SARMED YOURAM, A WELL-ACCOMPLISHED IRAQI CHEF WORKING WITH INTERNATIONAL COMPANIES
Sarmed Youram is one of the most skillful Iraqi chefs who has achieved a prominent status on the international level. Chef Youram is currently working as a Sous Chef at Do & Co, an international Austria-based catering company, with numerous branches and subsidiary companies in Europe, Turkey and Chicago, USA where Sarmed works. Let us learn more about how he reached such a prestigious level.
By Hadeel Atalla
FIRSTLY, WHAT GAVE YOU ALL THIS DEVOTION TO COOKING?
I am very passionate for learning and innovating in the endless world of cooking as well as standing firmly against any challenge I face. Furthermore, I have proved myself as an Iraqi chef working in the US side by side with the most esteemed international chefs, and I owe this to working with Do&Co.
SINCE WHEN DID YOU FIND YOUR PASSION FOR COOKING? AND HOW DID YOUR FAMILY DEAL WITH YOUR DECISION TO BECOME A CHEF?
During my childhood, watching my mom cook was a great sight to see; she used to make us all sorts of traditional Iraqi dishes, such as dolma and another dish we call Tashreeb bil Dajaj (Yellow Chicken Stew).
Wielding the same skills as my mother was a thing I always aspired to achieve, and that led me to try numerous recipes while experimenting with lots of spices. Then, my performance took a whole different turn when I applied to a public culinary academy called “Baghdad Institute for Tourism and Hospitality”. After that, I had the privilege of working at Al Rasheed Hotel, which is one of Iraq’s largest hotels, and I had the chance to work with some of the most esteemed Iraqi chefs.
Truth be told, my family was my greatest supporter, as they encouraged me to follow this path. Moreover, the fact that my older brother worked at the same hotel I worked at supported me immensely. I have learned that each person must build his or her own glory, but also must learn from his or her mistakes and the mistakes done by others and never do it again.
WHAT WAS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT MILESTONE IN YOUR LIFE?
I had to tread my own path and develop my skills through working and interacting with distinguished chefs. Their company taught me how to create new recipes and give attention to learning about state-of-the-art culinary advances through purchasing culinary magazines.
I have worked in the Industrial-Cultural center, which is an exclusive center for businessmen and high-ranking people, then I worked as an executive chef in numbers of famous Iraqi restaurants in addition to numbers of American restaurants, such as the Cheesecake Factory. I am currently working with the largest catering company, Do&Co., which provides services to airlines, hotels, restaurants, resorts, and F1 racetracks.
WHAT DID WORKING IN THE US ADD TO YOUR PORTFOLIO?
Working in the US was a great challenge, as I had to work with people from different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. Moreover, I had to go through a plethora of issues since I was not used to working in kitchens with such high-end culinary equipment despite the fact that it is a stable in international kitchens. Thank God, I managed to tackle those challenges within a short amount of time through believing in myself and having a healthy sense of competition which eventually led to choosing me among numbers of distinguished chefs. Being said, working in the US has added a great deal of experience and has helped me achieve a prestigious status on the international level due to my passion for the profession while learning from my peers and teaching them what I know as well. Also, some of the most important factors of success are to listen attentively and work without blabbering, withstand work pressure all the way till the end, prioritize things accordingly and be ready for surprises and resolve such situations with practical and witty solutions.
WHAT ARE THE CORNERSTONES OF THE IRAQI CUISINE?
Mesopotamia has a long and deep-rooted history that extends to over 10,000 years with great nations and cultures ruling its vast and fertile lands, such as the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians. Such background gave Iraq a very sophisticated and advanced cuisine, and that was accentuated during the Abbasid caliphate. Today, we can see the influence of this cuisine on neighboring countries, such as Turkey, Iran, Syria and Kuwait.
Generally speaking, our cuisine includes a wide variety of spices and is known for its heavy and fatty dishes, as many recipes rely on ingredients fried in oils, animal fat and butter. Still, those who are not familiar with it tend to like it despite its fattiness.
YOUR DISHES LOOK LIKE PAINTINGS; WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR INSPIRATION FROM?
