MAKKAH: A top Saudi cook hailed as the chef to kings is set to pass on more of his culinary skills and recipes with the release of a new book.
Tawfiq Qadri, who has worked in palace kitchens for a succession of monarchs, is due to finish his third cookbook, “On the Table of the Caliph.”
And the 58-year-old still oozes the same enthusiasm for food preparation as he did as child.
“It all started when I was seven years old. I was fascinated with the sight of my mother in the kitchen, and I used to help in cutting carrots and cucumbers and cleaning rice. I was the only one of 16 brothers and sisters to help her at our home in Madinah,” he told Arab News.
“I joined the scouts during intermediate and high school and was the chef of my classmates at the time. I became famous for cooking the popular Hijazi dishes, which the scouts enjoyed despite my lack of experience.”
After moving to Italy to train as a chef, Qadri’s career took off as he later made a name for himself catering for royals, presidents, and celebrities.
But his rise to fame in the cuisine arts did not get off to a smooth start.
After graduating from high school in Madinah, he got a job at the Saudi Central Bank, an experience which left a bad taste in his mouth. Working in a small office, Qadri felt trapped in an environment he said killed his creative passion to cook.
At the age of 19, just six months into his job, he quit the bank without telling his family and went to stay at his uncle’s hotel. With the help of his relative, and with his parents’ blessing, Qadri enrolled in a bachelor’s degree course at an Italian institute in Sicily, spending two-and-a-half years there as the only Arab student.
On returning home, in 1981 he took up employment with the Royal Saudi Navy, based in Riyadh. There, he was head chef and supervisor of the navy officers’ club and would often fly to Toulon in France to join a ship that regularly sailed to Saudi Arabia, working on board as a chef. After four years in the navy, during which time he rose to the rank of sergeant, he moved into military supply management, eventually heading the operation, and organizing budgets for the whole of the Kingdom.
When the Gulf crisis started in 1990, he was commissioned to join the Ministry of Defense and became the chef of the Allied Forces, earning the rank of chief sergeant.
After taking early retirement from the navy, Qadri spent six years with Saudia airline’s catering division, developing a range of dishes, before advising international hotels on food provision and judging in many culinary competitions throughout the Arab world.
While working with Saudia airline, Qadri was featured in a Saudi newspaper article under the headline, “Passengers Love him Before Seeing Him.” On the back of the publicity, he was given responsibility for Hijazi cooking at the palace of the late King Fahd and went on to work for the late King Abdullah, and now King Salman, notably preparing the kitchen during the visit of former US President Barack Obama.
He also gained a master’s degree and Ph.D. in the US based on his thesis on managing kitchens and tourist facilities. As well as developing Arab recipes for Saudi dairy products, Qadri has cooked up more than 3,000 different hot, cold, and pastry meals, and created 42 new recipes. He is also the author of books “Saudi and the Star of the Table,” and “Guide of the Quick Cooking,” with “On the Table of the Caliph” due to be completed soon.