FADI ALAUWAD HAS BEEN CALLED “THE ARTIST” BY THE GERMANS AND HIS BOOKS HAS ACHIEVED REMARKABLE SALES
“When life gives you lemons, make sure you make a good drink out of it!” An upbeat slogan made by the Syrian chef Fadi Alauwad, who works as a chef at Mercure hotel Europaplatz Aachen and a training lecturer at VHS -AACHEN.
Chef Alauwad has been living in Germany for four and a half years. There, he started from scratch, but was able to publish two best-selling cookbooks.
We hope you enjoy his amazing story!
Longing for the past, childhood memories and its unforgettable aroma. Let us speak about the old days:
I used to live in a family of 9 kids, and I was the youngest. We used to gather around the lunch table while my mother would make an assortment of delicious dishes. I would always stick by her side while she was cooking and I was totally baffled by how she could prepare such a large number of dishes and in such quantities. Whenever I asked, she would just smile and answer “you’ll know when you grow up!”. I was great at stirring the soup and buying groceries from “Ayed’s shop” who used to stock his shop with fresh produce every morning; vegetables, herbs, and seasonal fruits. I remember trying to guess what our neighbors were going to cook based on the available ingredients.
I remember how I fell in love with green beans when I was a child, I still often cook them now because it reminds me of my mom who used to spend quite a long time preparing them.
How did you embark on this cooking journey?
Once during a summer break, I worked with my brother who was subcontracted to do some work at a 5-star hotel, Le Meridian, in Damascus. That was the first time I had ever entered a lavish hotel and coincidentally we were working near the kitchen. I used to peek behind the door and see people wearing white coats and high toques while smelling food coming out of the kitchen. That sight captivated me andso I began dreaming of that profession until I got the chance to join an internship in one of the hotels. I used to chat with my mother about what I had learned on a daily basis. In a time where there were no modern means of communications nor cooking books, I had to exert more effort to learn from master chefs; I faced countless difficulties that time as everyone used to speak in French, which forced me to write down the names of the dishes in Arabic letters so I could remember them. Luckily, Chef Issa Achi put me under his wing and introduced me to the French cuisine, my gateway to diversity and innovation, then I gained everyone’s respect thanks to my wits, punctuality and cleanliness throughout the training’s 2-year period.
First year as a chef, what was the incident that you will never forget?
I remember one time I asked a more experienced chef to allow me cut some smoked fish, and he started laughing at me and said that such thing needs a lot of skills and I am still a rookie. Then we agreed that I can try with the condition that he will hit my hands with a stick every time I fail. I came home with my hands very sore because of the amount of times I failed. Still, I was determined to learn the right way until I managed to cut the fish into very thin slices. Then I was praised for my effort and the chef assured me that I was on the right track, although I still faced numerous obstacles of success, which made me nervous. Nonetheless, my determination and perseverance to steam ahead with this profession inspired my patience up until I became what I am today, a certified international counselor with a “Master Chef” rank.
I made a great effort later on when I worked in Lebanon and UAE for many years; I moved between many high-end hotels and I have gathered experience from international cuisines and I have cooked with chefs from European and the Americas. I really enjoyed mixing eastern and western cuisines and then I came back to Damascus, where I opened 10 large-scale restaurants.
For you, cooking is a fine art, exactly like architecture, painting and music. Would you please elaborate more on this view?
It is evident that art is incarnated in cooking, both in the optics and flavours of a dish. I get my inspiration from my deep appreciation for art; I love writing poetry and I enjoy listening to good music whenever I cook a meal. Sometimes I imagine myself as a painter, drawing my dishes with ingredients and herbs that I like the most. In my personal opinion, inspiration is important while working in a stressful work environment. After all, it is the profession I chose and the profession I adore.
How did arriving to Germany expand your skills?
Coming to Germany has allowed me to follow many paths to upgrade my performance. It would be accurate to say that the innovation inside of me has emerged in an aesthetic way, although I started from scratch in a country that I neither know its language nor customs. Yet, I succeeded in helping the people of this entirely new country to engage with me firstly as a fellow human being and as a chef who leaves a good impression through what he presents.
What are the new Syrian cuisine-inspired dishes that you introduced to the German audience, given the fact that the Syrian cuisine has clearly become more well-known in Europe?
At the beginning, I made Syrian dishes with a German twist, then I became more comfortable making the Syrian Cuisine as it is, which got the German customers intrigued about the dishes and its names which were clearly hard for them to pronounce. Still, the taste has left them with a wide smile on their faces!
Now, I follow the traditional recipes when making my entrées but with a twist, while the side dishes are made in a Western style to maintain familiarity among the German customers.
What are the ingredients and recipes the Germans liked the most?
The German consumers appreciate how a good chef, including this Syrian chef, makes delicious Syrian dishes with a fine artistic passion. That gave me an edge with the competition in the food industry and I started getting contracts for private parties and banquets, then I was asked to give training sessions to teach Syrian cuisine in one of the most important academic institutions here. I am glad to say that it has promoted the Syrian cuisine for the German households. It is beautiful how German families are joyfully following my recipes and sending me photos of their dishes and memorizing names of Syrian dishes in Arabic.
