x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Cooking up a recipe for success in Dubai

The Life: Areej Jomaa founded Sweet Connection, Dubai's first gluten-free bakery, two years ago. The business has proved such a success that Ms Jomaa hopes eventually to expand it to other parts of the UAE.

Areej Jomaa is the chef at the Sweet Connection bakery in Dubai, the emirate's first gluten-free bakery. Pawan Singh / The National
Areej Jomaa is the chef at the Sweet Connection bakery in Dubai, the emirate's first gluten-free bakery. Pawan Singh / The National

To say Areej Jomaa loves to bake would be an understatement. For the 48-year-old Lebanese businesswoman, who has lived in Dubai for five years, it is her raison d'être. She has been baking and experimenting with recipes all her life. So when her sister Rabia was diagnosed with coeliac disease in 1985, Ms Jomaa determined to create gluten-free products specifically for her. This led to her founding Sweet Connection, Dubai's first gluten-free bakery, two years ago. The business has proved such a success that Ms Jomaa hopes eventually to expand it to other parts of the UAE. For the moment she is concentrating on the day-to-day running.

6am

I rise and have breakfast in my apartment on the Palm Jumeirah. I'm a Christian so I'm not fasting during Ramadan. I usually have fruit salad or a smoothie, followed by a slice of my home-made bread with a boiled egg or an egg white omelette. Sometimes I'll add a little asparagus. I love breakfast - it sets me up for the day and I always have coffee with it.

7.30am

I leave for the bakery in the Green Community, Dubai and reach it around 8am. I have a list of things to do I made the night before. I oversee the running of the business, but I also help with the baking. The mornings are our busiest time as all of the produce is made daily and it has to be delivered on time. On a typical day we'll have between 10 and 30 orders. We also bake for our kiosk in Mercato Mall and we sell our produce at Milk and Honey on the Palm and in the Meadows.

We bake not only for those who are coeliac, but for people with all kinds of food intolerances and even autistic children. Often people will come to me with a list of foods they've been told not to eat and they're desperate. I do my best to help and come up with recipes specifically for them. There's a lovely atmosphere in the bakery, which has a huge window letting in lots of light. We always have the Food Network on the TV and we often play music. One of my employees, Dahlia, sings very sweetly too from time to time.

2pm

I take a short lunch break at this time. I'll have a soup or salad and sometimes a piece of my bread. We have 17 different types of breads - five of which we sell at our kiosk in Mercato Mall. Our most popular bread is one made with olives, feta cheese and rosemary. Other popular products include our banana bread, our lemon loaf and our orange, almond and coconut loaf.

5pm

I leave the bakery and arrive at Mercato Mall where I get to interact with customers. Many have been buying our produce for years and I enjoy chatting to them. Some are fasting during Ramadan but they buy products they can eat after sunset. I've devised a special range of home-baked goods for this time of year. Many contain dates and are perfect for breaking the fast or can be eaten at Suhour. I've come up with a cake, for example, containing pistachio nuts, almond milk, honey, cinnamon, rose water and lemon which is proving very popular.

8pm

Sometimes my husband Ed, who is a banker, will stop by on his way from work and we'll go home together. We have three children - Sara, 29, Sharif, 26 and Danny, 18. Sara and Danny are living in Canada at the moment, but Sharif is still at home. We try to eat together as a family each evening. I love to cook but I'm usually too tired. I have a great housekeeper from Ethiopia who cooks for us. We like simple food - often Lebanese or Asian. We try to eat healthily and always have a big salad on the table. Afterwards I plan what I have to do the next day.

11pm

I go to bed and read for half an hour before falling asleep. I generally read books on nutrition or sometimes biographies. I've just read a great book by Dr William Davis, called Wheat Belly. It will change your life.

 

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