DUBAI: Author Mohammed Alnaas, 31, is the youngest author and first Libyan to win the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his book “Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table.”
The winner was announced on Sunday and Alnaas will be given a $50,000 prize in addition to funding for an English translation of the book.
The Libyan author delves into gender roles and ideas of masculinity in a faraway village of his native country for the book. After getting engaged, Milad’s family life becomes the talk of the village as he indulges in his passion for bread-making while his fiancé works to support the house.
Milad learns of the gossip by the neighborhood and publicly questions traditional gender roles.
Alnaas’s novel won out of six shortlisted novels, and was praised for its complexity and literary flair.
The book was written in just six months during the lockdown, while Tripoli was under bombardment.
Alnaas revealed that writing “Bread on the Table of Uncle Milad” was his “refuge from insanity” amidst the news of COVID-19 and war.
“The winning novel is written in the form of confessions of personal experience. Its plethora of detail is deftly unified by a gripping narrative,” said Tunisian novelist and previous IPAF winner Shukri Mabkhout, chair of the 2022 judges. This offers a deep and meticulous critique of prevailing concepts of masculinity and femininity and the division of work between men and women, and the effect of these on both a psychological and social level. It falls into the category of novels which question cultural norms about gender. However, it is embedded in its local Arab context and steers away from any ideological treatment of the issues, as such a treatment would be contrary to the way in which fiction can present multiple points of view,” he added.
Born in 1991, Alnaas obtained a BA in Electrical Engineering from the University of Tripoli in 2014 before publishing his short story collection “Blue Blood” in 2020.
Classic diners serve up a ‘blast from the past’ on Jeddah Season’s City Walk
In an American diner, Leung said, the menu offers a wide range of choices for breakfast, lunch or dinner. “We just wanted to focus on just two burgers, but in an American diner theme”
Updated 24 June 2022
JEDDAH: Two classic 1950s-themed diner options from Hong Kong have made their way to Jeddah Season’s grand theme park, City Walk.
With vintage music in the background, staff in “soda jerk” uniforms, and a one-page menu of burgers, fries and shakes, Burger Circus offers visitors a “blast from the past” experience.
Burger Circus and cake shop Butter arrived on May 5 and will stay throughout the two months of the Jeddah Season.
Both outlets belong to Black Sheep, a Chinese company with about 35 restaurants in Hong Kong and one in Shanghai.
Jonathan Leung, operations director of Black Sheep, explained the concept behind both outlets, adding that it is “an honor” to be operating in Jeddah.
‘Burger Circus is a 1950s American diner. One of the co-founders of Black Sheep, Christopher Mark, grew up in Toronto, Canada, and his family used to own diners, so he spent a lot of time and growing up at a diner,’ said Jonathan Leung, operations director of Black Sheep.
“Burger Circus is a 1950s American diner. One of the co-founders of Black Sheep, Christopher Mark, grew up in Toronto, Canada, and his family used to own diners, so he spent a lot of time and growing up at a diner,” he said.
“So it’s a little bit of nostalgic childhood memories. He has always wanted to open a diner.”
In an American diner, Leung said, the menu offers a wide range of choices for breakfast, lunch or dinner. “We just wanted to focus on just two burgers, but in an American diner theme,” he said.
Burger Circus also offers two side orders, two milkshakes (vanilla and chocolate) and two drinks on its menu.
“We want to bring good food and good stories to Jeddah; we just want to do that,” he said.
“People in Jeddah or in Saudi Arabia are open minded to try new things. There’s room for everything here, we love it here,” he added.
Talking about Butter, Leung said the background story is about a single mother with two children, who works very hard at a diner to make ends meet.
“She’s strong and generous, but she’s also very sassy. That’s Butter,” he said.
“Burger Circus and Butter go hand in hand and go very well together, it sort of came from the same era; diners prefer classic American cake,” he added.
Luke Barry, culinary director for Leylaty Group, worked with Black Sheep in Hong Kong for six years.
“I’ve always loved Black Sheep restaurants. We have a very good relationship, so I thought Jeddah Season is a good opportunity to bring them here,” he said.
“They have 30 to 35 restaurants, niche burger restaurants that are very strong and conceptualized, and Saudi Arabia has a lot of room for what they do. They have amazing restaurants, from casual to premium to Michelin star,” he added.
Barry said that they tried to replicate Hong Kong’s Burger Circus in Jeddah as much as possible.
“We spent 16 hours painting a wall (that is identical to the branch in Hong Kong), the exact posters that you find in Hong Kong, and the uniform is almost exactly the same,” said Barry.
