In conversation with Kuwaiti chef Ahmad Al-Bader

In conversation with Kuwaiti chef Ahmad Al-Bader
Portrait of Kuwaiti chef Ahmed Al-Bader. Supplied
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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 Ahmad 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.


Australian model Miranda Kerr shows off Arab gown in Ecuador

Miranda Kerr is an Australian model and the founder of beauty brand Kora Organics. (Getty Images)
Miranda Kerr is an Australian model and the founder of beauty brand Kora Organics. (Getty Images)
Updated 18 September 2021

Australian model Miranda Kerr shows off Arab gown in Ecuador

Miranda Kerr is an Australian model and the founder of beauty brand Kora Organics. (Getty Images)

DUBAI: Australian model Miranda Kerr showed off a sleek dress by Lebanese designer Nicolas Jebran on Instagram on Friday, giving fans a sneak peek of the outfit she wore to celebrate model Jasmine Tookes’s wedding earlier this month.

Earlier in September, Victoria’s Secret model Tookes married Snapchat’s Juan David Borrero in his home country of Ecuador in the presence of family and friends, including co-founder and CEO of Snap Inc. Evan Spiegel and his wife, Kerr.

For the occasion, Kerr, 38, wore a silky, rouched dress by Jebran. Chosen by celebrity stylist Jessica Paster, the beige, form-fitting gown boasted a thigh-high slit and an off-the-shoulder neckline. Kerr finished off the look with glittering Jimmy Choo heels and a gem encrusted clutch. When it came to her beauty look, Kerr opted for natural makeup and loose hair, styled in beach waves.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Miranda (@mirandakerr)

And she wasn’t the only one to choose a Lebanese design. The most important dress of the evening came courtesy of Lebanese couturier Zuhair Murad.

Tookes showed off a custom wedding gown by Murad that featured an illusion, lace-embroidered neckline, a fitted bodice and a voluminous skirt with a train. She paired the exquisite wedding dress with a sheer, floor-trailing veil. With its long sleeves and its high mandarin neck, the gown was equal parts chic and conservative.

The 30-year-old, who got engaged to the current Vice President of Ecuador’s son last year in Utah, first hinted at wearing a Zuhair Murad creation on her big day during the designer’s Fall 2021 couture show in Paris in July. 

In a social media post, she wrote: “Such a pleasure to be in Paris and watch my favorite designer @zuhairmuradofficial. Ten years ago, I used to walk his couture shows and now I wear his dresses on almost every red carpet. Something even more special is coming very soon.”

The couple tied the knot in the presence of family and friends-slash-bridesmaids, which included fellow Victoria’s Secret models Shanina Shaik, Sara Sampaio and Lais Ribiero, in the Church of San Francisco in the city of Quito on Sept. 5, after putting their plans on hold due to the pandemic.

 


Causing a stir: A generational shift in Saudi relationship with coffee

Saudi barista Sara Al-Ali, a runner-up in the 2016 MENA Cezve/Ibrik coffee-making competition and a World Cezve/Ibrik championship finalist the same year, now owns and runs That coffee shop in her hometown Riyadh. (Supplied)
Saudi barista Sara Al-Ali, a runner-up in the 2016 MENA Cezve/Ibrik coffee-making competition and a World Cezve/Ibrik championship finalist the same year, now owns and runs That coffee shop in her hometown Riyadh. (Supplied)
Updated 18 September 2021

Causing a stir: A generational shift in Saudi relationship with coffee

Saudi barista Sara Al-Ali, a runner-up in the 2016 MENA Cezve/Ibrik coffee-making competition and a World Cezve/Ibrik championship finalist the same year, now owns and runs That coffee shop in her hometown Riyadh. (Supplied)
  • Specialty flavors are fueling billion-dollar cafe growth as the ancient brew gets a modern makeover

JEDDAH: Tea or Arabic coffee? For growing numbers of Saudis, the choice is more likely to be a latte, cappuccino, frappe or macchiato served in one of the many cafes that have popped up around the Kingdom in recent years.

