Abdallah Alsallak, sous chef at Fairmont Dubai, discusses inspirations, new menus and culinary philosophies
There’s always something exciting cooking up at Fairmont Dubai. Nestled in the heart of the emirate’s bustling Trade Centre district, the hotel is home to an array of culinary concepts championing flavours from around the world. From dining in pitch dark settings at Noire, where you can rely only on the senses of smell and taste, to steakhouse specialities at The Exchange Grill, every taste is catered for. Working behind the scenes to deliver a great culinary experience is sous chef Abdallah Alsallak. With 10 years of experience at the age of 27, he’s one of the city’s youngest chefs to carve a name on Dubai’s dining scene. Read on as he discusses inspirations, new menus and culinary philosophies.
How did you discover your passion for cooking?
“I come from a large Jordanian family, where we all enjoy cooking. In fact, three of my uncles were chefs, but my earliest memories in the kitchen are with my mother. She taught me how to cook. Hailing from the region, Middle Eastern cuisine was her speciality and she frequently made spinach pie, kibbeh and hot mezze. That’s how I developed a keen interest in Arabic food. Eventually, at all our family gatherings, I was made responsible for everything traditional on the table, from mezze to mixed grills.”
So did you always know you wanted to pursue cooking?
“With so many chefs in the family, during the summer holidays, I had the chance to train at the finest hotels and restaurants in Amman from a very young age. This inspired me to pursue my interests. The more I practised, the more I wanted to learn about different cuisines. This brought me to Dubai, where I’ve been fortunate to work with a multicultural team, developing my skills and gaining invaluable experience along the way.”
You’re one of Dubai’s youngest renowned chefs at 27 with 10 years of experience under your belt. How does that feel?
“I do feel very proud of myself, but the achievements haven’t come easily. It’s all a result of 14 to 16-hour workdays to learn as much as possible and develop my skills further. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether one is an 18-year-old high school graduate or an experienced sous chef with a 10-year career behind him. There is always something new to learn and improve upon every day.”
How do your Jordanian roots influence your culinary style?
“While creating a menu or a new dish, I always turn to the traditional cooking techniques that I learnt from my mother. Using fresh, local ingredients to keep it authentic is very important. It helps to give every dish that homemade touch.”
With tough competition on Dubai’s dining scene, do you think the sheer variety of international cuisines often overshadows local specialities?
“Middle Eastern food in its nature is fresh, wholesome and rich in flavour. As Dubai is a multicultural hub, I’ve found that visitors are keen to try authentic specialities, especially if it’s their first time in the city. Therefore, despite the influx of international cuisines, I am confident that Arabic food will always be cherished and enjoyed by residents and tourists alike.”
So how does Fairmont Dubai stand out from the crowd with its culinary offering?
“Since Fairmont Dubai opened in 2002, it has carved a niche for itself in the emirate, thanks to its diverse food and beverage offering. We have 12 distinct venues at the hotel and what sets us apart is our ability to keep enhancing the experience for every guest. We’ve always aimed to create a sense of belonging for our guests and we’ve achieved this by making the quality of our dishes, and the dining experience in general, a top priority.”
What does a typical day at the hotel look like for you?
“My day usually begins at 7:30am. I lead a team of 30 chefs and my first task is to ensure that there is sufficient manpower in place to accomplish everything on our agenda. The key is to plan the day in a way that ensures that the most urgent work gets done first. Part of my responsibility is to also make sure that all food items in the inventory, including fruits, vegetables and condiments, are fresh. I am tasked with cooking speciality dishes and creating unique items to pique diners’ curiosities and keep them returning to our outlets. I am also responsible for developing new menus and choosing ingredients depending on their seasonal availability.”
What inspires the culinary philosophy at Fairmont Dubai?
“Teamwork is the key to success. Not only are we able to do a lot more when we work together as a team, but we can also achieve greater success and better results. Great chefs are the ones who share their knowledge and coach their teams. A few decades ago, it was common amongst chefs to protect their methods and recipes from others. Today, we know that an important part of our job is to share our knowledge and take on the role of a mentor, helping others develop their own careers.”
It’s the New Year. Healthy eating is on almost everybody’s list of resolutions. How do you stay on top of this trend?
“This year, our priority is to include a lot more healthy ingredients to the dishes that we prepare. All our efforts are currently geared towards developing a range of healthy recipes, which taste great, are visually appealing and pack a lot of nutrition. We are also crafting a new and healthier menu for coffee breaks, including gluten-free and vegan items. In line with the growing trend of plant-based eating, we have also launched a new plant-based burger called the beyond burger, which is available in two of our restaurants and our guests already love it. This year will continue to be all about great food prepared in a creative way, complemented by personalised service in comfortable surroundings.”
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