“It was very important to us to use the exact same playlist, to bring Hong Kong’s Burger Circus here,” he added.
From world firsts to rare nods, chefs of Dubai’s Michelin-starred restaurants celebrate big wins
Updated 24 June 2022
Hams Saleh and Saffiya Ansari
DUBAI: From the world’s first unlicensed restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star to one of the rare Indian eateries to get a nod, Dubai is now home to a host of Michelin-starred dining spots.
Arab News caught up with a number of the restaurants’ chefs to find out how they plan to celebrate and whether this means the heat in the kitchen is about to get hotter.
The chefs of 11 Woodfire, Torno Subito, Tresind Studio, and Armani/Ristorante, which all gained one star, described how it felt to be internationally recognized after it was recently announced that 11 restaurants in Dubai received a Michelin star — nine places won one star, while two restaurants received two stars.
The restaurant, located in Jumeirah, is the first unlicensed eatery to win a Michelin Guide star.
Its chef Akmal Anuar described the achievement as “huge.”
He said: “For me being Muslim, and to achieve this and to be on stage with everybody else, proves that nothing is impossible. I feel overwhelmed. I am very, very happy.”
Anuar plans to celebrate the milestone with his team next week.
“We will shut down one day and buy a cake. We will sit down, have a motivational speech, and get ready for the new era. This (win) wasn’t just me; it was my team. They all worked very hard for it,” he added.
11 Woodfire offers dishes such as black Angus steak, jumbo prawns with brown butter, Japanese eggplant, and Chilean sea bass, while priding itself on being committed to zero waste and following sustainable practices.
Chef Bernardo Paladini’s intention with Torno Subito, located in the Palm Jumeirah, was “to have fun and to open an audacious Italian restaurant with great food, quality ingredients, and vibrancy.”
He said: “In all honesty, this completely caught us by surprise. We really did not expect it and it is a result of four years of hard work. I feel elated, excited, and proud. I still cannot believe it.”
The chef gave credit to his team and pointed out that the award was not just for him, but for the hardworking staff that helped him on a daily basis.
Being a Michelin-star restaurant will not make Paladini change the concept of his eatery, or the prices.
“We will stay true to the roots of Torno Subito and maintain the restaurant’s identity. Pressure is good and we are very conscious of what it means to have a Michelin star and will do everything to maintain it,” he added.
Paladini’s recommendation to diners is to try the restaurant’s tasting menu which includes all of its signature dishes such as cocktail di gamberi, rock lobster roll, and Japanese beef.
Being an internationally recognized cook, the chef’s top tip for amateur cooks was to experiment. “Everyone can cook good food, but when you are able to show emotion and passion in the food, this is what makes all the difference.”
Not many Indian restaurants have Michelin stars and that is what makes Tresind Studio’s chef Himanshu Saini proud.
He said: “It feels surreal. Being among the few Indian restaurants in the world to have a star is a great feeling. We strive to break perceptions and showcase Indian food with a different perspective.”
The recognition has fueled up the chef and his team who now feel motivated to work harder. He wasted no time and immediately celebrated the award with his team after the Tuesday awards ceremony event at the Dubai Opera.
Talent may be important for chefs, but Saini pointed out that hard work beats it. “Work hard because that is the only way you can evolve as a chef,” he added.
He noted that the bar of expectation from his diners had now been raised.
“It is a good thing because it only motivates us and keeps us on our toes to keep evolving,” he said.
Tresind Studio has previously won the art of hospitality gong at the inaugural Middle East and North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022 awards by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Armani/Ristorante restaurant is at Dubai’s Armani hotel.
The eatery’s chef Giovanni Papi said he feels “extremely proud and emotional as a Michelin star is a dream that each chef chases.
“We knew that Armani /Ristorante was invited for the Michelin guide revelation but (weren’t) sure about the outcome for our restaurant. But I feel confident that we are delivering the outstanding service and culinary experience at Armani/Ristorante all the time,” he told Arab News.
The restaurant, which dishes up modern Italian cooking in a luxurious atmosphere, is known for its signature dishes such as agnolotti del plin, a pasta typical of the Piedmont region of Italy, fish dish filetto di scorfano and agnello al mirto, a lamb dish.
If you plan to book a table at the newly crowned Michelin-starred restaurant, the chef suggests the signature chlorophyll risotto and Sicilian red prawns, along with the Armani/Ristorante La Sfera dessert.
Purchasers, who waited in line for hours before the shop opened its doors at 10 a.m., quickly posted their $150 sneakers online to resell them on retail apps and websites such as Dubizzle and Facebook Marketplace.
