Having built a following consulting and with Zuma, Play and The Experience, Singaporean chef Reif Othman takes to the streets with his homegrown concept Reif Japanese Kushiyaki
Debonair steps behind the oven with the only female Emirati pastry chef in the region, who plies her trade at the Burj Al Arab
Eduan R. Maggo
Sahar Parham joined Burj Al Arab in 2016, as a junior sous chef in the Pastry Kitchen, and in doing so became the first Emirati chef to work at the iconic hotel. She has recently been promoted to junior pastry chef, becoming the first and only female Emirati pastry chef in the region.
She works alongside a team of 34 pastry chefs in a kitchen that operates 24 hours a day, creating memorable dishes for guests at Burj Al Arab.
What’s your earliest food memory?
Waiting to eat balaleet on Eid morning. It’s an Emirati breakfast dish made with sweetened vermicelli noodles, spiced with saffron and cardamom and served with an egg omelette — extra salt for me, because I love the contrast of sweet and salty. These days everyone is juggling busy lives and responsibilities, but we always manage to reunite at my parent’s breakfast table at Eid for balaleet.
It’s also a dish I have recreated multiple times with my own spin. So far my favourite creation has been a caramel-cured yolk version, but the original has a special place in my heart.
How did you enter the industry?
I made a decision and jumped into it. At the time I was working in marketing, but working with food has always been a passion something I knew I needed to pursue so I did a few trials at restaurants in Dubai.
At first, I was discouraged by fearsome tales of the realities of working in the industry. But while I knew it was going to be hard work, I couldn’t shake the thought of what it would be like to become a chef full-time. With this thought in mind, I made the conscious decision to dive in headfirst.
Luckily for me, when I interviewed at La Serre, the concept of a home-grown restaurant resonated with me — from fine-dining to casual and business-to-business. It seemed to be a place that I could learn a lot from, and I did. Now I am at Burj Al Arab, the world’s most iconic hotel, and I haven’t looked back.
Professional kitchens are renowned as stressful environments. How do you handle the pressure?
It took a while for me to adjust to it in the beginning. Simultaneously, I had to deal with the pressure of an unconventional career choice as well. It took a lot of self-discipline, but ultimately being organised with your time, making sure not to take things personally and finding a great support system really helps. I’ve found that the supportive nature of the Burj Al Arab culinary team has alleviated the pressure.
Once the day is over, it’s over and you can’t do anything about it. You just wake up the next morning, start fresh and try to do better every day.
How often do you cook outside the workplace?
At the Burj Al Arab, I spend most of my time working on pastry so I like to experiment with savoury food at home.
What’s the best restaurant you’ve eaten at and what made it memorable?
Cosme in New York City, hands down! It’s a contemporary Mexican restaurant by chef Daniela Soto-Innes that uses mostly locally sourced ingredients, focusing on making everything from scratch and almost no wastage. The reason why it was memorable was because their most popular dessert is a corn husk meringue. They use as much of the corn husk as possible, which in my eyes, shows a real respect for the ingredient. The dish is comprised of corn mousse and a dried corn husk meringue, among other things. It was completely unexpected and absolutely delicious!
Conversely, what would you never eat again?
I don’t like capsicums at all; I think they overpower the taste of everything else.
What’s your top life hack for the layman in the kitchen?
If you add a little fat to your eggs (olive oil or cream) it will be difficult to brown your omelette and it makes it super fluffy.
What’s your one indispensable kitchen implement?
A small off-set spatula. I wouldn’t be able to bring the Burj Al Arab’s famous desserts to life without it.
What new trends are you seeing?
I think the rise of social media and the trend of showcasing recipes from beginning to end is great. It has prompted people to become more interested in food and the cooking process — it’s almost educational, like an online cooking class. When you cook your own food, it’s so nice to know exactly what’s going into it and to be in control what goes into your body.
Who’d you invite to your ideal dinner table?
Ah, there are so many! I would have loved to have Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert together at a table. Samin Nosrat (chef and author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat), as the way that she explains food is so inspiring. Daniel Humm, because of Eleven Madison Park. Dan Barber; I just saw him post a picture of tomatoes and strawberries growing on the same vine from his farm. And Bob Marley, Eugénie Brazier and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
If you could choose your final meal, what would it be?
That’s a tough one! Anything my mother cooks, or a bowl of cacio e pepe and a canelé.
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