Chefs Harald Oberender and Khalel Mustafa Oqdeh of the Dubai World Trade Centre talk to Time Out
So you two have put out a cookbook? Harald: Yes, it was an all-night frenzy. It was something that we knew we must finish for our 30th anniversary.
Why did you choose to do an Emirati cookbook? The Dubai World Trade Centre has been catering for Emirati events for a few years now. We have a real reputation, and have even done four royal weddings this year.
Wow. How’d you guys get those gigs? Khalel: We’ve really put a lot of emphasis on making our food authentic. You cannot fool Emiratis. They have a lot of pride in their food, and the customers really know what it’s supposed to taste like. There are so many details that we have to get right. For example, the food is fresh, meaning the meat we get has to come straight from the slaughterhouse to the kitchen.
Harald: It also helps that we have Emiratis in the kitchen.
How does Emirati food differ from other types of Arabic cuisine? Harald: One thing is the spice mix, hassar. It has a very distinct flavour and makes Emirati food stand out. So who do you see buying this book? Harald: I see this book as a real benchmark. We’re setting the standard for Emirati cuisine. It’s for Emirati families, because they believe in us and because our food is authentic, but it’s also for anybody else who is curious about what makes great Emirati food.
You cater, but you don’t really serve Emirati food restaurant-style. Why is it that so few restaurants do? Harald: Emirati cuisine is still very much a home-cooking cuisine. If Emiratis are going to go out to a restaurant, it’s not going to be to eat Emirati food.
Khalel: Emiratis are also very well travelled, and want food from around the world when going out to eat.
Harald: Also, the freshness of the food makes it hard to serve in a restaurant setting. It really has to come straight from the vegetable garden to the plate. ‘A Culinary Journey: Celebrating 30 Years of Our History’, the Dubai World Trade Centre’s new cookbook, is available in major bookstores across the UAE, including Magrudy’s, Virgin, Borders, Kinokuniya and Dubai Duty Free