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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 February 2019

The sky is the limit for Emirates' first UAE chef

Saud Al Matrooshi is on a mission to bring the country's cuisine to the world as executive chef for the airline

Emirates' first home-grown head chef has completed a remarkable journey from mopping kitchen floors to being responsible for feeding thousands of passengers every day.

Now Emirati Saud Al Matrooshi, 33, has set himself another lofty goal – bringing his national cuisine to the whole world.

He is on a mission to celebrate his culinary roots by ensuring Emirati cuisine is included on every flight and at each of the airline's 42 lounges across the globe.

He recently added chicken ouzi on board – a festive Arabic dish that is rarely found on the menu in many UAE restaurants.

Mr Al Matrooshi is proud to have the opportunity to put his homeland's food map after using a lifelong passion to carve out a successful career.

His love of cooking started as a child when he used to watch his father prepare meals at home.

“Then I started cooking for my friends at camp sites and they liked my food,” he said.

He kicked off his career as a marketing manager at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, but his boss soon found he preferred life in the kitchen rather than the office.

“He asked me 'why are you always in the kitchen?' I told him cooking is my passion.”

His manager then put him in a training course under the club’s chef.

“I started from the bottom with stewarding, so you start by cleaning the floor then you get promoted to cleaning dishes.

“They teach you how to operate plate washers, and once you know how much liquid you should put in the washer you move on. I was stuck there for months.”

In 2013, he opened his first restaurant, Rib Venue Diner, in Al Garhoud, Dubai.

A year later he rolled out the first sushi restaurant in Ajman, which is still going strong five years on.

“It did quite well and still is, but I had to sell it because I went to National Service.”

He then changed route to become a consultant who comes up with restaurant concepts and sells them on.

He has consulted on 37 restaurants so far.

Executive chef Saud Al Matrroshi inspects the food being created in the Emirates kitchen. Reem Mohammed / The National
Executive chef Saud Al Matrroshi inspects the food being created in the Emirates kitchen. Reem Mohammed / The National

His career really started to take off when he began to offer cooking lessons on social media, catching the eye of a catering team member at Emirates and helping him land his job with the airline in July.

“I do a lot of cooking lessons on Snapchat, and one of my followers was from Emirates flight catering and they approached me to join the team."

Mr Al Matrooshi is constantly thinking of new dishes to serve a customer base from all over the world and examines the food produced by the kitchen's 1,800 workers with forensic detail.

At the EKFC kitchen there are sophisticated tools on hand to make the best in-flight meal.

There is a hydro machine that cuts cake with water, and the ovens are programmed to automatically adjust to the dish placed in them.

“I just need to tell the oven I am placing Arabic chicken and it chooses the temperature suitable for it,” said the chef.

A spiral blast chiller receives food from the conveyor belt and checks its weight to make sure there are no foreign objects inside, and its temperature to ensure it is cold enough, before it gets blasted to the top of the machine and moves to the dispatching area.

He points at a section where a staff member was measuring each dish with a thermometer device.

This section of the kitchen is also extra-cooled so the temperature of the food doesn’t rise, there are cooling curtains that can be dropped down to add more coolness when necessary.

“You see most of the workers here are wearing jackets. All this cooling is necessary to ensure the quality of the food on board,” he said.

Emirates Flight Catering produces 225,000 meals a day for First Class, Business and Economy.

At the pastries’ kitchen, in one corner pancakes and traditional Emirati sweets are prepared.

On another table, a slice of chocolate cake with decorative golden toppings is placed on a plate, and in the background a chef is creating dozens of other cakes to duplicate it.

Strawberry tarts are prepared in the pastry kitchen at Emirates Flight Catering. Reem Mohammed / The National
Strawberry tarts are prepared in the pastry kitchen at Emirates Flight Catering. Reem Mohammed / The National

“This is the Najm [star] standard, it shows how the end product should look like, so all should follow this model, he will make a thousand cakes that will look just like it.”

The type of desserts that go on each flight are selected based on destination.

In another corner, Arabic sweets kunafa, baklava and halawa cake are crafted.

“As an Arab chef I get to see if we can get this on board; if it is authentic enough.”

Chefs can also get creative and bring together elements from different cuisines.

Mr Al Matrooshi has personally introduced more than 30 fusion dishes since he joined. Those include karak, ‘aseeda and khabisa ice cream, date truffles with figs, and salmon biryani.

“I like to mix and fuse; I bring Korean and Spanish dishes and fuse them into Emirati elements.

“One of the fusion dishes I worked on was getting Spanish tapas called patatas bravas – which is basically cubes of potatoes, and mixing them with Korean kimchi on a bed of saffron rice with Emirati spices.

“Once I create a dish I call some colleagues to try it out, once I see that they like it, then we get together us as chefs and teams from Emirates Group and we do a meal presentation.”

Updated: January 27, 2019 04:15 PM

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