It’s that time of the year and chefs are in the kitchens making sure we get to savour some of the best dishes around during Ramadan.
And it’s no exception for this dynamic duo, exclusive partner, Michelin-Starred, Chef Tom Aikens who in collaboration with with avant-garde local Chef Mohamad Orfal are showcasing some rather delectable Ramadan flavours at the Market at EDITION, The Abu Dhabi EDITION. Team Yalla finds out more!
How did the collaboration come about?
Tom Aikens (TA): I’ve known Mohamed for at least three years and I have collaborated on a couple of other pop-ups with him in Dubai. I just thought he’d be the perfect partner for working with on this venture. He’s funny, good with people, easy going, so it’s really great to work with him.
Mohamed Orfali (MO): Tom called me and said he wanted us to work together concocting something for Ramadan that was meaningful, and which comes from our collaboration as friends, since we had previously worked together on pop-ups, so it seemed the perfect opportunity.
What were the challenges you faced in working on the same menu together but remotely?
TA: The main issue working remotely is tasting issues, which is definitely the number one challenge. But I know Mohamed quite well now in his flavours and his tastes. His starter and cuisine in general is actually very light and refreshing; he’s very good at really defining the main components of the decision making needed for the flavour of the dishes.
MO: I have tasted Tom’s dishes before, of course, and have every faith in them, the flavours. So even though we put together these dishes while we were in two different countries, I had full confidence in the end result. You’ll have to go taste them yourself to find out if it worked or not.
What have you both brought to the Iftar table at The Market at EDITION, in terms of ideas, dishes?
TA: With chef Stefan Tanasijevic, the hotel’s Executive Sous Chef, we have both worked on several dishes that are added onto the hotel’s menu at times such as Ramadan. Stefan has worked with me since the hotel opened and he has a good understanding of the different dishes, what I like and what the locals like and what I can throw into the mix too.
MO: The menu is Arabic but with Tom’s interpretation of Ramadan cuisine, which I’m doing as well. My dishes are based on what I already create, so I like to revisit and rebuild Arabic cuisine, such as the dish Roots of my Backyard which is slow roasted carrot, walnut Muhammara, yoghurt sauce and fermented honey.
In your view, what’s the go-to dish that diners shouldn’t miss at this contemporary Iftar?
TA: There are the obvious ones like marinated chicken skewers, as well as some of the dishes that I’m presenting, such as the Cauliflower & Raisin Tabbouleh. I try to do something that is really sort of fresh and appealing, since Ramadan dishes are often rich and heavy.
MO: It’s a complete feast but you should try the new contemporary dishes that Tom and I added to the menu, which are classics but with a brilliant twist to them. So while they are recognisable, I think the flavours will simply astound you.
When you’re off duty, what’s your go-to cuisine?
TA: My kids and my go-to dish is a British classic, a roast chicken dinner. It’s a simple dish, but I try to uplift the flavour of it through a series of cooking techniques done over two days.
MO: It depends what I’m craving that day. I love everything. I eat everything. As long as the restaurant, pop-up food truck or back street café is serving good wholesome food, I will eat it. It just has to be delicious.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you have liked to have been in life?
TA: I’m quite into sports and keep fit. I also have family members in Ireland, one of whom is a trainer of jockeys and is also a jump jockey. I have done a couple of rounds of jump jockeying and I have to say it’s one of the most exhilarating things I have done. So, I would have liked to have been a jump jockey.
MO: Well that’s really easy. I would still want to be a chef. I can’t imagine being anything else. As I was not that good at school and I fell into this by accident and fell in love with it.
Yalla, it’s revelation time. As a professional chef what’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in the kitchen?
TA: When I was a trainee aged 19, I was working in a hotel in England. We were cooking for 40 wedding guests and I was in charge of the main course. I got all the garnish ready, made the sauce and then the head chef arrived and asked if I had the chickens ready yet. I had completely forgotten to cook them, which were still in the fridge. It was really embarrassing.
MO: Well, I like to call it kitchen incidents and everyday mistakes are made in the kitchen. But once on my TV show I was cooking and I forgot something on the gas burner which set alight, but thankfully we managed to extinguish it and the show went on!