I deal with all the dishes I make as if it was a white canvas which I color with different ingredients and spices. I draw my inspiration from my passion towards my career and the cumulative experience I gained throughout the years, leading to giving each dish its own distinct idea while trying to diversify my presentations and serve unconventional dishes based on my own imagination.
And nothing aids me better to carry out such work than working within an atmosphere filled with enthusiasm and joy made by a harmonious and collaborative team with the passion for glamor, success and everything beautiful.
WHAT INGREDIENTS CAN YOU NOT WORK WITHOUT?
I love working with all types of spices, but I also love working with edible flowers and grasses to decorate my dishes.
IF YOU HAVE A FAMILY EVENT, WHAT DISHES WOULD YOU LOVE TO SERVE?
Our Iraqi cuisine is a deep-rooted cuisine and we feel proud of it. Hence, I would love to choose dishes from all over Iraq such as Iraqi Dolma, Iraqi Qouzi (boiled meat with spicy rice), Samak Masqouf (grilled fish), Iraqi Okra stew, Mosul Kibbeh, and other dishes as well.
WHAT RECIPE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHARE WITH US?
There is this dish that I tried to mix between western and Arabian styles in it; it is Ribeye steak with labneh, mint and cumin sauce. That ingredients are:
- 200 to 250 g of ribeye steak seasoned with salt and pepper only.
- 3 steamed baby carrots.
- 30 g of orange pieces.
- 30 g of grilled corn.
- 40 g of labneh, mint and cumin sauce mixed with olive oil.
- Edible flowers for decoration.
- Salad and mix grass.
Firstly, season the steak with salt and pepper then place it on the grill or a hot cast iron skillet with butter, garlic and wild thyme for one minute until it gets a nice color then finish cooking the steak in the oven until it is 145 degrees Fahrenheit internal temperature. Then, peel the carrots and steam them for 3 minutes and sauté them with butter, salt and pepper. Next, peel the shallots and steam them for 3 minutes then stir fry it with red grape juice and brown sugar. Then, peel an orange and cut it into equal pieces and grill them. Same goes with the cooked corn kernels.
What is so nice about this dish is that after finishing, the corn and onions can be distributed in a beautiful way. As for the sauce, mix the labneh with chopped mint leaves, cumin powder, olive oil and a pinch of salt.
WHAT WAS THE KINDEST COMPLIMENT YOU RECEIVED FROM A CUSTOMER?
I have heard compliments and praises many times; one time, my customers gave me a standing ovation and expressed how they liked the taste of my dishes and asked me how do I balance between the different ingredients and flavors with such accuracy. One customer even joked about how I am ruining his diet!
HAVE YOU EVER FELT EXHAUSTED AND WANTED TO LEAVE THE INDUSTRY?
My kitchen is my abode where I feel confidence, love and existence. My love for cooking is limitless and I believe it is impossible to leave my profession. Instead, I will pursue more success and progress. I simply aspire for more!
HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO MIX EASTERN FLAVORS WITH EUROPEAN COOKING TECHNIQUES?
Frankly, it is delicate and somewhat challenging; I simply try to use advanced and modern techniques while maintaining the dishes’ original taste even though I tend to change the taste of the sides and sauces in order to please all tastes. but eventually, that will give the dishes an aesthetically-pleasing presentation.
IF YOU WOULD WRITE A COOK BOOK, WHAT WOULD IT BE ABOUT?
I would focus on mixing the eastern cuisines with their international counterparts. I wouldl also cast a light on the originality of the Iraqi cuisine and unveil the aspects unknown to most people.
WOULD YOU GIVE SOME ADVICE TO PROSPECTIVE CHEFS?
Sure! Just work with integrity, love what you do, don’t feel arrogant, exert effort if you want to succeed, and leave your comfort zone, just aim for becoming the best!
AS CHEF SARMED, WHERE DO YOU WISH YOUR AMBITION TO LEAD YOU?
I love my home country and I wish to represent it even better and help it with the experience I have. I also wish to open a modern culinary academy to help create a new generation of skilled chefs who can compete on an international level. Lastly, I wish to have my own restaurant where I can make Iraqi dishes and present it in a modern way while making other international recipes as well.
Thank you so much Sarmed.