While some were on offer for between $250 and $1,090, one seller was trading the limited-edition sneakers for $12,000 on Facebook Marketplace. In a post, the seller said: “New. Legendary. 44 years = AED44,000. Fight me if you want, but you can’t fight math,” referring to the Ravi restaurant being in business for 44 years.
The eatery is one of the emirate’s most nostalgic joints which has long served as a popular dining spot for both expat and Emirati foodies alike since it opened its doors in 1978.
The no-frills outlet has also dished up Pakistani fare for a celebrity diner or two, including US rapper Snoop Dogg and pop band One Republic.
In a twist on the Adidas Original Superstar, the special edition Superstar Ravi colorway references the Pakistani heritage of the owners and features a custom sock liner with a hand-drawn map design signifying the meaning of the name Ravi, which is a river in northeastern Pakistan.
The heel tab branding includes the year Ravi opened alongside the name in English and Arabic on either shoe. The restaurant’s owners hand-selected six dishes which have been added to the tongue of the sneakers with English on one side and Arabic on the other — the restaurant’s famous chicken biriyani and karak chai made the cut.
V&A Museum in London hosts exhibition promoting reconstruction of Beirut
Annabel Karim Kassar’s installation presents to-scale façade of Beirut heritage house
Updated 24 June 2022
Rebecca Anne Proctor
LONDON: Beirut has long been recognized as the Middle East’s capital of art and culture. But Lebanon’s financial crisis and political instability, and the devastating explosion at Beirut Port in August 2020, have caused the destruction of much of the city and made life increasingly difficult for its creative community.
While rebuilding continues in the much-loved Lebanese capital, architects and designers persevere to champion and commemorate the richness of its architectural heritage — modern buildings alongside Ottoman edifices; Roman and Byzantine structures in addition to stylistic nods to the Phoenicians, Umayyads, Crusaders, Mamluks, and French.
French-Lebanese architect Annabel Karim Kassar, a London Design Medal winner, has a new installation at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. “The Lebanese House: Saving a Home, Saving a City” runs until August 21.
The Beirut Port blast severely damaged hundreds of heritage buildings predominantly located in the historic downtown neighborhoods of Mar Mikhaël and Gemmayzeh, many of which were already in a state of disrepair. The Lebanese government has shown little interest in restoring them.
“Just because the situation in Lebanon is a mess doesn’t mean that we have to stop talking about culture, heritage and preservation,” Kasser told Arab News. “Part of my duty and mission as an architect now is to discuss what happened to the buildings of Beirut after the explosion and raise awareness (of the need) for their preservation.”
Kassar’s installation reflects her ongoing mission to restore Bayt K, one of the few remaining classic Ottoman-Venetian homes left in the historic quarters of Gemmayzeh in Old Beirut, and one that she had been working on for several years prior to the blast. In 2017, Kasser unveiled Handle with Care, a project focusing on the conservation of Bayt K, for Beirut Design Week. The project was a public intervention emphasizing the importance of conserving and restoring the port city’s historic Ottoman-Venetian buildings, particularly in the aftermath of the Lebanese Civil War and Beirut’s commercial building boom around 2014. (According to CNN, real estate purchases totaled $8.7 billion in 2014 alone and roughly 400 building projects are currently underway in the Lebanese capital.)
That boom has vanished now amid Lebanon’s political and economic crises. But Kassar’s mission to preserve Bayt K has taken on new life abroad with her V&A installation— a to-scale reconstruction of the façade of the building created by Beiruti craftsmen who came to London from Beirut. The installation was constructed by hand on site at the museum. “Tiles, marble, and other pieces from the original home are all being used in the installation in London,” she said.
The centerpiece of the installation is a triple arcade, exemplifying a trademark of traditional Lebanese architecture that dates back to the 19th century. Kassar has also reinterpreted the traditional liwan — a small salon located in the entrance hall of a typical Lebanese residence — and recreated a typical reception area, replete with long, colorful cushions, inviting the museum’s visitors to pause and contemplate the installation and its significance.
Bayt K’s reconstruction at the V&A is being used as a catalyst to further inspire the restoration and rebuilding of Beirut. The installation includes three accompanying documentary films, commissioned by Kassar, by directors Wissam Charaf and Florence Strauss that explore the emotional impact of the explosion through interviews with people from Beirut.
Since the V&A’s opening in the mid-19th century, the museum has demonstrated an interest in architectural conservation around the world. Through its Culture in Crisis program, it acts as a resource and center for the protection of the world’s cultural heritage. For example, the V&A’s editorial project, “Beirut Mapped,” explores the impact of the blast and its economic and political consequences from the perspective of the artists and writers who live there.
