional journey has been long but rewarding.

“Being a chef is extremely gratifying and I really consider it an honor,” he said. “But it also has some deeply low points that challenge you to constantly find new ways of staying motivated.

“Working with others for a common cause is a necessary reminder that none of us are alone in this.”

* This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


In conversation with Kuwaiti chef Ahmad Al-Bader

In conversation with Kuwaiti chef Ahmad Al-Bader
Portrait of Kuwaiti chef Ahmed Al-Bader. Supplied
Updated 30 July 2021

In conversation with Kuwaiti chef Ahmad Al-Bader

In conversation with Kuwaiti chef Ahmad Al-Bader
  • The Kuwaiti chef and entrepreneur on cheese-melt goodness, the brilliance of butter, and taking inspiration from his dad

LONDON: On a fine London afternoon, Kuwaiti chef Ahmed Al-Bader sits in Chestnut Bakery. It is one of four successful food ventures he’s co-founded and currently co-manages — the other three being the beef canteen Habra, and Lunch Room — a “social-dining venue” — both in Kuwait, as well as GunBun in Riyadh.

Al-Bader has made a name for himself in the regional and international culinary scenes thanks largely to the consistent quality of his food, which is partly down to his systematic approach to cooking and baking. 

Al-Bader has made a name for himself in the regional and international culinary scenes. Supplied

“This is the core of success,” he says. “Things have to be written down. For the past 10 years I’ve been writing my recipes, not cooking them. When you reach this point, you have to be very experienced and to know exactly what is right. Recipes are written based on the palette — the acidity, sourness, bitterness, and sweetness; that’s how I create the balance.”

Q: What’s one ingredient that can instantly improve any dish? 

A: Butter. It’s has a fatty flavour. It’s soothing and it hits the palette. Sometimes you can have a loaf of white bread and still feel empty. But on other days you can have two or three spoons of peanut butter and some honey and feel happy.

What’s your favorite cuisine?

I love Chinese food, and Indian. Anything that (Wagamama founder) Alan Yau does always inspires me. He’s one of the ‘guru’ concept developers I’ve met. I respect how he thinks and works and I’ve learned a lot from him. The same applies to Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (co-owners of six delis and restaurants in London). I have the greatest respect for them. 

Supplied.

What’s the most common issue you find when you eat in other restaurants?

Dining out is never for competitive purposes. Knowledge is always my objective — I want to learn how to do something. But not to compete. My objective is always to build something with value. 

What’s your go-to dish if you have to cook something quickly? And why?

A cheese melt sandwich. Good cheese and good bread. It’s soothing. And you can play with it — you can put pickles, mustard, or roast beef or chicken. And use a good 60 grams of butter; that will give you a solid foundation.

What’s the most annoying thing customers do?

Customers are never annoying. As long as they’re not insulting one of the waiters or insulting us, I’ll respect whatever they have to say. I’m here to serve them. 

What’s your biggest challenge as a restaurateur?

Food handling, especially critical items like protein and fish that need to be transported. I don’t risk having a lot of them in my concept because of the heat and handling. Freshness is very important in these protein concepts. That’s why I simplify things through process cooking or curing, et cetera. That’s what I do to avoid any bacterial growth. 

Supplied.

What’s your favorite dish to cook? 

Grilling and barbecuing reminds me so much of my dad. Prepping instant salsas is also one of many things I learned from him. He’s probably been making chimichurri for 30 years but in his own way, with a lot of coriander and garlic. He’s always been a host. Hosting is very important to me. 

I also love slow cooking. I love cooking tongue — beef or lamb — and this I also got from my dad. I remember he used to slice it and eat it with mustard. And I always loved that. 

 

Here, Al-Bader offers some cooking tips and a recipe for a tasty beetroot dish (although it requires a sous-vide machine).

