Mohanad AlShamali, Executive Chef at Bhar Restaurant, designed to awaken the senses
Mohanad Al-Shamali is one of the Middle East chefs who has been selected by the French Council for dairy products and the European Union to co-publish a book containing some of his recipes with a focus on his distinctive style of using the best of French butter products.
This Syrian chef has won the Pro Chef ME Awards for 2018. Let’s get to know him and his journey through which he brought success to the Bhar Restaurant.
Your passion for cooking has led you to a notable position. When did this passion begin?
As I was a child, I watched my mother cooking with interest and paid attention to the smallest details, I was always asking questions. I remember that every time my grandmother called my mother to invite her over for a meal, I ran to my mother begging her to let me accompany her to enjoy some of my grandmothers food. I loved both Sayyidah, roasted and raw Kubba.
I smile as I recall stealing chickens from my grandfather’s henhouse and hurried to roast them and inviting my friends to eat them with me. I was driving grandpa up a wall in those days.
Where did you learn cooking, and when did you feel that your choice was right?
I studied at the hotel institute in Tartus for two years, and I have never forgotten my first days in a five-star hotel, where the chef asked me to prepare 1500 pieces of cheese pastry, and I did that very quickly and brilliantly. That was well received from the chef and accordingly he assigned me to this task.
by that time I had worked in many hotels in Syria before I traveled to the UAE in 2006. The most important thing I really learned was that whoever wants to succeed in cooking, they must love their work and be committed to it.
Would it be possible to describe your culinary journey? And to what extent did you employ it in Bhar Restaurant?
I love Arabic cuisine and I am looking to develop it by investing my experience in western cuisine, Bhar brought together the love of the authentic Arabic flavour with the touches of European dishes, since I was influenced by both French and Italian cuisine. One example of how I integrate things together is the Italian “Rizzito” dish, using instead of Fereka, yogurt with wild mushrooms.
In “Bhar” I always strive to meet the traditional roots with contemporary cooking techniques in order to mix flavours.
What are the most important challenges you have faced to reach a stage where your name is known?
In a country such as the UAE, many successful restaurants with the most chefs compete, requiring me to work harder and better at English as I work with a multinational team and ideas. My experience increased through reading and visiting restaurants, tasting dishes and following up on everything in the world of cooking. I have always relied on homemade recipes from the ones my mother used to use. I think that if the right recipe is chosen with the right ingredients, we can get the best from a dish.
What is a creative recipe that has been accepted among different cultures and has your signature?
There are many dishes; I would say I felt my art in cooking reflected in the dish of the Palestinian Musakhan, in which I used the French chicken with the Palestinian green thyme, it is even the most requested dish from my customers.
About a year and a half ago, Bhar was inaugurated. In a short period you were up there with some pretty famous restaurants. How did that happen?
Yes, it is more than a wonderful feeling that Bhar in it’s first year of establishment, ranked 34 out of the 50 best restaurants in the Middle East.
I always follow the development of cooking recipes, I change the menu every three months, I listen to the customers and take their notes into consideration, as well as teamwork. My most important goal is to make customers happy.
Cities attract chefs, Can you describe the culinary art in Dubai?
In Dubai, all the culinary cultures, best kitchens and the famous chefs meet. Here the work on improving the level of service and company brands never stop.
Tell us about a valuable lesson you learned from one of the world’s chefs while cooking with them?
Actually, Gordon Ramsay is one of them, he cares about the details, and he is right because the details are the secret of our success. For example, the products I use should be kept in the same quantity every day, as well as the food spices. If the recipe requires soaking with spices for four hours, that means it will take a stronger flavour than desired.
Another example: if we cut chicken or vegetables in different sizes, that means the smaller pieces will cook faster than the big ones.
What is an ingredient that you would not be able to cook without?
Syrian olive oil
What is the secret behind the love story between spices and Sham chefs when cooking? Is there any specific ingredient that you still bring them until today from Syria?
It certainly adds a distinctive flavour to the dishes and has the peculiarity of being part of the ancestral dishes; that is, part of our past and heritage. In short, spices are the secret of good cooking in the Middle East. Personally, I always like to bring my Halabia bell paper, Sumac and bell paper molasses.
Congratulations! You have recently won the Pro Chef ME Award last year, what does that mean to you?
This is certainly a good news for me and for my team. Also being selected by the French Council of Dairy Products and the European Union to join with other Middle Eastern chefs in a book of recipes is a remarkable experience, in which I spoke about the correct and healthy use of French butter in my kitchen in a way that is uncomplicated, and I spoke about my dishes and the way I mix it with Arabic spices.
In what way does this book distinguish from international cookbooks?
Soon it will be within reach. You will see a mix of Middle Eastern recipes with Western products, namely French butter, which is characterized by its high quality and resistance to high temperature.
What is the most important advice you can provide regarding the use of butter products?
Do not use butter immediately after removing it from the refrigerator, it should take some time outside the refrigerator, avoid burning the butter and it is preferred to avoid cheap products.
To what extent does your experience go when talking about traveling and experiencing gastronomy in many countries?
Travel develops my performance to a great extent. I would like to learn everything new and distinctive in the world of cooking, so I travel every year, twice or more, to make Bhar well-known around the world. Last year we opened Bhar for four months at a Bangkok restaurant in Malaysia, and we will be back in a few months. We have had the same experience at a restaurant in India for a month, soon I will go to London, I will never hide that I want to work in Australia to learn from its brilliant chefs.
After the war in Syria, the Shami restaurants have become widespread. Is this a positive sign, or is it an opportunity for those who are not competent to dare to fight this difficult situation?
I think it is normal after the Syrians moved to other countries to bring with them their culture and cooking and one of the important cultures. Of course the Europeans welcomed this and expressed their encouragement and sympathy, but I would like to draw attention to the fact that Syrian cuisine is not falafel and shawarma, and we should show Syrian cuisine better than that.
How do you reflect the new dietary practices that promote healthy food in your recipes?
At the moment, many people are turning to healthy recipes. Accordingly, we have decided to cooperate with the Dubai Municipality to avoid any risks to the customer. If someone is sensitive to a specific food or ingredient for example, if they are allergic to nuts, we put next to these dishes a certain mark and so on. We have created new healthy diets for those who just eat vegetables because of their sensitivity to other foods.
Do not you get bored sometimes? How can you keep so passionate?
Sunrise every day is a new beginning to life. I keep my passion by talking to my team about new ideas through which we develop our style, sometimes making a new dish takes a full month to get to the final best product.
In recent years, is cooking as a profession receiving better acceptance in the Middle East?
We are beginning to see new chefs and new cooking programs and competitions, it is more than wonderful. Middle Eastern cuisine now uses modern cooking equipment, excels in this art and creates new dishes in authentic Arabic flavours.
Finally what is your next dream?
I would like to have my own restaurant.
Thanks Mohanad Al-Shamali!
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