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.


What We Are Eating Today: Crepe and Waffle 

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Updated 20 May 2022

What We Are Eating Today: Crepe and Waffle 

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  • They are offered with all the sauces mentioned above, in addition to Oreo, Mars, Snickers and Ferrero Rocher biscuit toppings, as well as banana and strawberry toppings

Crepe and Waffle is a small, family-run dessert shop that has branches in many districts of Jeddah.
The shop offers a wide selection of crepes, waffles and pancake batter, as well as sauces.
The crepe section includes lotus, the house special (Nutella, pistachio and biscuit flakes), crunchy, Galaxy, white chocolate, Nutella, Belgian chocolate, pistachio, and Kinder.
You can order crepes that come in a sushi roll form, or in the classic triangular form.
They offer the same sauces for the waffles as well, and have a classic Dutch waffle option too.
Crepe and Waffle have an incredible mini pancake selection, with boxes that offer from 15 up to 50 pieces, which are an excellent option for gatherings.
They are offered with all the sauces mentioned above, in addition to Oreo, Mars, Snickers and Ferrero Rocher biscuit toppings, as well as banana and strawberry toppings.
They also offer what is called the “Sushi Box” which contains six different types of sushi crepe fillings: Marshmallow, brownies, cake, strawberry, banana, and Kinder along with four different dipping sauces of your choice.
Crepe and Waffle also have branches in Makkah and Taif.
They offer hot and cold drinks, from mojitos and iced teas to all kinds of coffee.
I treated myself to a crepe with Galaxy sauce and a cappuccino. I was more surprised by how good their coffee is than their main products.
Their slogan is “made with love,” and I can taste that through the high quality of their dough and generous sauce portions.
The branches in Jeddah can be found in the districts of Al-Ruhaili, Al-Hamdaniyah, Al-Waha, Al-Rawdah, Al-Nahda, Al-Marwa, Al-Fayhaa, Al-Sanabel, and Al-Waziriya. For more information, visit their Instagram page
@crepewaffle_ksa or website www.crepeandwaffless.com


EXPLAINER: Why monkeypox cases are rising in Europe

EXPLAINER: Why monkeypox cases are rising in Europe
Updated 19 May 2022

EXPLAINER: Why monkeypox cases are rising in Europe

EXPLAINER: Why monkeypox cases are rising in Europe

LONDON: A handful of cases of monkeypox have now been reported or are suspected in the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain.
The outbreaks are raising alarm because the disease mostly occurs in west and central Africa, and only very occasionally spreads elsewhere.
Here’s what scientists know so far.

’Highly unusual’
Monkeypox is a virus that causes fever symptoms as well as a distinctive bumpy rash. It is usually mild, although there are two main strains: the Congo strain, which is more severe – with up to 10 percent mortality – and the West African strain, which has a fatality rate of more like 1 percent of cases. The UK cases are least have been reported as the West African strain.
“Historically, there have been very few cases exported. It has only happened eight times in the past before this year,” said Jimmy Whitworth, a professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who said it was “highly unusual.”
Portugal has logged five confirmed cases, and Spain is testing 23 potential cases. Neither country has reported cases before.

Transmission
The virus spreads through close contact, both in spillovers from animal hosts and, less commonly, between humans. It was first found in monkeys in 1958, hence the name, although rodents are now seen as the main source of transmission.
Transmission this time is puzzling experts, because a number of the cases in the United Kingdom — nine as of May 18 — have no known connection with each other. Only the first case reported on May 6 had recently traveled to Nigeria.
As such, experts have warned of wider transmission if cases have gone unreported.
The UK Health Security Agency’s alert also highlighted that the recent cases were predominantly among men who self-identified as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men, and advised those groups to be alert.
Scientists will now sequence the virus to see if they are linked, the World Health Organization (WHO) said this week.

Why not?
One likely scenario behind the increase in cases is increased travel as COVID restrictions are lifted.
“My working theory would be that there’s a lot of it about in west and central Africa, travel has resumed, and that’s why we are seeing more cases,” said Whitworth.
Monkeypox puts virologists on the alert because it is in the smallpox family, although it causes less serious illness.
Smallpox was eradicated by vaccination in 1980, and the shot has been phased out. But it also protects against monkeypox, and so the winding down of vaccination campaigns has led to a jump in monkeypox cases, according to Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at UCLA in California.
But experts urged people not to panic.
“This isn’t going to cause a nationwide epidemic like COVID did, but it’s a serious outbreak of a serious disease – and we should take it seriously,” said Whitworth.