Ahmad Al-Bader’s pickled beetroot recipe 

 

INGREDIENTS:

100g boiled beetroot; 100g apple vinegar; 100g white vinegar; 30g honey; 3g roasted coriander seeds; 5g thyme; 3g roasted yellow mustard seeds; 3g whole black pepper; 3g fresh dill; 3g salt; 10g jaggery

 

INSTRUCTIONS: 

1. Set sous-vide machine to 80 C.

2. Mix all ingredients in a bowl, adding the beetroot last.

3. Transfer to a vacuum-sealed bag.

4. Cook in the sous-vide machine for 10 minutes at 82 C.

5. Remove and transfer into a bowl of ice.

6. Transfer to a clean container, cover, and store in refrigerator at 1 C to 4 C until serving. It can be stored for up to three days.


What We Are Eating Today: Loqmatain

What We Are Eating Today: Loqmatain
Updated 30 July 2021

What We Are Eating Today: Loqmatain

What We Are Eating Today: Loqmatain

If you want wholesome, nutrient-dense snack choices, try Loqmatain date bars — a Saudi brand that offers healthy tasty snacks made of different types.

Loqmatain is an Arabic expression that translates as eating a small portion of food or snack, which reflects on the concept of the brand, as it offers on-the-go date bars and dip snacks that you can take to work to have with your morning coffee, or on a road trip. They are also suitable for children as Loqmatain’s products are rich in fiber and naturally sweetened.

The bars on offer are an updated version of those popular in the 80s and 90s, filled with biscuits and wrapped with date paste.

Each product is accompanied by different toppings and optional dips, including tahini, pistachio, and chocolate. The local brand deals almost exclusively with local farmers, to ensure good quality.

You can find them in supermarkets and coffee shops in many cities in Saudi Arabia. For more information visit their website: Loqmatain.com or Instagram account @loqmatain


Beauty mogul Huda Kattan backs new female wellness brand

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan backs new female wellness brand
Ketish, launched by former Huda Beauty product developer Eman Abbass, is the first brand to be launched by HB Angels. Supplied
Updated 27 July 2021

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan backs new female wellness brand

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan backs new female wellness brand

DUBAI: Iraqi-US beauty mogul Huda Kattan has announced Ketish as the first brand to be launched by Huda Beauty Angels — which falls under HB Investments, Kattan’s venture capital firm. Ketish, a feminine care label, is being spearheaded by Eman Abbass, a former Huda Beauty product developer.

“I’m really excited on a deep level about Huda Beauty Angels and being able to reveal to you guys very soon the first project we are investing in with an amazing founder who has such an amazing mission and purpose and we know they’re going to change the world,” she said in a video shared with her 49 million Instagram followers.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by HUDA KATTAN (@hudabeauty)

“When we first started our brand, nobody wanted to invest in us. Nobody wanted to really believe in our cause and what we were doing,” she added, revealing what prompted her to start the $10 million female entrepreneur seeding initiative, HB Angels.

Specializing in female wellness, Ketish aims to launch its first product in August 2021, although Abbass has been tight-lipped on the sort of products that will be offered, telling The Industry Fashion website that the brand will focus on “targeted body care products.”

The new brand was inspired by Abbass’s own health experience. When she was 21-years-old, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer during her first-ever gynecologist appointment. Coming from a conservative background, Abbass felt ashamed to talk to her American-Egyptian family about her health during the diagnosis and treatment process.

Huda and Mona Kattan pictured with Eman Abbass (M). Supplied

Following a nine-year healing journey that she had to go through alone, Abbass was inspired to launch the luxurious female wellness brand that aims to reform feminine care products in the Middle East and is named after a female ancient Egyptian deity.

“A lot of those brands and products that we find now are in the pharmacy and the pharmacy is traditionally a place that you go when you are sick or something is wrong,” she told The Industry Fashion website. “We want to take feminine wellness and care out of the pharmacy and put it in the places that women shop… when I’m having a bad day I go to Sephora or I hop on to Cult Beauty. It’s those spaces that we want to be playing in to really elevate that experience and give women products that they can incorporate into their overall beauty and self-care routines.”