In every region of Saudi Arabia today, coffee is replacing traditional beverages as a central part of the modern lifestyle.
Grabbing an early morning and lunchtime coffee has become a part of office workers’ daily routine, while others visit a cafe to enjoy their favorite cup while sitting and chatting.

FASTFACTS

• Amid growing demand for new cafes and restaurants, official statistics show that investment in the sector has reached SR221 billion ($58.9 billion), with growth rates of about 8 percent expected by the end of the year.

• Meanwhile, as coffee’s popularity soars in the Kingdom, the value of imports has risen to SR1.16 billion annually, or SR3.18 million per day, authorities say. Saudi Arabia imported about 80,000 tons of coffee in 2019-2020.

The global market is feeling the effects of this change in taste as well. According to Wail Olia, trainer and member of the Specialty Coffee Association, Saudi Arabia is among countries where consumers are developing a taste not only for robusta, the beans mainly used in instant coffee, but also the high-quality arabica bean.
Olia told Arab News that Saudi Arabia’s love of coffee goes back to the days of the Ottoman empire when coffee houses in Makkah were used as religious meeting places.
“Later, religious leaders thought that coffee was an intoxicating beverage, so the governor of Makkah ordered all cafes to close,” he said.
“Cafes are the fast-growing segment of the hospitality industry worldwide. Five years ago, in my city neighborhood in Jeddah, I could count the number of cafes on one hand. Now there are so many.”
Olia has studied and trained in Milan and Florence, and is now a certified instructor for the SCA, which allows him to teach young Saudis and share his insights into coffee — something he enjoys immensely.
As more Saudi women enter the private sector, some are deciding to work as baristas and waitresses in coffee shops.

Wail Olia has studied and trained in Milan and Florence, and is now a certified instructor for the SCA, which allows him to teach young Saudis and share his insights into coffee — something he enjoys immensely.

Saudi barista Sara Al-Ali, a runner-up in the 2016 MENA Cezve/Ibrik coffee-making competition and a World Cezve/Ibrik championship finalist the same year, now owns and runs That coffee shop in her hometown Riyadh and is an authorized SCA trainer.
Coffee culture in the Kingdom is changing rapidly, she told Arab News. “Specialty coffee started only recently, but it is catching up surprisingly quickly. More coffee shops are opening. It’s at a high this year and is predicted to grow even more next year,” she said.
“As for me, specialty coffee is a product that follows quality standards at every stage of production.”
Al-Ali said that in Arab societies, coffee is part of an ancient cultural heritage.
“The big demand for coffee among all segments of our society is a healthy phenomenon and a reflection of what the Kingdom is witnessing in terms of development, prosperity and openness to different cultures,” she said.
Many Saudis are looking for innovative coffee flavors and new tastes to complement traditional styles. Al-Ali studied coffee-making in Canada after falling in love with the drink, then went to France to study further.
“It began as a habit, but after I returned to Saudi Arabia I decided to focus on coffee. The moment I made my first espresso, I realized that was what I wanted to do with my life.”
Al-Ali said that she is happy to see many cafes become places for family gatherings, business deals, or to study and even surf the internet.
Meanwhile, the growing taste for coffee in the Kingdom is also highlighting a divide between the generations when it comes to their favorite brew.
According to tea-maker Saleh Al-Husaiki, 53, older people still view Saudi Arabia as a tea-drinking nation.

I can see that the new-style coffee shops have opened side by side across the town, and more young people go to specialty cafes. But lots of people still come to us and enjoy the old tea prepared on fire.