Where We are Going Today: Bonny Cafe

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Updated 18 May 2022

Where We are Going Today: Bonny Cafe

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  • The food and beverage market witnessed considerable growth in Saudi Arabia after the launch Vision 2030 program

Bonny Cafe in Jeddah is a Saudi brand offering freshly made specialty coffees.
Using a range of beans such as Colombian, Ethiopian, and Yemini, the outlet regularly changes its coffee menu with tastes from around the world.
It also has a breakfast menu, with its best-seller being French toast. Other dishes, served throughout the day until midnight, include turkey bacon and egg, and chicken sandwiches, turkey rolls, and arugula salads. Fresh pineapple iced tea is a customer favorite.
Set in modern, relaxing surroundings, the cafe offers private rooms for meetings and other gatherings.
The food and beverage market witnessed considerable growth in Saudi Arabia after the launch Vision 2030 program.
With a population of more than 32 million, international and local companies are now competing to enter the market in this sector.
The entertainment industry and the increased number of sports events and concerts in the Kingdom also positively impacts the food sector.
This growth already appears in increased mobile delivery applications, food trucks, and international and local cafes in large cities such as Jeddah and Riyadh.
Cafes have proved popular, especially among millennials. For more information about Bonny Cafe, visit the cafe’s Instagram account at @bonnysplty.

 


What We Are Eating Today: The Peak

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Updated 15 May 2022

What We Are Eating Today: The Peak

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  • The box includes six slices of meat, a bottle of special sauce, cheddar cheese slices and six burger buns with or without sesame seeds, as well as salt and pepper

Summertime and the grilling is easy, so go for a burger experience with a difference at The Peak, a new restaurant in Alkhobar city.
The Peak offers healthier options than your average fast-food outlet by using fresh beef and chicken and maintaining the right balance between meat and fat to create the best flavor.
Their signature order is the cheesy peak burger with one of their special sauces — spicy, maple, ranch, or spicy peanut.
They also offer very delicious fries with the restaurant’s special seasonings.
The menu is straightforward, but this allows you to enjoy customizing your orders.
For a bigger portion, go for the double peak burger, which looks like a blooming flower of extra taste, oozing cheese and soft bun. Aside from savories and burgers, the restaurant offers a range of ice creams, such as custard and muhalabiah, inspired by Mideastern culture and garnished with crushed pistachio and dried rose petals.
As beach picnics are all the rage in the Saudi Arabian summer, The Peak offers you a barbecue box for six people to get the most from your session on the grill. The box includes six slices of meat, a bottle of special sauce, cheddar cheese slices and six burger buns with or without sesame seeds, as well as salt and pepper. All you will need is a grill and good company to enjoy the day.
For more information visit their Instagram account @thepeak.sa.


Secret ingredient is love as Saudi grandmother shares her culinary skills with the world

Saudi grandmother Nijat Abdulmajeed, middle, with her daughter Basmah Omair, right, and granddaughter Shahad Nejaim.
Saudi grandmother Nijat Abdulmajeed, middle, with her daughter Basmah Omair, right, and granddaughter Shahad Nejaim.
Updated 15 May 2022

Secret ingredient is love as Saudi grandmother shares her culinary skills with the world

Saudi grandmother Nijat Abdulmajeed, middle, with her daughter Basmah Omair, right, and granddaughter Shahad Nejaim.
  • Rather than simply passing on her knowledge of Arab food to her own family, Nijat Abdulmajeed is targeting a global audience through Instagram

JEDDAH: Saudi grandmother Nijat Abdulmajeed from Jeddah is on a mission to pass on the culinary knowledge and skills she has accumulated during a lifetime of preparing authentic Arab food, not only to her own children and grandchildren but to all Saudis and other people around the world.

Her granddaughter, Shahad Nejaim, said that her grandmother’s cooking has always been an important way in which she shows her love for family and friends.

This was confirmed by Abdulmajeed’s daughter and Nejaim's mother, Basmah Omair, who said: “Her cooking means home and love to me … and meals are the way we express love in this house.”

After deciding that it would be a good idea to pass on the wealth of cooking knowledge and experience she has gained over the years, Abdulmajeed decided to share her recipes, tricks and tips for making some of the most delicious and authentic Arab dishes not only with her family but with the whole world on Instagram, where she goes by the name @annati_1.