“Ketish is a movement,” Kattan said in a press release. “It’s about taking power back and being fully comfortable with yourself. When people start to become part of this community, they’re going to feel liberated. I realized very quickly that this was a topic that so many people had so many issues with. The more I started talking to Emaan, the more I was convinced that she could change the category.”


What We Are Buying Today: Club Cake

Photo/Supplied
Photo/Supplied
Updated 24 July 2021

What We Are Buying Today: Club Cake

Photo/Supplied
  • Fillings include dulce de leche, and raspberry compote, and all the cakes are decorated using buttercream piping

Club Cake is a Saudi brand offering creative mini vintage cakes decorated to suit a variety of occasions.
Products come in sizes ranging through four, six, eight, and 10 inches and can incorporate special messages for birthdays and other celebrations.
Customers can choose different buttercream frosting color combinations, and add decorative items such as cherries, strawberries, or chocolate in special molds and sprinkles.
Fillings include dulce de leche, and raspberry compote, and all the cakes are decorated using buttercream piping.
For more information visit @clubcakesa on Instagram.

 


Philippines launches program to promote Mindanao’s halal cuisine

A hearty halal dish being served in Tambilawan Kamayan Restaurant in General Santos City. (Supplied)
A hearty halal dish being served in Tambilawan Kamayan Restaurant in General Santos City. (Supplied)
Updated 23 July 2021

Philippines launches program to promote Mindanao’s halal cuisine

A hearty halal dish being served in Tambilawan Kamayan Restaurant in General Santos City. (Supplied)
  • “Globally, the halal industry is about $2.3 trillion”

MANILA: The Philippines has launched its Halal culinary tourism program, which aims to attract more tourists to Mindanao and experience the region’s unique culinary heritage.
The program was introduced by the Department of Tourism (DoT) on Tuesday, coinciding with the celebration of the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, through a video series that can be viewed by the public on the DoT’s social media platforms.
The campaign is designed to promote not only Mindanao’s cuisine but also its people and culture, and consequently tourism destinations in the southern part of the country. As such, it is expected to help spur economic development in the region.

Sinina kambing, a Maguindanaoan delicacy, is stewed goat meat cooked using local spices.

“Food is an important part of a tourism experience. It gives us a glimpse of a place’s culture and heritage. Through the development of Halal culinary tourism, we are encouraging the discovery and familiarity with the traditions of our Muslim brothers and sisters,” said Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat.
“Halal is not exclusive to Muslims. It is for everybody. This is what we want to introduce through this project,” she added, expressing optimism that it will attract both Muslims and non-Muslims.

FASTFACT

‘We are encouraging familiarity with the traditions of our Muslim brothers and sisters,’ says tourism secretary.

The project also aims to document Mindanao’s culinary practices, create experiences and attractions by local government units and private enterprises for tourists, and promote the region’s halal tourism industry through culinary and heritage mapping.
The DoT’s video series showcases halal-certified and Muslim-friendly establishments across Mindanao island.

Bay Tal Mal restaurant’s tiyulah itum, a stew dish with braised beef or goat, originating from the Tausug tribe.

May Salvana-Unchuan, a director at the DoT, said “the aspects of halal cuisine, the halal way of doing things, and Muslim-friendly tourism were unknown before” but are “becoming a popular concept.”
Jamal Munib, commissioner at the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, said “Muslims are not the only ones who advocate halal food” because non-Muslims “can see how clean halal cuisine is.” He added: “Globally, the halal industry is about $2.3 trillion.”
Gurlie Fronoza, a tourism officer in Cotabato City, said halal culinary products are healthy because they are basically organic.
“If you’re looking for more adventure in your food than the usual menu that’s being given to us in establishments, you have to try halal,” Fronoza added.
The Tourism Promotions Board, an agency of the DoT, has said it will ramp up its support for the establishment of a complete halal ecosystem through initiatives that will further develop and promote Muslim-friendly tourist attractions and services in the country.