Saleh Al-Husaiki, Tea-maker

Al-Husaiki serves the famous Taifi tea (with mint) and normal dark tea on the street, all brewed on an open coal fire.
“I can see that the new-style coffee shops have opened side by side across the town, and more young people go to specialty cafes. But lots of people still come to us and enjoy the old tea prepared on fire,” he told Arab News.
The older generation is still loyal to traditional hot drinks such as tea, Turkish coffee or espresso, according to Al-Husaiki, who is also a government employee.
“I agree that Saudis’ attitudes to coffee has changed recently with a new generation, but for me and others who belong to the old school, things are still the same — we prefer the Saudi traditional coffee, the regular black tea and the Turkish coffee,” he said.
Mohammed bin Abdul Hakim Al-Saadi, a Saudi businessman and investor in restaurants and cafes, said that the sector has fully recovered from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, thanks to various support packages provided by the government, which mounted 150 initiatives for the private sector and its workers.
Amid growing demand for new cafes and restaurants, official statistics show that investment in the sector has reached SR221 billion ($58.9 billion), with growth rates of about 8 percent expected by the end of the year.
According to recent statistics, the Ministry of Commerce has received applications for 30,000 licenses to establish cafes in the Kingdom.
Meanwhile, as coffee’s popularity soars in the Kingdom, the value of imports has risen to SR1.16 billion annually, or SR3.18 million per day, authorities say. Saudi Arabia imported about 80,000 tons of coffee in 2019-2020.


US-Palestinian YouTuber Anwar Jibawi: Cooking up a storm

US-Palestinian YouTuber Anwar Jibawi: Cooking up a storm
Updated 17 September 2021

US-Palestinian YouTuber Anwar Jibawi: Cooking up a storm

US-Palestinian YouTuber Anwar Jibawi: Cooking up a storm
  • The Palestinian-American social-media star talks ‘influencers,’ collaborations, and working with his mom

LOS ANGELES: “I didn’t want to be just a generic YouTuber who opened up a restaurant,” says

Arab social-media star, Anwar Jibawi, owner of Anwar’s Kitchen. Jibawi has branched out from the world of digital media, opening his own restaurant in Los Angeles — with a second location in the works. 

Anwar’s Kitchen is a Middle Eastern fusion restaurant that serves dishes based on recipes first shared with Anwar by his partner in the restaurant business — his mother Amal.

“It’s been my dream to have a restaurant with my mom, so we did that in the middle of a pandemic,” Jibawi tells Arab News. “My mom does all the traditional homemade stuff. I love doing the fusion stuff — and that's our biggest seller. I’m always teasing my mom about that.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Anwar Jibawi (@anwar)

The Palestinian-American influencer had millions of followers on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok before launching his restaurant. He began his online career in 2013 on the short-form video app Vine, and was eventually named one of the 100 most-famous personalities on that platform.

“My first video blew up. That’s why I took it seriously,” he says. “I would’ve probably continued doing it for fun, but once that (happened), I just treated it like a job from the get-go.”

Jibawi started out with comedy sketches filmed at home with his brothers. “I would do a magic trick where I’d disappear from the restroom and appear on the freeway on the toilet,” he says. “And there was no editing or VFX.”

Despite his quick rise to fame, the idea of “influencer” being a profitable career was still in its infancy at that time.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Anwar Jibawi (@anwar)

“Nobody understood it,” Jibawi says. “You’re trying to convince people, like, ‘Trust me. This is the future. You can make money.’ Then you go years without making money.” 

At one point, he says, his mother “tried kicking me out of the house.” Thankfully — for both of them, and their many fans — that didn’t happen. Instead, Amal would quickly gain first-hand experience of her son’s digital fanbase, and become one of the main guest stars in his videos.

“I put her in the story once and everyone was saying ‘Put her in all your videos!’ I never knew how funny my mom was until I started putting her in the videos,” Jibawi says. “And then I was like, ‘Oh… this is where I get it from.’”

Amal remained a mainstay of her son’s content as he migrated off of Vine during its gradual discontinuation from 2016 and eventual closure in 2019. The pair began making a series of cooking videos on YouTube, which served as the inspiration for Anwar’s Kitchen.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Anwar Jibawi (@anwar)

In December 2020, Jibawi announced the opening of the restaurant in a video that has racked up more than 1 million views. But he is aware that there are plenty of skeptics. 

