When a diverse group of people from all nationalities and cultural backgrounds have the opportunity to have a chef’s dishes,it is not something to take lightly; Saud Al Matrooshi lives what he likes to call “sweet pressure” every single day within a beehive-like work environment to fulfil the needs of his airborne customers.

We present to you a lovely interview with the first Emirati to ever receive the title “executive chef” at Emirates Flight Catering (EKFC).

 

When did your passion for cooking emerge?

My passion for cooking emerged when I was 12 years old; my father used to cook for us during his spare time and I would always help him. Then, I started cooking on my own with the help of the house maids who assisted me with food preparation and giving me the opportunity to watch and learn.

It is accurate to say that most of the knowledge and skills I gained in this field were acquired through personal experience, especially while joining Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club which had seven restaurants at that time. Then I received formal culinary training for four years and I am proud to say that I acquired this position of mine starting with small jobs reaching my current position; from a cleaner all the way to the position of an assistant head chef.

 

What is the Emirati community’s perspective of “Chef” as a profession?

It is sad to say that our community underrates this profession and doesn’t take it seriously; even if it was taken seriously, the community sees it as a minor job with no future. Some people may call a chef “cook”, although our job requires the same level of responsibility as that of a medical doctor; you need to have the ability to diagnose a sick person correctly or the patient will perish. Similarly, a chefs’ number one priority is to ensure the safety of the served dishes, a task that cannot be achieved without attaining the required amount of training and practical experience. Therefore, I feel really annoyed when some people call themselves chefs on social media accounts without coming from a proper background, which really besmirches the great reputation of our profession. I truly hope that the related authorities take effective measures towards those who use the title “Chef” falsely.

 

After the long training you’ve underwent, where did your journey take you?

I worked in numerous hotels and restaurants, then I gained good experience in opening restaurants; new marketing experience should be based on the community’s needs, as I tend to look for a new gap in the market to fill. Additionally, I gave many consulting services to restaurants in the UAE; from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah. I was blessed with success in my work as a consultant but I had to leave the consultation business since my work as a chef consumes most of the time I have.

 

How would you describe your cooking style?

My style is based on creating fusion between well known international cuisines, like making a dish that conjoins the Arab and Korean cuisines through connecting relevant ingredients together.

 

Would you talk a little bit about the company you work for?

Yes! As I mentioned, I work for Emirates Flight Catering (EKFC), which is one of the largest airline catering companies in the world. The area of our kitchens is almost as big as 12 football/soccer fields and it serve 450 different take offs per day through preparing 200 thousand meals.

 

What are the differences between airline catering meals and meals served in normal restaurants?

It is huge difference; airline meals must be prepared 12 hours in advance before moving to the freezing phase then serving it on-board. This is a very hard challenge for us as it is hard to maintain all dishes in a high-quality condition given the numerous process the dishes must undergo. In contrast, restaurant meals are prepared and served fresh.

A side note; airline catering kitchens are classified based on meals and cuisines; you have cold and hot dishes which can be categorized based on cuisines; Arabic, European/Western and Asian/Indian.

 

How do the staff prepare themselves for specific seasons and what is the nature of the served dishes?

Meals are categorized based on annual seasons and events; in each season, we have meals designed based on destinations, given the fact that seasons may differ based on what part of the world are you traveling to; if it is summer in the country of departure, the country of arrival may have winter and vice versa. We take such things into consideration and we are currently leading an R&D effort to upgrade some dishes and add an Arabic twist to it since we wish to spread Arab dishes to various international destinations. Nonetheless, there are some traditional dishes that passengers cannot replace and we cannot change neither, while some other dishes may undergo changes so it can suit all passengers regardless of their nationalities and cultural backgrounds. Furthermore, there are some healthy dishes which we’ve tailored specifically to meet the needs of some passengers based on dietary restrictions and health conditions.

 

How would you describe the pressure shouldered onto you while managing such a meticulous job?

It is a sweet pressure; despite the daily challenges and continuous disturbances which we always tackle, I try to add a new perspective to the processes that run here until we reach adequate solutions. All those daily successes are attributed to God first and foremost and the well-experienced team which have been working in this field for 20 years and now they are under my direct supervision as an executive chef.

 

Some may think that the process of serving the food tray onboard an airplane is simple. Would you elaborate on what happens in the backstage?

Everything on the food tray have been studied carefully; whether that was the meal’s net weight, the ingredients, the nutritional contents, you name it! All that so the passenger can feel comfort without suffering from indigestion or high blood pressure of fluctuations in blood sugar levels. It should be noted that our main reference for such details is the company’s food health and diet department.

 

Where does your inspiration come from?

Travelling, due to the fact that it introduces me to new ingredients and cooking techniques that allows me to create the fusion dishes I want.

 

Did the Emirati cooking methods influence your culinary style?

The main foundation which I started with is the traditional cuisine, then I start adding new things to this firm foundation. I have prepared many dishes which I hold dear to my heart which are mostly Emirati, Arabic and regional dishes in addition to some international dishes as well.

 

What is the most beautiful aspect of your job?

It is so pleasing that my dishes travel all over the world through the intercontinental Emirati Airlines. This is an achievement that I feel proud of.

 

How do you measure the passengers’ satisfaction and quality of your dishes?

We receive daily reports on the passengers’ remarks and their levels of satisfaction with our service in addition to the taste of our food then we work on it at once; generally speaking, we try to procure local ingredients as much as we can in addition to some international ingredients that we import from other regions, taking into regard that those ingredients must be fresh.

 

You have participated in Dabbir Aklak (fix your own meal) show, would you tell us about it?

It is a show that mixes  managing the ingredients you cook with and a sense of adventure. There, I discovered my ability to innovate despite working with limited ingredients. On the other hand, I also learned more about other cultures and different cuisines including special information related to specific regions and their dietary habits.

 

What country do you aspire to work in?

I hope to work in the USA one day; America is a melting pot for a wide spectrum of cultures and cuisines in addition to hosting the best restaurants and franchises. Other than that, I would also love to work in Thailand as I admire how the Thai cuisine depends on fresh ingredients.

 

If you had the chance to write a cookbook, what would it be about?

My book would be about my experience as a chef; from where I started to where I am now. I would also convey my expectations regarding this profession so I can inspire Emirati youth to become prospective chefs, knowing that there is a shortage in Emirati youth working in culinary professions. I believe that there are many young people who hope to become chefs one day, yet need the proper guidance that would lead them to a good start.

 

Is there specific advice you would like to give young people who aspire to achieve such success?

Just one sentence: be humble so you can learn; never let your ego deter you from working minor jobs, such as serving dishes like a waiter or clean your work station. Trust me when I say that you have to start from scratch in order to know everything related to this profession, including what happens behind closed curtains. Besides, being a chef doesn’t exclusively mean; working as a chef involves many aspects, including but not limited to cleaning and operating machines – which involves knowing how much power does a machine needs – and temperature raising and lowering. Working as a chef is a world of its own which requires a holistic knowledge of everything.

 

Finally, is there something that you dream of?

I had a dream once and it was fulfilled in 2018, thank God; I managed to serve food at the governmental forum of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. It was a great honor to serve such an event and receive the praise of their royal highness!

Other than that, I wish to continue serving in this great company.

 

Thanks a lot, Saud!

 

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