Now, my students have started using ingredients that are relatively new to them like pomegranate syrup, sumac, blossom water, mastic, cilantro, and the seven spices. And for the record, I have noticed that the German cuisine does not abide by a general role for innovation; it is seasonal, fresh and has it is own mood.
Some of my recipes the German people like the most are: Sitti Zib’I, which consists of lentil, pomegranate syrup, fried onions and coriander, Kibbe Hmais, which means fried kibbe, and Shilbato which consists of groats, zucchini and meat.
Your books are sold widely now, what topics do they touch upon?
My first book, Fadi Cooks in Syrian (fadikochtsyrisch) was printed into 10 thousand copies and was the fourth best-selling book in general and the first best-selling cooking book. In this book, I talked about the Syrian cuisine, culinary customs and traditions and the most used spices, in addition to 30 different recipes. I have donated the sales of that book towards the Syrian children who were displaced due to the war. I’ve been always passionate about helping them and drawing a smile on their faces.
The other book was Hayati, which was one out of three best-selling cookbooks last year and includes 100 recipes for Syrian dishes. The book was widely received among German readers and middle-eastern cuisine aficionados. Now, I’m working on my third book: “Keynotes of The Culinary Art”.
Would you tell us about some of your innovations which you’ve included in your upcoming book?
I have mixed the taste of the eastern kebob with spinach and western cheese and presented it in an attractive form with a sauce that includes a mixture of eastern spices and German cream. Moreover, I invented dishes such as red cherry caviar with ginger tart and eggplant rolls with cheese and bell pepper sauce.
In your opinion, is there a specific standard for who is well-suited for culinary writing?
We cannot deny that culinary writing demands a lot of experience and a long history of experimentation and trial and error in addition with being well versed in many different cuisines as well as mastering the ability of presenting dishes in an attractive form, from a specific cultural perspective and without forgetting to add a special touch to the dish.
Nowadays, it is dreary to say that the level of professionality and writing ethics has declined; many books today are plagiarized. It is a shame!
So, the names of your family members are also in your dishes, that is pretty darn cute!
Yes, they are! I have created signature dishes with my daughters’ names. For instance, Nawwar’s salad is named after my oldest daughter, and there is also Fillet Larose, after my medium child. She loves cooking and I hope she follows my steps one day! And finally, Ghazal’s sweets after my youngest daughter. In addition to that, German customers love Reem’s Kibbe, which is named after my skillful wife, who picked up my cooking skills!
What are the most important notes you have on the modern culinary scene?
In today’s age, machines make pre-cooked meals; just heat and present. This really bothers me, given that the chef must leave his own touch. This is why I always make it clear that the chef is an artist who must work on his dishes throughout all its processes.
At home, I prepare everything with my wife; pickles, makdous (baby eggplant pickled in olive oil), dairy products, kishik (dried butter milk mixed with oatmeal and spices), and I also roast our own spices and mix it together and dry herbs. I also prepare Syrian sweets for my German guests and I also give them spices and jams as gifts which they truly appreciate.
Regardless, what I have noticed is that the European eater depends on pre-processed meals because making a dish from scratch needs a lot of time which they do not have. On the other hand, we don’t compromise quality for the sake of time, and this is why the levant cuisines still cling to the “make from scratch, all fresh” culture.
How keen are Syrian chefs on continuous learning?
Moreover, another challenge we, as Syrian and immigrant chefs face, is that we are forced to learn all specialties and must continuously learn in order to improve our income, while the European chefs have a stable job, a continuous income and a good health insurance. It is sad that the Arabian communitiy has not much to offer its chefs; they don’t have a union to protect them. Still, this might be a blessing in disguise which forces them to innovate and create.
If you were free for a long time, what would you do without hesitation?
I would cook for children coming from unprivileged communities and disaster-stricken countries. Currently, I volunteer and cook for cultural centers that teach kids lessons in Languages, painting and music.
What are your motives behind spreading awareness about nutritional health in cooking?
A chef must be fully aware of the rules of nutritional health and safety; chefs are doctors, in a roundabout way, and they are also responsible for people’s health, which means that they must be aware of every aspect. Although many chefs learn how to cook, they still lack the adequate level of awareness about it.
I always make sure to use healthy alternatives when cooking, let us say, for the elderly and athletes. For example, I use olive oil instead of butter, yogurt and herbs sauce instead of mayonnaise, low fat cheeses, and dried herbs instead of salt. Additionally, I always make sure to maintain balance between proteins, vitamins and fibers.
When will we hear about Fadi Alauwad’s Restaurant?
I hope one day to have my own restaurant and to bring the meals myself to the consumers. The financial situation is the main constraint for now.
If I ever have the chance, I would gather my luggage and go to Italy; I’m fond of the Italian cuisine, it is close to the middle eastern cuisines and it relies on fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil.
When the situation in Syria gets more stable, would you return back to work in Damascus, your home city and the cradle of the fine Syrian cuisine?
Absolutely. Syria is my home country, my love and passion. The thought of coming back home never leaves me and I shall go back home one day!
Many thanks Fadi.
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