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, this YouTuber’s trying to open up a restaurant. Let’s see what this is about.’ You see a lot of YouTubers open up ghost kitchens,” he says, referring to kitchens that prepare food for delivery or takeout meals, sometimes for multiple brands, without a customer-facing, retail location. “They sell random stuff. I'm not about that. I’m about the quality of the food first and the experience second.”

It seems Jibawi puts the same effort and attention-to-detail into his restaurant as he does into his social-media content. Adam Waheed — Jibawi’s friend, fellow influencer and co-owner of LA eatery Dough Pizzeria — tells Arab News that Anwar’s Kitchen is “one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to.”

Still, it's clear to most, including Jibawi himself, that Amal is the true perfectionist.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Anwar Jibawi (@anwar)

“She’ll take hours on one order,” he says. “Someone could come in and order 40 things on the menu, and my mom'll be, like, ‘Oh no! This is wrong.’ We had to get the chef in and get them on the same page.”

Collaboration has been central to Jibawi’s success, whether with family, fellow content creators or celebrities (he has worked with Mariah Carey, Marlon Wayans, and DJ Khaled, among others). Perhaps his most-famous collab so far, though, has been when he was given the opportunity to direct the former boxing champion Mike Tyson.

“I was scared,” Jibawi admits. “But he’s so cool. Directing him was not as intimidating as it sounds. He's just a super-genuine dude. To me it’s all about the chemistry.” 

Jibawi currently works primarily with mobile-first media company Shots Studios for his online content.

In December 2020, Jibawi announced the opening of the restaurant in a video that has racked up more than 1 million views. (Supplied)

“It’s awesome to be one of a handful of Middle Easterners to blow up on the Internet,” he says. He’s keeping that pride in his heritage going in his restaurant by sharing what he calls “a little taste of home” with the people of Los Angeles. 

“I see myself nerding out over foodie stuff. I go to these events and conventions, and that’s a new thing for me,” he says. 

He plans to continue to expand, but says he will likely keep all locations in the Los Angeles area to ensure that the quality of the food is maintained. So far, the only complaints he recalls is that customers turning up for a meal of Shawarma tacos and Anwar-style fries don’t get to meet the man himself.

“They always miss me!” Jibawi says with a chuckle. “I’m here, I would say, for probably an hour a day.” 

So, whether you’re a follower of Jibawi’s content or a foodie looking to try a Palestinian family recipe with a fusion twist, there’s a reason to visit Anwar’s Kitchen.


La Banda’s last stand: ‘Money Heist’ comes to an end

La Banda’s last stand: ‘Money Heist’ comes to an end
Updated 17 September 2021

La Banda’s last stand: ‘Money Heist’ comes to an end

La Banda’s last stand: ‘Money Heist’ comes to an end
  • Behind the scenes of the final season of Netflix’s smash Spanish hit

DUBAI: Ursula Corbero knew that her final day filming “Money Heist” was coming for weeks. For once, the show’s creator, Alex Pina, had chosen not to surprise the actress, one of the breakout stars of the global smash hit, with another last-minute rewrite; the day had come, and (Corbero’s character) Tokyo’s part in the heist was over. But knowing it was coming did not make it any easier. 

“On that last day, I was devastated. I had been going through the process of mourning for weeks, but I still couldn’t help being sad. I was not saying goodbye to Tokyo because I have decided that at least part of Tokyo is going to stay with me. But I was heartbroken saying goodbye to the crew that had become my family for the last four years of my life,” Corbero tells Arab News.

“This is a series that has brought me a lot of intense and positive things. I have grown as a person and as an actress, so it was a sad day. This is a very demanding job. I knew that I needed to put an ending to that and move on,” she continues. “But It’s one thing to agree with Alex that it should come to an end, and another thing when you actually have to live through the last day.”

