CHEF TALK: FIRE IT UP! with CHEF TAREK HAMDAN
With my CHEF TALK: FIRE IT UP! I wanted to meet Chefs from all types, sizes and shapes of kitchens . And this is how my journey led me to a catering business – Fait Maison Cuisine. This team was kind enough to invite me to an event they were catering so I could see them in action, so to say. The detailing right down to the final touches were impeccable and the taste of the food felt comforting – a bit like home (Fait Maison = Homemade in English). A business venture that had humble beginnings when 5 friends got together to figure out a solution to their dissatisfaction over what was available in Dubai at the time food-wise. So they contributed some money, hired a chef who would cook and deliver to them 3 meals at their Corporate jobs which made them feel nourished and well fed. Catering requests came in from friends and their friends which in turn led to the start of an un-structured business venture. 2 years ago, these 5 individuals threw in the towel with their blue chip cushy jobs when the potential of the business began to grow. Still maintaining the family spirit, this business knows how to make your special day extra-special.
Name: Tarek Hamdan
Restaurant/ Food Business: Fait Maison Cuisine
From: Born in Lebanon but raised in Geneva, Switzerland
Culinary School: Self Taught
Knife Hand: Right
Were you a good kid, did you eat your veggies as a child?
No. I hate broccoli and brussels sprouts but I ate everything else.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I think I wanted to be a doctor, actually two kinds of doctors, which are quite contradictory. I wanted to be either a paediatrician or a geriatrician. The similarity is that they are both in the medical profession and I think I have that ‘try to help, try to do something good’ attitude.
What was your most memorable catering job?
We had a very cute one in the garden. It was an event by fashion brand S*uce, where fashion bloggers from Brazil had been invited to the owners home. This was one of the nicest parties we have ever done – the whole set-up, the flowers, the theme was beautiful – it was flowers and the food matched up to this theme.
What did you have for lunch yesterday?
I think I had tacos, no tortillas. No, now I remember, I had an amazing new dish we are planning to introduce in our menu. I had fish taouk with basmati rice with cranberries. It was supposed to be a tasting as we are introducing this dish, but I ended up eating the full thing. It was yummy.
Place you eat most often on days off?
I try and go to different restaurants every time. I love Chinese so I love going to Deira for Chinese. I love going to the small Indian restaurants in Karama. I like small typical restaurants. I rarely go to big hotels. For Indian, I love going to Sangeetha Vegetarian restaurant in Karama. For Chinese I will go to China Sea near Clock Tower in Deira, not many know this place, it’s like a hole in the wall. These are the restaurants where you find authenticity
What’s your favourite ingredient/ condiment to work with?
I like Aubergines. I like the taste and you can do a lot. You can do anything with it. You can mash it, it’s sturdy so you can grill it, you can roll it, you can fry it, you can toast it.
If it’s the last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in and what are you eating?
Osso Bucco with Risotto in Sicily, Italy. It’s a bone marrow with Italian rice and a saffron risotto.
Most exotic vacation destination?
I love Japan. Kyoto for its traditional Japanese architecture, Japanese food – they use a lot of tofu, fish. I would love to visit Bhutan.
If you left Dubai to cook somewhere else, where would you go?
I would like to cook in California, the southern part around San Diego. I like the Californian style of living, the lifestyle
What has been your most embarrassing cooking moment?
It was at my home and I had invited a family to dinner. I was baking a pie in the oven and by the time I remembered to take it out, it was too late, I burned it. So we ended up ordering pizza
Who is the person you would most like to cook for?
A very dear friend of the family, who shall remain nameless, inspires me to cook and gives me ideas. Sometimes there’s a lot of passion when you cook, and you just look at a person and say ‘I would like to cook for this person’ because I want to give the best. For this close friend, I would love to cook a Chateaubriand – it’s a tenderloin steak – with foie gras on top and of course with potato gratin next to it.
What is the dish on the menu you eat most?
I love sushi. A spicy tuna roll. I like Japanese food in general. I love dim sum but don’t have it on the menu at the moment. But if you asked for it, we would definitely make it.
