Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Bon Apetit! | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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I am a man who respects food, and I appreciate the skill of those who are able to cook. Those who are artists in the kitchen have a special standing in my eyes, therefore I was honoured and overjoyed to have dinner in the Saudi capital of Riyadh at the ‘Al-Qariya al-Najdiya’ [Najd Village] restaurant in the company of restaurant owner Ibrahim al-Munjim. The restaurant has an impressive cultural heritage and includes touches of traditional Najdi life with regards to the architecture, style, and furnishings of the restaurant that captivates customers and reminds them of the beautiful days of the past. However it is the food that is the main attraction and the restaurant served traditional dishes like Jarish [a meat dish], Matazeez [a type of pancake] and other traditional dishes from the Najd region that were all extremely delicious. I ended this wonderful night by insisting that my friend Ibrahim al-Munjim open more branches of his restaurant so that as many people as possible could enjoy this unique experience.

They used to say that cooking is an art and that not everybody who can cook is a master chef, and there are gourmet cooks, and others who claim to be able to cook at this level. I recalled this when I was driving away from the restaurant, and I recalled the great food and the people who are able to appreciate and enjoy gourmet cooking. This brought me to Muslim Bin Muslim, Muhammad Bin Zuqr, and Abdul-Aziz Zaidan who are considered to be master chefs and every time that I eat at their restaurants I am more and more certain of this.

However there is another friend who is a master chef and an artist in the kitchen, and this is my friend Hani al-Attas. He is the owner of the well-known Laylati chain of restaurants in Jeddah. As far as I am aware, Hani al-Attas is not of French descent, however he surpasses many great French chefs in his knowledge and ability of French cuisine. France has the most renowned restaurant evaluation system, and of course I am talking about the Michelin Guide which evaluates restaurants and awards them Michelin Stars. The Michelin Guide was originally a guide book issued by the Michelin Company to help drivers maintain their cars, as well as find hotels and restaurants whilst touring France. However the Michelin Guide soon turned into an extremely strict evaluation guide of the best restaurants in the world, and awards restaurants one, two, or three Michelin Stars. I do not pretend that I can award al-Attas Michelin – or even Kumho – stars, but I can confirm that in the restaurant world today, Hani al-Attas is an ideal reference and model, and that he has established a criteria for quality and commitment that is unprecedented in the Middle East in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, outperforming many of the major international companies that specialize in hotel and restaurant management. Today, Hani al-Attas has managed to provide successful models for “ethnic” restaurants that specialize in Lebanese or Chinese cuisine, or even Fusion cuisine, and he is preparing to launch Indian and Thai restaurants as well. Al-Attas is in the process of launching his restaurants throughout the Gulf region, and Kuwait will be his first destination.

I appreciate anybody who masters and excels at their profession and is concerned with its smallest details. I personally visited Hani al-Attas in his “kitchen” when he was experimenting with new kinds of food, and I carefully observed him while he was discussing even the most minute details of the colour, smell, taste, and presentation of the dishes he was making with his cooking staff. It was as if his cooking staff was preparing to launch a space shuttle or performing brain surgery, however this shows their seriousness, and the results of this were a real success. There are many more details, and I could talk to you about the chairs that al-Attas imported from Spain, or the dishes from France, the cups from Italy, and about numerous other details that could turn your meal at his restaurant into a truly “enjoyable” experience. The Saudi Arabians were, and continue to be, food connoisseurs, but today they are able to experience the new culture of cuisine, and this is a culture that has international standards that are known by the Chinese, the Europeans, and the Gulf citizens.