Friday, August 16, 2013

Rendezvous with Chef Rober Salloum, the Senior Arabic Chef@ Fairmont The Palm, Dubai

Starting his career aged 14 in Damascus in his native Syria, Rober has over 14 years’ experience working in Dubai, and during his career he has worked for several luxurious hotels groups, including the Jumeriah Group where he was part of the pre-opening team for the renowned Burj Al Arab.  Joining Fairmont The Palm during the pre-opening period, Chef Rober was the right hand man for Executive Chef, John Cordeaux, leading the opening of the resort’s six restaurants and lounges.  In his role as Senior Arabic Chef, Rober manages over 22 colleagues in the Fairmont The Palm’s main kitchen.  Highly respected by his peers, Rober is revered as one of the best Arabic Chefs in the UAE, but is most proud of his title as ‘father’ of his two young children, aged 1 and 7 years.   

 When did you realize that you wanted to be a professional chef?
I started working in the kitchen when I was only 14 years old in Syria, and it was a natural progression that I went on to become a professional chef.  All these years later I still love what I am doing!

What according to you is the hottest cuisine these days?
In the Middle East, Arabic food is always very popular, and many tourists who visit Dubai enjoy sampling traditional Arabic dishes.  In Dubai, Chinese cuisine seems to be increasing in popularity, and we are looking forward to launching our very own new pan Chinese restaurant at Fairmont The Palm later this year, Bā Restaurant & Lounge, which will feature a full spectrum of regional cuisine.

Do you have any advice for upcoming chefs?
I believe that it’s extremely important that those who want to become chefs are passionate, and don’t just see it as a job.  In my role as Senior Arabic Chef, I create development plans for each and every young chef in my team, tailored around their individual skills.  I ensure that each chef has the necessary training they need, and give advice to help each individual grow.

Do you think it is difficult for vegetarians to survive eating out internationally?
I think today there is a great selection of vegetarian options in restaurants for guests.  Particularly in, the Middle East, a lot of Arabic food is vegetarian, such as Baba Ganoush (primarily made with eggplant, tomatoes, parsley and onion) and Fattoush (a popular salad made with lettuce, tomatoes, and parsley topped with crispy fried bread).

Your favourite cuisine and favourite restaurant? Why?
I love Italian food because of all of the rich flavours.  One of my favourite Italian restaurants in Dubai is Toscana, which is part of Madinat Jumeirah, where I used to work.

Please tell us one secret handy tip/ingredient/cooking process which enhances your cooking & we can try?
Olive oil and lemon juice are the secrets behind Arabic cuisine.  Olive oil adds flavour to any dish while lemon juice adds flavour to the food.

Do you think that visual appeal of a dish has an effect on the customer?
Of course! We all eat with our eyes first, before sampling a dish.

What is a typical day like for you when you are at work?
I start very early in the morning, around 7am.  My day begins with morning briefings with my team, before starting on lunch preparations and getting ready for any events in the hotel. In the afternoon I place food orders, and then we begin dinner preparations.  Depending on the business levels, I can finish quite late.

One cuisine that you feel is overrated?
I believe that this is more of a personal choice, depending on an individual’s tastes and preferences.

One celebrity or famous personality you would like to call for dinner and why?
If I was hosting a dinner party the first people I would invite would be my family.  If I were to invite a celebrity it would have to be George Wassof, a famous Arabic singer from Syria.

Do you cook to live to live to cook?
I most definitely live to cook – it’s my passion.

What does experimentation and innovation mean to you?
Every chef brings their own unique touch to a dish.  When I’m trying out a new recipe, I will look at how many different chefs prepare the dish, in cook books and TV cooking shows, before I create the dish putting my own personal spin on it.

White cheese: 800 Gms; Fresh Zatar leaves: 70 Gms; Sliced green olives: 50 Gms; Lebanese Olive oil: 80 Ml; Finely chopped tomato: 180 Gms; Dry Zatar with sesame seeds: 50 Gms.
1.    Slice the cheese then arrange in serving plate.
2.    Add the Zatar leaves and chopped tomato each on one side of the plate, then the green olives on the top of the cheese as well as the chopped tomato and dry Zatar on them.
3.    Finally, drip olive oil on top.

Beetroot boiled: 2 kgs; Tahina (sesame seeds puree): 300 Gms; Lemon salt: 15 Gms; Garlic peeled and mashed: 50 Gms; Olive oil: 150 Ml; Salt: to taste; Pistachio: 100 Gms; Mini flat: 30 Gms; Plain yoghurt: 600 Gms
1.    Grate the beetroot and strain it, add yoghurt, mashed garlic, salt and lemon salt, mix all together.
2.    Add tahini in to the beetroot and mix it again.
3.    Plate and finish with olive oil, garnish with fresh mint and pistachio sticks.

published in TLF