x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Chef Suzanne Husseini cooks up new show

The TV chef, a Palestinian based in Dubai, hopes to be back on television cooking Arabic food soon following a legal dispute.

DUBAI // The TV chef Suzanne Husseini is developing cookery programmes with a new production company after her relationship with the makers of the show that turned her into a star ended amid threats of legal action.

Ms Husseini, a Palestinian based in Dubai, rose to fame across the region three years ago when she hosted the Arabic-language cooking series Sohbe Taibe on the Dubai-based Arabic food network Fatafeat. The format involved Ms Husseini cooking for friends, serving up a combination of Middle Eastern recipes and chat that proved an instant hit.

"I made a cooking show for a local network, but now I've left that network and there's a legal dispute," she said. She declined to give details while Youssef El Deeb, the chairman of Fatafeat and its parent company Takhayal Entertainment, said its lawyers had exchanged a number of letters with Ms Husseini's legal representatives but had not launched any legal action. Sohbe Taibe was shown repeatedly across the Middle East from its launch until last September, when it was taken off the air.

Ms Husseini has moved on to a different production team for her as yet unnamed new project and hopes to begin filming a pilot episode soon. The idea is still in the early stages of development, but she is planning to have the show offered in Arabic and English.

"It will essentially be the same recipes in both languages, but we don't know what the format is going to be," she said. "It's all in the hands of the production company."

Last December, Ms Husseini published her first official recipe book, When Suzanne Cooks, following it up with the release of an Arabic edition. She features Arabic food exclusively on her programmes, a rarity among most TV chefs, who usually present a mix of cuisines.

"Arabic food is what I'm all about," she added. "When you keep eating your food and supporting the businesses that make your food, then that food lives on, that culture lives on.

"If I stop eating my food and cooking it and celebrating it, then it's going to die. Why would you turn your back on your own food? It's such a sophisticated and elegant cuisine."

She despairs of the fast food that has become so popular across the region and contributes to serious health problems such as obesity and diabetes.

"Mindlessly eating fast food, which is what a lot of people here do, means they are going to pay a heavy price later on in their lives - they're eating empty calories, they're acquiring a taste for salty fatty foods, they're going to gain weight.

"It's reached a tragic situation right now, particularly in the UAE, but all of the Gulf is suffering because of this terrible lifestyle people have adopted."

Traditional Arab street foods such as falafel and good quality shawarma were much healthier than burgers with a mayonnaise sauce in a white bread bun, she said.

"Real falafel, for example, is made with chickpeas, fava beans, garlic, onions, herbs and spices. Those ingredients are good for you, they are legumes, they have protein. It is fried, yes, but there's nothing wrong with frying as long as you're not overdoing it."

csimpson@thenational.ae