For Arab News she made fatteh bazinjan, a dish that includes eggplant, ground meat, fried bread and yogurt, and is topped with pine nuts and pomegranate. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

"Anna" is something you call a grandmother, the "Ti" at the end of the word shows possession, Nejaim said that as kids, Nejaim and her cousins would argue saying "she is my Anna, no, she is my Anna." When deciding the name for her Instagram they decided to make her everyone's grandmother, hence the name "Annati."

“We wanted to document her cooking for the grandchildren only but my mom thought that we could pass on the knowledge to the whole younger generation,” Omair said.

HIGHLIGHT

‘Anna’ is something you call a grandmother, the ‘Ti’ at the end of the word shows possession, Nejaim said that as kids, Nejaim and her cousins would argue saying ‘she is my Anna, no, she is my Anna.’ When deciding the name for her Instagram they decided to make her everyone’s grandmother, hence the name ‘Annati.’

“She was the force behind the idea of putting videos on Instagram. She told me that it might work or it might not but we have nothing to lose.”

Abdulmajeed and her family invited a team from Arab News into their home to watch her in action in the kitchen and see how food is an integral part of the loving bond she shares with her children and grandchildren.

Immediately, it was obvious that she exudes an aura of warmth and love that envelopes not only her own family but their guests as well. It was also obviously important to her that her visitors were well fed and understood the value she places on family.

For Arab News she made fatteh bazinjan, a dish that includes eggplant, ground meat, fried bread and yogurt, and is topped with pine nuts and pomegranate. One of the key ingredients is pomegranate molasses, which is a favorite of Abdulmajeed. As she prepared the meal, she encouraged her guests to sample the individual ingredients to understand each element before they all came together in the finished dish

Abdulmajeed said that through the years people had often told her that she should write a recipe book or make a cookery show.

“But at that time I was busy with my life and children,” she said. “Only now have I got some time in my life and have begun sharing my recipes on Instagram.”

She said that she most enjoys making savory Arabic dishes but also dabbles in desserts and other cuisines from around the world.

Abdulmajeed revealed that when she moved to the US for the education of her children she was determined to ensure her children remained connected to their roots and culture, including its cuisine.

“So, I started making everything at home, by myself, from scratch,” she added.

Her daughter and granddaughter agreed that many of their most cherished memories of Abdulmajeed revolve around food: The meals their "Anna" cooked for them, or being in the kitchen with her and learning how to cook.

“One of my favorite memories is from when we were living in the US and my father would open our door to anyone who was a student, or was living without their family, to come for futoor (iftar), so it was an open-house invitation,” said Omair.

Nejaim said that she loves Arab cuisine.

“For others, comfort food might be mac and cheese or fries; for me it’s anything with dibs rumman (pomegranate molasses) in it,” she added. “(My grandmother’s) dishes are like when you want to hug someone and you can’t give them a hug, so you go to the kitchen and try and recreate the feeling.”

She said that the experience of learning how to cook from her grandmother involved a process of unlearning what she thought she knew and learning to trust her instincts.

“I was really precise, as I liked to bake, but she just refused to let me use measurements and instead encouraged me go with my gut feeling,” said Nejaim.

“So, it was a learning curve for me. It was a very special experience. It was beyond a culinary experience; I feel like I was getting a piece of her that I will keep with me and hand it down to my own children.”

Abdulmajeed said that Arabic food can take a very long time to cook and many young people don’t like spending that amount of time on preparing food.

“I try to tell them that there are ways in which you can prepare in advance that help cut down the time, and when you come home tired you can make it for yourself,” she said.

Looking to the future, the family plans to organize online classes especially for younger people to teach them how to prepare ingredients in advance and make the cooking process easier.

“I am enjoying sharing (my mother) with the world,” said Omair, her eyes filling with tears. “I think she deserves to be acknowledged for the mother she is and the knowledge she has. When you have the knowledge, you can’t just hold on to it.”

Beyond her cooking tips, Abdulmajeed has some other important advice to pass on to families.

“I gave my whole life to keeping my family close to me and being the best mother and grandmother I could possibly be,” she said. “I became their friend and I have no regrets about devoting my life to my children. I think that family should always be a priority.”

Omair said another important lesson she learned from her mother is that it is never too late to start something new that one is passionate about and that it is important stop being a perfectionist and not be afraid to take risks.

“Being with my mom has allowed me to enjoy what I want to do instead of waiting until I absolutely knew that the outcome would be perfect,” she said.