Mohammed FAROUQ, FIRST Executive Chef of Arab Origins to work at Sheraton Amman Al-Nabil Hotel
Mohammed Farouq is a Jordanian chef with amazing experience which he acquired through working at numerous international hotels and resorts. What defines him best is his wise management of human resources, as he prefers to follow the ethical and humanitarian aspects before the legal ones. Furthermore, he puts a lot of emphasis on work ethics and demands that it be taught in culinary academies. Recently, he was appointed as the executive chef at Sheraton Amman Al-Nabil. Here we share his inspiring story.
Back to your childhood; was there something that predicted that you’d become a chef?
I use to be such a naughty kid; I was quite hyperactive. Although, I also remember helping my mother around the house and I never hesitated to help with baking homemade pastries. Sometimes I would also help with making sweets, especially Eid sweets. Thus, my love for cooking was there from the get go!
Deciding to study the culinary arts; how did that happen?
You wouldn’t believe it, but it actually came impulsively after a friend persuaded me to study culinary arts. At the beginning, I was more inclined towards studying Mathematics or physics, but I changed my plans and went to study culinary arts at Amman’s Applied Sciences University. At first, my decision did not meet my family’s approval, given the fact that I was among the top of my class and studying sciences would have been a better choice according to them, while working as a cook or a chef was not a profession that our society appreciated. Still, I succeeded against all odds!
How do you define your cooking style?
My personal style is always back to the basics and the simplicity of good wholesome food with fresh ingredients. Uncomplicated food draws out the best and defining qualities of my ingredients.. Back in the days, I confess that I made a mistake that made life a bit hard for me, and I still advise new chefs not to fall for it; just stay away from complicated cuisines that relies on complicated recipes and need a multitude of ingredients so the main idea doesn’t fade away. Simplicity is surely the best way of cooking.
My style is similar to classical home cooking, but with a twist of modernization when it comes to the final presentation. Being said, my style is based on rules-of-thumb that I strictly follow, which are: (1) I don’t like dealing with processed and synthesized ingredients, (2) I make my dishes from scratch, and (3) I love using natural herbs in my dishes.
If you go back in time to your first year as a chef, what where the most notable challenges that you faced and what was the greatest lesson learned?
Working for long hours and putting in enormous amounts of effort took its toll on me, not to mention the challenges that would emerge on a daily basis; the work atmosphere at that time was packed with endless anxiety. However, I also learned that what starts with a great fear, ends with a hysterical laughter. I realized that drowning oneself with anxiety would waste your whole day in vein and deprives you from enjoying the moment and grasping that feeling of euphoria after working so hard and eventually you’ll come to the conclusion that you couldn’t achieve the goals you set for yourself. You will simply realize that fear and anxiety have devoured your day and left you without any significant outcome and you will regret it later.
What was the happiest news you’ve had since the beginning of your career?
One of the happiest moments I had as a chef was becoming a member of Le Toque Blanches, which is an association for executive chefs, knowing that I became an executive chef at the age of 25!
How did you manage to draw attention around you to the extent that you have been chosen to work at well-acclaimed international hotels and resorts?
I worked for the Intercontinental and Kempinski Aqaba in addition to Six Senses Resorts and Via Nova Group, and I am proud to say that I have achieved success in every place I have worked at. For instance, I was named “Champion of Sustainability” while I was working at Six Senses Resort in 2013 because I succeeded in recycling products and turning food leftovers into compost in addition to limiting waste.
I challenge myself through defining and achieving my goals; one of my best-known qualities is my ability to find immediate and effective solutions; sometimes we may face issues regarding food quality, shortage of staff or excessive sick leaves to an extent that affects work, customer satisfaction, or some issues related to work ethics. In such situations, I would follow a managerial procedure that would effectively contain those issues wisely.
Have you ever been overtaken by a desperate idea to leave the profession?
It is sad to say that the idea popped into my mind on multiple occasions, especially after the multiple promotions I had. In the late nineties, I was one of the youngest head chefs; I was 26 while other head chefs were in their fifties. That should have made some green with envy.
I was fixated on developing my performance, and I had been given tasks which proved my ability to manage the kitchen properly. Of course, that had ignited jealousy in some of my colleagues who did their best, or worst, to get me fired, but then the exact opposite happened and I got my first position at the hotel. To rephrase it, the challenge I faced was trying to prove myself among my peers, which required double effort to concrete my status both on the managerial and technical levels.
Let us go back to what you mentioned regarding leftover composting. What an Idea!
When I used to work at the resort, we had a farm that produced 60% of the vegetables we needed in addition to dairy products. Therefore, I worked on producing compost from food leftovers. All we needed to do is to coordinate with the maintenance department to provide us with the means needed to ferment the leftovers and vent out the excessive gasses. Once the right temperature and humidity levels are reached, the fermentation process initiates and the food leftovers are turned into compost through a long but efficient mechanism.
So, I believe we have to congratulate you on your new position as the executive chef at Sheraton Amman Al-Nabil Hotel! What responsibilities does this position come with?