The fifth and final season will air in two halves, with five episodes already released and the final five coming in December. (Supplied)

The end of the series — in its fifth and final season — is equally devastating for fans across the world, who collectively helped the show (known as “La Casa de Papel” in its original Spanish) become a phenomenon across the world when it moved beyond televisions in Spain and onto the global streaming platform Netflix. In Saudi Arabia, it became perhaps the most popular international series of all time, and certainly the most popular in the history of the platform. 

The show, about a group of criminals led by a mastermind known as The Professor who attempt the biggest heist in history, has become, in the eyes of many, more than just a program. For Itziar Ituño, who plays Raquel Murtillo — the investigator-turned-member of the criminal group known as La Banda — the show has become a symbol that acts as a rebuke of corruption. 

“It’s truly a social phenomenon. You're seeing people singing ‘Bella Ciao,’ the show’s signature song, when they are protesting injustice. It’s truly amazing. It makes me feel proud that it's not just another TV series done for the sake of it. It's something that’s being used to fight against an unjust world somehow. I could not be prouder of what we’ve accomplished,” says Ituño. 

The end of the series — in its fifth and final season — is equally devastating for fans across the world. (Supplied)

The fifth and final season will air in two halves, with five episodes already released and the final five coming in December. For the cast, the final part was the most grueling to film, as the show stopped feeling like a fun crime caper and morphed into a 10-hour war film, as La Banda made their last stand against the Spanish government forces from within the Bank of Spain.

“It was already hard to play our roles, but as it went on, it got even harder. We watched as it gradually became an action movie, and we had done nothing like this. It became so complex (and) was by far the most overwhelming thing we ever filmed,” says Darko Peric, who plays Helsinki.

For Rodrigo De la Serna, who plays Palermo, the grueling shoot for the final season made his own last day of filming all the more affecting. 

For the cast, the final part was the most grueling to film. (Supplied)

“We spent 10 months filming this war. When it ended, I remember the sunset, looking out past the rest of the cast as we all cried as the light disappeared over the horizon. That’s something I will remember. As much as these characters had gone through something together, so had we all gone through it together. It was very emotional,” he says.

But one question remains: will the ending live up to the expectations of the show’s innumerable fans? That remains to be seen. But according to Corbero, that was, more than anything else, what they focused on delivering for the 10 months that they shot the final season, and what she and Alex Pina would spend many nights arguing over.

“I’m tempted to give you a spoiler alert, but I won’t,” Corbero says. “What I will tell you is that in this last season, we held many conversations in order to make sure that the ending would meet those expectations because we need to give this show the best legacy possible. Too much work was at stake to throw it all away now with a bad ending. And I promise you, fans will get the ending they deserve.”


Highlights from Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s exhibit at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis

Highlights from Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s exhibit at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis
Updated 17 September 2021

Highlights from Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s exhibit at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis

Highlights from Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s exhibit at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis
  • Highlights from Farah Al-Qasimi’s ‘Everywhere there is splendor,’ which runs until Feb. 13 at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis

‘Pink Soap in Pink Bathroom’

The acclaimed Emirati artist’s latest show is a newly commissioned, photo-based installation that focuses, according to press material “on her personal family history through a lens of intimacy and interiority.” It includes many shots taken in her family home during a period of quarantine earlier this year.

‘Goat Farm Majlis’

“Mining her family photo albums for inspiration, she explores her family’s emigration from Lebanon to the US in the 1950s and expands on the experience of cultural hybridity—people living between and amidst multiple cultures,” the exhibition press release states. This image is typical of Al-Qasimi’s colorful, humorous work.

‘Kimball Hotel’

Al-Qasimi’s grandmother worked in the Kimball Hotel in Springfield, Massachusetts and this image includes a postcard from there pinned onto blue fabric. “The work alludes to the hotel’s glamor and the guests’ enjoyment — luxuries provided by immigrant workers, mostly from Lebanon,” according to the press release.