“Saving a Home, Saving a City,” as Kasser stresses, uses the vehicle of the Lebanese home — its preservation, its heritage and its beauty — to remind viewers of Lebanon’s rich past. A home is a place of memories, a structure where families often live for generations, and a place that becomes a crucial component of human and cultural identity.
As Kasser states: “This exhibition is not just about our homes, but about the memories of people and continuity — that is something that is missing a lot in Beirut now.
“I want people to remember their city and its history through these houses,” she continues. “This is not just about architecture; it is about memories that are transported across generations.”
Lebanese chef Alan Geaam: From below zero to hot property in France’s culinary scene
The Tripoli-born chef arrived in France in 1999 with 30 Euros. He now runs a Michelin-starred restaurant
Updated 24 June 2022
PARIS: Chef Alan Geaam has two flags sewn onto the collar of his white coat: The Lebanese — representing his country of origin, where his love of cooking began — and the French, symbolizing the fact that Paris has been his adopted home for the past two decades, the city where his dreams came true.
Geaam is a native of the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, where he grew up during Lebanon’s disastrous Civil War. His mother’s cooking provided some respite from the horrors.
“Despite the war, my mother was always cooking over a pot, adding spices, and the smell of the food would emerge,” Geaam tells Arab News. “Everything that we lost in the war was compensated with my mother’s cooking.”
From a young age, Geaam had high ambitions. “French food is internationally famous. I would see it in magazines and on the television, and I said to myself that someday I would go to Paris and learn,” he said. “Some children want to go to the moon or be Superman. I wanted to learn about cooking in Paris.”
Within his family, some members of which were engineers or doctors, there was skepticism about Geaam’s career choice.
“I told my mother that I wanted to become a chef,” he says. “(I explained that) in France, a chef is very respected, like a lawyer or a doctor.”
Geaam finally made his life-changing move to the French capital in 1999, when he was in his twenties. It was anything but easy. He traveled by himself, he didn’t speak French, he didn’t know anyone, and his visa was valid for just seven days.
“I had 200 Francs — that’s 30 Euros — in my pocket,” Geaam recalls.
He landed his first day job cleaning out workshops, in which he also slept. At night, he worked in a Lebanese snack bar, helping out and learning from the chef, until one day things took a turn.
“The chef didn’t come to work and I said, ‘This is my opportunity.’ I jumped right into cooking and did the service,” said Geaam.
Over time, Geaam’s situation slowly improved. Aside from his professional growth, he received a residency permit and started teaching himself French by reading books. He also changed his name — from Azzam to Alan. “It was easier for people to pronounce,” he says. “Honestly, I didn’t have confidence in my story. I didn’t learn at school and I was ashamed of that. Eighteen years later, I broke that barrier and I’m proud of my story.” He adds that he hopes others will find inspiration in that story.
“I was a young Lebanese man with no money and no education,” he says. “I started from zero — even below zero. All of us can reach our goals, but we need to wake up in the morning, work hard, and not give up.”
In 2017, Geaam opened Restaurant Alan Geaam, a fine-dining concept that presents Lebanese cuisine in a sophisticated French style. The following year, something of a miracle happened. “I got a phone call at 6:30 and they told me, ‘Welcome to the Michelin family. You got a star this year,’” he said.
In the country that has the most Michelin-starred restaurants, Geaam claims he is the first Lebanese chef to have his restaurant attain the most-coveted honor in the gastronomic world. The French press has taken note too; Geaam has received mentions in Le Figaro and Libération.
“It’s a dream to open a restaurant, but what’s even nicer is when you open a restaurant that gets a Michelin star,” he says. “It’s proof that your food is delicious and you’re clever.”
Geaam has also set up a number of casual eateries in the city’s third arrondisement — Qasti Bistro, Qasti Shawarma and Grill, and Saj, la Galette Libanaise — as well as a small food store, Le Doukane, providing products imported from Lebanon, combining to create what Geaam calls “a Lebanese neighborhood.”
With its authentic Levantine flavors and generous hospitality, Qasti Bistro has proven very popular and is often packed with customers munching on warm shawarmas, falafel sandwiches, or hummus.The wavy blue patterns of its interior are reminiscent of the Mediterranean waters off Lebanon.
Geaam clearly likes to keep busy. Aside from his Parisian enterprises, he recently launched a new branch of Qasti in the coastal town of Marseille. With an autobiography/recipe book in the making as well, it seems Geaam’s story is only just beginning.