RECIPES Mo­ham­mad Or­fali shares the se­crets be­hind his ap­petite for Aleppo

Mid­dle Eastern celebrity chef Mo­ham­mad Or­fali tells us about his culi­nary heroes, top cook­ing shows and why Syr­ian flavours never go out of favour

Hello! Middle East - - THIS WEEK -

His al­ways-smil­ing de­meanor -- not to men­tion spec­tu­acu­larly plated, de­li­cious dishes -- make him a real favourite on food chan­nel Fatafeat. Af­ter head­ing to Taste of Abu Dhabi, chef Mo­ham­mad Or­fali tells us about his top in­gre­di­ents, those whose recipes he re­spects and why we might soon be able to sam­ple his cook­ing in Dubai...

Where do you get your in­spi­ra­tion from?

My first in­spi­ra­tion comes from the cui­sine of Aleppo, which is my home­town in Syria. I have fond mem­o­ries grow­ing up and eat­ing a va­ri­ety of tra­di­tional cui­sine that is na­tive to the land. The rest of my in­spi­ra­tion comes from day-to-day ex­pe­ri­ences.

You’ve man­aged to pop­u­larise the food from your home­town across the world -- what makes Aleppo’s dishes so spe­cial?

It is the cui­sine of the old­est in­hab­ited city in the world, with an ex­tra­or­di­nary back­drop of civil­i­sa­tions and char­ac­ters, cooks and tra­di­tions, in­gre­di­ents and tech­niques spread over cen­turies.

Have you had a men­tor who has shaped your ca­reer?

Yes, I have more than one. Firstly, my mother and my grand­mother. Se­condly Chef Was­sim Mustafa, from the In­sti­tute of Hos­pi­tal­ity Scienes in Aleppo. He was one of the few who em­pha­sised lo­cal as well as in­ter­na­tional recipes. And Chef Marc Ken­dakji [with whom

Mo­hammed worked dur­ing his first stint in a pro­fes­sional kitchen in Kuwait]. Thirdly, I learned the say­ing: “Hon­esty is the begin­ning of cre­ativ­ity” from Fer­ran Adrià. I love this say­ing be­cause it is very im­por­tant for cre­ative chefs to be sin­cere and hon­est when us­ing or ap­ply­ing tech­niques they’ve picked up from other chefs. Giv­ing credit to the owner of an idea is hon­est and trans­par­ent. Learn­ing from another chef’s style, not sim­ply copy­ing, is part of the beau­ti­ful ex­change of ideas that con­trib­utes to the de­vel­op­ment of the con­cepts of cook­ing.

How do you en­sure your food keeps evolv­ing?

The great­est part of my ex­pe­ri­ence comes from read­ing books and keep­ing up-to-date with the works of the great chefs whom I learned from while fol­low­ing the progress of their ca­reers. At no point am I con­tent to stop learn­ing. When it comes to knowl­edge and search­ing for all that is new, or per­haps even older, I main­tain an in­sa­tiable ap­petite to de­velop and im­prove my skills.

Those chefs I have learned a great deal from in­clude all the greats: He­ston Blu­men­thal, Fer­ran Adrià, Grant Achatz, Pierre Gag­naire, Joan Roca, An­doni Luis Aduriz, René Redzepi, Joël Robu­chon, Alain Du­casse, Mas­simo Bot­tura, David Chang, Alex Atala, Daniel Humm, Grant Lee Crilly, Chris Young, and Daniel Pat­ter­son. I thank them for sincerely for shar­ing in­for­ma­tion and tech­niques - they never with­hold new dis­cov­er­ies from those eager to learn and grow. Each and ev­ery one of them had a unique mes­sage and spirit that in­spired me and a host of other chefs across the world.

You are beamed into our homes on Fatafeat TV and the Dis­cov­ery chan­nel. Do you watch cook­ing shows your­self?

Of course, not only cook­ing shows but also doc­u­men­taries such as Hus­ton Blu­men­thal’s pro­grammes, The Mind of a Chef, Chef’s Ta­ble and

Cooked.

Have you ever been to a res­tau­rant and wished it was yours?

Yes, Noma in Copen­hagen.

Do peo­ple in­vite you over for din­ner?

Yes, a lot. It’s an hon­our to taste food cooked by friends and fam­ily.

Any restau­rants you would love to visit?

It is not a spe­cific res­tau­rant, but I would love to ex­pe­ri­ence cook­ing in the wild with Fran­cis Mall­mann in Patag­o­nia, Argentina.

Are you more of a fine-din­ing con­nois­seur or do you pre­fer ca­sual spots?

Both. A lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing makes me un­der­stand food bet­ter and I think it’s how it should be.

What would be your dream din­ner party guest list and who would cook?

I would like to host all of the chefs who have in­spired me. It would a big ta­ble of food cooked with my in­spi­ra­tions from Aleppo to all the mod­ern tastes I’ve picked up along the way. hosted in my home­town.

What cook­ery tomes should be on ev­ery as­pir­ing chef’s shelf?

A Pinch of Salt by Bethany Lopez.

Your sig­na­ture dish?

I have many. ‘Oc­to­pus Danc­ing in Mutab­bal’, and ‘Come with me to Aleppo’, which is a ke­bab made with a sour cherry ketchup and topped with cin­na­mon and pine nut crum­ble.

Your ul­ti­mate com­fort food is?

Burg­ers and ke­babs.

The five in­gre­di­ents that you love to use?

Nat­u­ral MSG, onion, garlic, fat and aubergine.

Any­thing you don’t like to eat?

I don’t think so... I’ve re­cently eaten bugs such as ants and grasshop­pers and they were de­li­cious, too.

The most un­der­rated in­gre­di­ent is?

Wa­ter. Un­for­tu­nately, most peo­ple do not con­sider it as an in­gre­di­ent but wa­ter is vi­tal in the cre­ation of many core sauces and stocks.

The per­son you would most like to col­lab­o­rate with – in any field – is?

My broth­ers Was­sim and Omar, who spe­cialise in the fields of pas­tries and boulan­gerie.

What’s next in the pipe­line for you?

I was very ex­cited to be back at Taste of Abu Dhabi and en­joyed the fan­tas­tic line-up of chefs and en­ter­tain­ment over the week­end. I am ac­tu­ally work­ing on another project to open my own res­tau­rant in Dubai with my broth­ers.

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