Chef Sahar Parham Al Awadhi gets her culinary instincts from her mother, but she has crafted her own sustainable approach to ingredients. The pastry chef at Burj Al Arab spills the beans on the pressures and joys of crafting sweet surprises at one of the most luxurious addresses in the UAE. By Sumeet Keswani
You’re often called the first female Emirati pastry chef. Was there a glass ceiling you had to break?
Absolutely, three of them: female, Emirati, and chef. To be working in a male-dominated industry as a female chef was a lot of work—physically, mentally, and emotionally. I had to make sure I was breaking the stereotype that Emiratis are handed things on a silver platter. I put in sleepless nights, and my feet have been hurting for six years now!
What kind of food did you grow up eating? Does that influence you today?
Lots of home-cooked meals. My mother is a great cook with an amazing palate. Her traditional recipes are incredible, but she is always adventurous with food (so is my father). Even when we ate out, she would try to replicate it at home, which had a huge influence on the way I looked at food. The most distinct one is a fermented fish sauce called mehyawathat she has been making for years. When I was young, I would stand next to my mother just to stir what was cooking in the pot.
Tell us a memorable gastronomic adventure.
The most recent one was in Mumbai at Masque (masquerestaurant.com). Chef Prateek Sadhu is changing the way diners experience Indian, particularly Kashmiri, cuisine. The first course was pani puri with pineapple, and the combination just made sense. Another course was a barramundi fish; a few courses later, he used the fish skin to make chocolate petit fours. The whole philosophy resonated with me.
What is your food philosophy?
My food philosophy is centred on ingredients. I am a huge advocate of using local ingredients and taking a sustainable approach. We make almost everything from scratch, and that allows us to do three things: make sure everything we produce is up to our standards; know exactly what we’re putting in our products; and follow a low-waste philosophy. If we need parts of fruit for garnishing a tart, the rest of it will go into making a home-made jam for our scones.
What are the challenges of being the pastry chef at Burj Al Arab?
It is a challenge, but it is also rewarding. The hotel’s ethos is ‘only at the Burj’ (anytime, anywhere, anything), so there is never a dull day at work. People come with high expectations, so it’s our responsibility to hold up our end of the deal. My duty is to make sure that no matter where you go in the hotel, any pastry you have is absolutely delicious, starting from your morning croissant to the final cookie at the end of your evening meal.
What are your favourite things to do in Dubai?
Alserkal Avenue (alserkalavenue.ae) is great. I love going there to see what restaurant pop-ups are in situ and what the chefs are up to. March is a great art month in Dubai—there are installations all around the city, but my favourite one is the Sikka Art Festival at Al Fahidi district in Old Dubai. And Mobius Design Studio has a rooftop feast as a closing dinner that I love! jumeirah.com