x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ramadan's sweetest job

Radwan al Hosani, founder of the chocolatier Fuala, knows his ingredients and trusts his taste buds to sweeten the holy month.

Radwan al Hosani, the Fuala chocolate taste tester, samples some chocolate before Ramadan.
Radwan al Hosani, the Fuala chocolate taste tester, samples some chocolate before Ramadan. "We have to find the right balance and cater to a very specific taste," he says.

ABU DHABI // To many people, Radwan al Hosani has one of the best jobs in the world. He gets to taste Fuala's chocolate for a living, and has the final say in what exotic ingredients to add. "The secret to the best chocolate is actually in the milk used," he says. "You can have the best cows in the world on your farms, but in the end, it is Swiss cow's milk that produces the best quality chocolates."

Dipping a spoon into a rich pool with a high cocoa bean concentration earlier this week, he sniffs, sips and lets the chocolate sit in his mouth before making his judgement. "Just right. Delicious," he says with a smile. "This is the best part of my job." Mr al Hosani then pulls out his "secret" tool from the pocket of his khandoura. He uses the meswak stick - a tree branch that traditionally has functioned as a tooth brush - before trying out another sample of chocolate.

"It cleans the teeth and refreshes my mouth for the next taste," he says. Mr al Hosani did a lot of tasting in the weeks leading to Ramadan. Along with Eid, it is the busiest season for local chocolatiers, who have to come up with creative packaging and the "right" tastes for a nation craving something rich after long hours of fasting. "It has to be a light filling, and not too sweet, as people would have been fasting all day and wouldn't want anything too heavy," he says.

Besides plain dates, Muslims may break their Ramadan fasts on dates covered with handmade chocolate; chocolates infused with coffee or dotted with fruits or macadamia, hazel or pistachio nuts; or on plain milk or white chocolate confections in creative floral, jewellery, heart and geometric shapes. During Eid, chocolate packages are common gifts on family visits. Packages can be filled with romantic hearts or tiny teddy bears hugging chocolates, or feature more creative jungle or zoo themes.

The company offers 80 flavours. Prices range from Dh100 to 180 per kilogram, depending on the type of chocolate. Those with the highest cocoa content are the most expensive. "The local market here is used to commercial chocolates that have a lot of fat in them, and so we have to find the right balance and cater to a very specific taste," says Mr al Hosani. He tests his chocolates on his family of three children and his wife, Um Omar, who in turn solicits opinions from women in the community.

"Emiratis generally prefer light milk chocolate to dark chocolate and don't like it to be too sweet," he says. A fan of Kit Kat bars while he was growing up, Mr al Hosani, who says he exercises on a regular basis to prevent weight gain, has founded two local chocolate brands during his 17 years in the industry. First came Pistache, launched in Abu Dhabi in 1995. Fuala, which means "hospitality" in the local dialect, was established in 2002, and now has 15 branches across the UAE, one in Saudi Arabia and another in Oman.

Mr al Hosani runs the business with a former classmate and friends from the al Khaja, al Roumaithy and al Suweidi families. They are still working to educate the public on the finer points of the product, he says. "Chocolates is a relatively new tradition here, as it was introduced in the 1970s, and it was mainly in the form of commercial chocolates, and so people are still learning the difference between fine and regular chocolates," he said.

Other local chocolatiers include Choco Art, a Sharjah-based family business that opened in 1998 and recently opened a shop in Umm al Qaiwain, and al Nassma in Dubai, which released the first camel's milk chocolate brand in 2008. At Fuala's small factory in the capital, Mohammed Moghazy has overseen the staff and operations for the past eight years. The chocolate chief from Lebanon and 60 staff members work in hair nets, white paper jackets and sterile blue plastic shoe covers.

Cracking, melting, mixing, tempering and filling and emptying chocolate molds, the workers toil efficiently, with Mr Moghazy checking over the 500 kilograms they produce daily. "This way we can provide to the masses what once was only gifted to the kings and queens," he says. On the eve of Ramadan, they all worked overtime to satisfy increased demand and orders. Mr al Hosani, who can veto any chocolate he does not like, says he never tires of his work.

"I always loved chocolate," he says. "But who doesn't love chocolate?" rghazal@thenational.ae