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I am a Food & Travel Blogger for withtrevor.com based in Abu Dhabi, UAE where I document my food and travel experiences in the world.

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1-on-1 with Chef Hussam

A bit tangential to what we conventionally think, and perhaps you would agree with me on this, but I have to thank an extremely positive-minded friend who quoted “One of the most respected professions out there is being a Chef!”. I couldn’t agree more. It actually forces one to break down that simple statement to something a bit, more simple? Sure, the most basic thing to do is cook a leg of lamb over an open flame. But it’s very easy to turn the meat into something tough and chewy. It’s thanks to this person who transforms simple, every day ingredients into, (yeah I’ll say it) masterpieces! Once such privilege got me to meet Chef Hussam. He is the Head Chef in the Oriental Food Department of the entire hotel. Talk about anything and everything that has to do with Middle Eastern plates served throughout the hotel.

Chef Hussam (Credits to Nassima Royal Hotel)
Chef Hussam (Credits to Nassima Royal Hotel)

Perhaps a nice black coffee…

Starting his career in the culinary industry over 20 years back, Chef Hussam worked in Lebanon and worked his way up from serving cold mezzeh to the hot kitchen to the head of the operation for Arabic food. His story involves hopping and skipping from one country to another in the Middle Eastern region. One thing that he did clarify for me was the cuisines from each of the countries in the Middle East region are different from each other. No, its not just kebabs, hummus and tabouleh, each country has its own unique variation. Learning about this aspect from Chef Mohammad Orafli was also an eye-opener (in some ways). In general, yes the food is similar, but each country has its own unique touch of flavor to each dish.

Chef Hussam can definitely be termed as someone who has an immense amount of experience in the kitchen. The questions one would obviously ask is the tiny existence of motivation. Working in the kitchen for majority of the day isn’t a joke at all. That’s 15-18 hours a day on your feet! Chef Hussam goes on to explain that it is more than just “motivation” or “force” that enables someone to do such a thing. With immense amount of passion and “love for the job”, time start becoming insignificant no matter what. Just like how “breathing air” is. It just happens. In contrast, it can also be explained as a 1 hours worth of work in a job that isn’t appreciated at all, can feel like 2 months!

The Cliché question…

Chef Hussam put a slight twist in answering this question. He explained how traditional dishes at home were always the favorite on the list. But if he has to pick one that he could make without messing it up, it would have to be an Al Sayadia. What is it? Well, read more about it below…because this dish was what he served me!

A Specialty…

Chef Hussam's Fish Sayadia
Chef Hussam’s Fish Sayadia

Chef Hussam cooked me a simple yet delicious Fish Sayadia (or Sayadieh). Originating as a classic Lebanese / Syrian dish (Apologies if I’m mistaken), a Sayadia is cooked with caramelized burnt onions, to impart a brown color to the rice. Along with grilled fish, this dish is a tad bit similar to a kabsa, again different since we use fish here. Well I did happen to taste this dish! How was it? Well, the only dish I could perhaps compare it to was a biryani (since that’s the only sort of dish I knew), of course, quite low in terms of spice and heat. Then again, even though the dish isn’t as spicy as an Indian dish, it does pack flavor from simple ingredients like the burnt onions, roasted pine nuts and cinnamon. Granted the fish was a bit on the dry side, but overall, I think it was a mighty and well-received change from the usual biryani!

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