Thank you, this is so kind of you! Working at a high-end hotel like the Sheraton is a dream for every executive chef, and it is such a privilege that I am the first Arab chef to be chosen for this position. I do really hope that I can raise the service level of this hotel even higher and I hope that my colleagues and I will be at the management’s best interest to further enhance the food and beverage section.
In order to transcend the Arab cuisine’s status in International hotels, what are the most important issues you put in mind?
To preserve the dishes’ originality while presenting it with a modernized twist. This needs a lot of effort without going for readily processed food. I am so eager to present our mothers’ cuisine in a modern fashion while maintaining the homey feel it brings. I still defend traditional cuisines and simplicity in cooking without any further complexations and unnecessary additions.
In your own perspective, what are the ingredients that you keep in your kitchen all the time?
Using local sumac, which is the best sumac in the middle east. I also love using Indian spices. Furthermore, there are some ingredients that I love to use on a regular basis like coriander, cinnamon, hibiscus, fenugreek leaves which gives a nice flavor, curry leaves because of its distinct aroma, and local thyme and its fragrant smell. I also love using chamomile and sage. For me, seasonal herbs inspire me to create some of the most amazing dishes.
I noticed that you are very passionate about passing your experience and knowledge onto others. Tell us about your efforts to educate and how it benefits you.
I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have achieved this status if it wasn’t for the experiences acquired by previous chefs. In this profession, secrets shouldn’t be held, and I believe that information must be passed to everyone transparently. As I teach my colleagues, I also learn from them and we all end up sharing knowledge together. This way, the training and learning everyone had will make harmony among the kitchen staff and ultimately attain the satisfaction of the hotel customers.
On the other hand, I believe that Hospitality Education in Jordan is among the best in the region; it is seldom to hear that someone may have suffered travelers’ diarrhea, which is an indication of how modern the levels of education and services we have here are. Moreover, it is notable to mention the number of Jordanian chefs who have assumed high positions both locally and internationally. We have made a lot of improvements here in Jordan and it is evident that we have been positively influenced by western cuisine.
There must be many innovative recipes that you came up with through experimentation. Could you expand a bit on some of those recipes?
One of the recipes I made was a nougat made from honey and tahini. I am also proud of my Beirut Hummus Ice Cream, which I prepare through mixing it with liquid nitrogen. I prepare this dish through a food science called molecular gastronomy; I make hummus by mixing chickpeas with tahini as a base while adding spices like cinnamon, local chili pepper or paprika and mix it with liquid nitrogen to obtain a specific flavor and form. In addition to the above, I also prepare special sweets for those who suffer from dietary restrictions due to allergies caused by wheat, eggs, milk and sucrose.
Can you elaborate on your hummus Ice Cream recipe?
Yes sure! The ingredients are:
- 4 oz chickpeas (hummus)
- 4 oz heavy cream
- 4 oz milk
- 1 Tablespoons chili pepper / or Paprika or / cinnamon
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 liters liquid nitrogen
- Large stainless-steel mixing bowl
- Wooden ladle
- Safety goggles
- Plastic sheet to cover the mixing area just in case you spill, and trust me you will!
Once you have all the above prepared and ready, start making the ice cream as the following:
- Let’s start by making a small batch of ice cream until you master the mixing technique. The general rule is to use twice as much cream as milk and sweeten the mix with vanilla and sugar.
- Mix the hummus cream with milk in the stainless-steel bowl.
- Add the chili pepper and sugar to the mixture and keep stirring until the sugar dissolves.
- At this point, you can add anything you like – just be creative! It’s easy to replace the chili pepper with any flavor you want; add chocolate chips, crunch up a candy bar, toss in some frozen berries, nuts, marshmallows, cookie dough… whatever sounds good to you!
- Now it’s time for the liquid nitrogen. Put on your safety goggles and gloves first, safety is important you know! Not only for you, but your assistant chefs should also wear their safety gear. You might want to put the bowl in your sink just in case it overflows (which it probably will) or spread out some plastic sheets on the table. It’s impossible to measure how much liquid nitrogen to add, so just pour about a quart (that’s equal to about 1 liter) of liquid nitrogen into the bowl. Expect lots of cool fog and the sounds of oohs and ahhs from the audience.
- DO NOT STIR THE MIXTURE JUST YET. Let the liquid nitrogen do its job; just leave it partially freezing the mixture. If you stir too soon, the blend will bubble over and you’ll have a mess (and you’ll waste some of your ice cream too).
- Stir the mixture with the wooden ladle. Some of the cream will be completely frozen while other parts will remain liquid. Keep stirring until you have a consistent mixture, and then add more liquid nitrogen.
- Let it freeze for few seconds before stirring again.
- Stir some more until you have a consistent mixture.
- Keep adding small amounts of liquid nitrogen until you have the perfect creamy consistency.
Among your signature dishes, what is the most on-demand dish?
I believe it is my saffron halibut! This dish is surely high on demand!
What about your latest creations which you added to your menu?
That would be the breaded braised lamb! First, you cook the lamb slowly for almost 3 hours then cool the meat and chop it. After that, you cook the meat with vegetables. This dish has a specialty bread to dip it with and can come with a side of tomatoes and hot chili jam.
