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Fri 23 Jul 2010 04:00 AM

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Comment: Musabbeh Tarish

Making the season special. Ramadan is a time for celebration - but it is also a season that brings a whole range of challenges for chefs.

Comment: Musabbeh Tarish

Ramadan is always a special season, but especially so for me in my role as a chef - primarily because I know how much pleasure the food I'm serving gives people after a long day of work and, for the many fasters, walking around with empty stomach.

Ramadan, like any other holy season, has its own special dishes and traditional foods.

First we serve a selection of juices, water, dried dates and soups as a starter. Then, after prayers, we serve the dinner.

At hotel restaurants, chefs will usually serve an open buffet for the iftar meal, featuring all the special Ramadan favourites such as Arabic rice dishes, hareesh, khanfrosh and logemat.

At the same time, we will often have to cater for some private parties, or a separate Ramadan tent, often preparing food according to the host's specifications.

Last but not least, there is suhour time: the meal before sunrise, when fasting commences once again. At suhour, people order  what they want from the menu - usually something light.

This is all well and good, but for the kitchen team, there is another side to those attractive dishes we're serving up.

When you work in kitchen, there is a lot of work to do and a lot of pressure every single day; so you can imagine what happens during Ramadan, when some of the team are fasting and hungry!

The fact that there is so much work to do in a short space of time steps the pressure up a notch, so people are more prone to getting nervous or angry than on normal days.

Consequently, it can be a challenge to keep the work and the team's emotions under control until the end of service.

One Ramadan, I was working for big hotel in Dubai; we were preparing iftar, but work hadn't gone well, so were running about 15 minutes late in serving the food.

Anyone who has worked in this region will know how people can get, waiting for the moment of iftar after a long day of fasting; these are not people to mess with!

As we ran overtime, the situation in the kitchen became fraught: the food hadn't gone out, we were running around to get things finished - it was horrible!

Everyone was working at lightening speed to finish as quickly as possible and feed those hungry people outside before they started shouting at us.

But we pulled together and worked hard that day, and finally served the meals so everyone was happy.

Another challenge you may encounter, if you have new staff on your team from different parts of the world, is whether they can make authentic Arabic cuisine.

This can present problems to start with, but they just need some guidance and some time to learn and appreciate tasty traditional Arabic dishes - and, as any F&B professional will know, since Ramadan preparations should begin well in advance of the actual month, there will be plenty of time for practice! Before long, they will be whipping these dishes up without any help.

If you are a new chef to the UAE, experiencing Ramadan for first time, there are a few things you can do to ensure success over the holy month - or indeed any celebratory season.

Firstly, make sure you are familiar with your new kitchen and all the ingredients used in traditional Arabic food, such as the various spices.

Secondly, be aware of traditional cooking methods that old-school chefs employ. Remember, you can always ask chefs with more experience in the region for advice; most here are very helpful.

Thirdly, try looking at some classic Arabic food books. That can help you to know more about the history of the food and its place in the culture.

The only other tip I can give you for this season is to go out there, make great tasting dishes, have a big smile and make sure you serve that up along with the meals. I promise, it will make all the difference!

Chef Musabbeh Tarish is a UAE national who has worked in the Middle East for the past eight years, enjoying stints with big names including Kempinski, Jebel Ali International Hotels, Jumeirah and Dubai World Trade Center.

Tarish is currently taking a break from the world of cheffing to enjoy his latest role as a father, but has recently been working on a cooking series for Al Rai TV, which will be aired in Kuwait during Ramadan.

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Joseph Hogan Wilks 9 years ago

I was able to be in town for Ramadan a few years back. The food was wonderful and all of the people were beautiful and kind.

Anil Kumar 8 years ago

I am trying to get in touch with Chef Musabbeh .
Would highly appreciate if someone could help me with his contact information .