How would you describe your food philosophy?
I think it’s about creativity, a lot of love and passion for the food and it’s like cooking for family at any point in time. Every client becomes like part of the family.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Crunchy Grasshoppers. It was in Thailand on the street. It is dried grasshoppers that come on a skewer. They tasted like chips. They also had worms, but I stopped at the worms.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
It was in Burgundy, France at a restaurant in a sort-of castle. It was a small restaurant, maybe 10 tables. It was amazing. Each dish was amazing. Each dish was served with its own wine and it was a 10 course menu and at the end maybe 2 desserts. The chef came round and told you how to eat, where to start on the plate. I remember we had snails to start with, and we had to eat them from right to the left – the snails on the right started with a lighter taste and got stronger as you moved to the left. Every single dish was ‘wow’.
What’s your biggest guilty pleasure food?
I love passion fruit tart with meringue on top. I like the smell of the passion fruit and I love meringue. So meringue with anything will do.
If you were an ingredient what would you be, and why?
I think Cumin. I love cumin. I go with everything; I blend with different cultures just like cumin blends in with any type of food.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
Use your maximum potential – I read this somewhere.
If you weren’t a chef, or in the food business, what would you be?
I would be a traveller or a travel guide writer/author, like writing for Lonely Planet.
Most underrated ingredient? Edible flowers like pensée (pansies). It gives a sour taste to the food, gives a lovely look and people don’t know you can eat flowers. It brings life to the food.
Best culinary tool? I love using the sushi knife. It’s amazing. There are different grades of knives, there is a whole science behind it, there is a whole art behind what knife you need to use when you cut sushi. When you meet a Japanese chef, he could own a $7000 sushi knife and he keeps it all his life. It’s like an investment and no one else touches it. I have one too.
A chef that inspires you? It’s nothing to do with fancy big names, I am inspired by traditional chefs in general who cook traditional food. My grandmother was one such cook because she made traditional food with a homely touch.
Favourite cuisine? It’s French. It’s the mix of flavours, colours, the show, the whole set-up of the food as in presentation. And it’s an art. You eat for 3-4 hours at table – it’s a whole culture.
One dish you can’t live without? I can’t live without sushi. It’s simple and at the same time it’s the choice of the fish that you put in it that makes the whole difference and the cut of the fish. The sushi you eat in Dubai is very different to the sushi you eat in Japan. One of my best memories of food is waking up in Tokyo (Japan) at 5 am and having fresh sushi at the fish market. It’s an amazing experience.
What’s one food trend that needs to end? Junk food. Because its cooked fast and does not have the 6 tastes (salt, sweet, bitter, sour, pungent and spicy), How can it be junk and food? Food has to be cooked slowly. Junk food fills you up temporarily instead of leaving you like you have had something hearty. Junk food will keep you feeling full for 2-3 hours and then you fill feel hungry again. You should be eating food that keeps you satisfied for 5 hours before your next meal.
Favourite food from your childhood/ Describe one of your first food memories. In winter, I loved grilling marshmallows and chestnuts on the fire in the fire place with my family in our home in Geneva.
Something in your fridge or freezer that would surprise people? Its frozen fish eggs – bottarga – you usually slice it very thin and add it to pasta, sometimes I eat it just as. It’s a bit bitter and greasy. I love it.
Last thing you cooked for yourself? Pasta. Usually I make it with fresh cherry tomato and olive oil – very simple with fresh basil and I try and I sometimes try and add some thyme. Shred some bottarga and I love chilli, so I add chilli flakes with coconut. I make the sauce from scratch.
Describe your cooking style in 3 words. Hearty, creative and light.
THIS OR THAT
Food on a skewer or food in a tiny spoon?
Hot curry or haute cuisine?
Buffet or sit-down dinner?
Mints or gum?
Soup or salad?
Greek yogurt or labneh?
Butter or olive oil?
Chicken breast or chicken thigh?
Baked or fried?
Waffles or pancakes?
Lobster or steak?
And lastly, cake or pie?
Well, that’s that! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!