What are you most passionate about? Sweet or savory dishes?
For me, cooking is a one whole package, and I have a specific adoration to each and every aspect of it. I also get my inspiration from those who I work with. In some moments, a seasonal dish would inspire me to an idea that I cannot wait to try!
Does it worry you that sometimes your dishes may not grow on your customers’ liking, even though you are highly talented chef?
Most of the times, yes. In kitchen there is no room for error, with cooking you cannot make shortcuts, you either do it right or not at all.
There is a tendency to look for a compromise, we say, “oh, next time!” but in food there is no compromise and there is no next time. You only get one chance to make the customer happy. So you make it count!
What are your main remarks on the attempts to develop the middle eastern cuisine?
I have few reservations on how some just imitate the western cuisine while compromising the identity of our local cuisines. The individual attempts to develop were either based on insufficient planning or relied on blind imitation. Either way, the results were catastrophic.
On the other hand, you have well-renowned chefs like Muin Abu Zaid and Sudqi Naddaf and other talented chefs who left a great impact representing the Jordanian and middle eastern cuisine in marvelous and innovative ways. Such chefs deserve our utmost respect.
If you were given the opportunity to do whatever you want for a whole year, regardless of the money, what would you do?
I would embark on a journey to document the Traditional Jordanian cuisine dishes from north to south.
What makes you happy?
The gratification of my guests. I feel truly grateful when I sense their satisfaction towards the food we make and the warm hospitality we offer.
What is your advice to prospective chefs?
First of all, be patient, take the time to do things right, and most of all, learn the basics of cooking, build your own culinary life.. Create the frame… Then built the craftsman by your hands.
What are the most missed ethics in the cooking business?
It is unfortunate to say that the language of respect has almost gone missing and team spirit is barely there. It is unfortunate to say that the language used in kitchens today is quite vulgar and the way kitchen staff members treat each other is indecent and includes belittling the efforts of others. Sometimes people treat each other badly in a form of dishonest competition. Therefore, I have been always vocal about spreading harmony in the workplace to create a typical kitchen and a decent work environment. Management should be built on two main aspects, technical experience and ethics. The later part is scarce theses days, i.e. if a chef was acting politely and doesn’t scream or shout, then his subordinates will think he might be weak and won’t be respected.
Sometimes I think about a situation when two equally experienced chefs become eligible for a promotion but you can only promote one of them. One of the chefs is very committed and well behaved, the other procrastinates and evades working hard. Here comes the dilemma; are you going to promote the good one because he deserves it, or promote the less committed chef to get rid of him. Keep in mind that it is your authority as a chef to take whatever the option you deem right, but what about measuring your decision from an ethical standpoint?
Do you shout at work?
I usually don’t shout at work, unless things went out of control. I always do my best to maintain a family atmosphere at work to emit a feeling of respect and trust. Some people doubt that something like that can be attained, but I made it through. Sometimes people feel weird when I say please to any of my kitchen staff members or works whenever I want something!
What country do you look forward to working at one day?
That would be Thailand. Thai street food dominates over the traditional cooking there!
If you would write a cookbook, what subject would you choose?
I would write about the Jordanian cuisine and healthy food. I believe it is easy to turn any cuisine into a healthy one through, let us say, choosing less fatty ingredients. For instance, when we cook meat, we can choose lean cuts over fatty ones, or use oil instead of ghee. Healthy food also depends on the size of the portion and what ingredients we use.
How can a dish reflect the personality of its cook?
Like art, a cooking style is a mirror to the chef’s character can project the chef’s personality. Being said, well experienced chefs can easily tell who taught this chef or who influenced that just from the taste of the dish, the flavor it has, or the dishes a chef may come up with or the way a chef uses ingredients or even through the way the food menu is set.
Generally speaking, temperamental chefs would have their characters manifested in their dishes through using strong and spicy ingredients, while calmer chefs usually produce dishes with smooth and subtle flavors.
I believe a chef with your stature must have met with internationally acclaimed chefs. Would you tell us a remarkable story while cooking with one?
Yes, I did! Many of them were very supportive and inspired me to love this profession more. One of the most memorable moments was when I cooked alongside Chef James Parsons. Chef parsons is a British chef and we usually meet every two years and I still feel amazed of how he still maintains all that passion for cooking; he starts his day early with fervor, and his enthusiasm and love for cooking still inspire me to give my heart to this craft. Also, I will never forget the late chef Abdul Rahman Jouda, God rest his soul, whose advice has guided me to achieve the prestigious position I have now, and the same credit goes to the late Lebanese Chef Nabil Abu Nasif, God rest his soul too.
Milestones in Chef Mohammed Farouq’s Career
- Participated as a judge in a junior chefs contest in the years 2005 and 2006.
- Participated as a judge in contest with the American rice federation.
- Contributed towards organizing and supporting HORICA Jordan (the international forum for hotels, restaurants, hospitality services and food industries) via cooperating with the Jordanian Chefs Association.
Thanks a lot, Chef Mohammed!
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