Is food more than mere sustenance, or is it a form of art that tantalizes our senses? In a world where gastronomy has become an emblem of culture, we ventured into the culinary landscape to ask individuals from various backgrounds what food truly means to them.
The responses we received were as diverse and intriguing as the flavors on a Saudi menu, revealing that food is a subject that transcends the confines of the kitchen and opens doors to a realm of experiences.
Food is Innovation…?
Jouhaina Al Houmaidan on developing recipes
In the heart of a bustling kitchen, where the tantalizing aromas of various spices and ingredients intermingle to create a symphony of flavors, we sat down with renowned chef Jouhaina Al Homaidan. With a culinary journey that spans years of passion and innovation, Jouhaina has become a master of crafting unforgettable dishes. Today, we dive deep into her creative process, her unwavering commitment to flavor, and her quest to surprise and delight diners.
We began by asking what inspires her choice of ingredients and flavor pairings when developing a new recipe: “If you asked me the same question two years ago, I would say I was looking for unusual ingredients to work with just to impress myself. But now, I’m so into simplicity, minimalist dishes, also looking for the best local ingredients to match my dish,” says Jouhaina, underlining her evolution as a chef. Simplicity has taken center stage, with a focus on locally sourced ingredients, revealing her commitment to both elegance and authenticity.
Jouhaina emphasizes the importance of proper technique, respecting each ingredient, and mixing different textures to create an unforgettable dining experience. “Mixing between different textures and adding freshness to the dish is what can impress the diner,” she says, highlighting the fusion of technique and creativity that defines her culinary vision.
One of Jouhaina’s remarkable creations involved mixing different citrus fruits like orange and yuzu with glazed carrot. She also utilized carrot leaves to create a vinaigrette to pair with duck breast glazed with honey. This combination of sweet, tangy, and savory elements undoubtedly left diners with a flavor experience they would not soon forget.
Jouhaina offers invaluable advice: “Try to study the flavors and the ingredients you’re using for the dish. For example, we cannot use two strong flavors simultaneously, and we have to make sure we are using different textures in the dish, at least two, to create an experience for the diner. Some ingredients cancel each other out, like truffle and mustard, both strong flavors that might be disturbing.”
“Honestly, I just started trying working on different traditional ingredients and local harvests,” Jouhaina replies. Her approach bridges the gap between tradition and innovation by experimenting with classic elements while infusing them with contemporary twists, ensuring her menu remains a dynamic and tantalizing journey for her patrons.
What techniques do you use to ensure that the flavors in your dishes complement each other, creating a harmonious and well-balanced taste experience?
For Jouhaina, the key lies in meticulously analyzing the flavors and ingredients to ensure they complement each other based on their ratios and strength. Her culinary creations strive for a harmonious marriage of ingredients that captivate the senses.
“Taste and visual appeal for a dish are equally important to me. I work on flavors and plating because I believe the eyes eat before the mouth,” Jouhaina shares. Her commitment to staying ahead of the curve involves studying international chefs, attending cooking classes, and always keeping her finger on the pulse of the culinary world.
Before diving into uncharted culinary waters, Jouhaina starts by conducting thorough research and experimenting with the unfamiliar ingredient in various forms. Whether it becomes a garnish or the star of the dish, her goal is to unlock its full potential to create a dining experience that leaves a lasting impression.
Food is Passion…?
Omar Watban trading the stethoscope for a spatula
Omar Watban is a man of many talents, straddling the worlds of medicine and culinary artistry with a remarkable finesse that has captured the hearts and taste buds of many. With an impressive 2.5 million likes on TikTok, he has carved out a unique niche in the culinary landscape. In a recent interview, he shared the fascinating story behind his journey from a medical practitioner to a celebrated chef, and how he successfully balanced both demanding professions.
“It all began during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Watban explains. “I took up cooking as a hobby and quickly found myself drawn to it. It was as if I had a natural knack for it. I also started documenting my culinary experiments because why not? Little did I know that this simple act would change my life.”
His journey took an unexpected turn when he edited and posted one of his cooking videos on TikTok at the insistence of his wife. The video garnered an astounding 5,000 views within the first few hours, and that’s when he realized he had stumbled upon something special. “We were all stuck at home during the pandemic, and I figured, why not make the most of this time? From there, my culinary career took off, and I also dedicated myself to improving the quality of my videos, making them more professional over time.”
Balancing two demanding careers is no small feat, but Watban did it with remarkable efficiency. As a family doctor, his shifts typically follow a 9-5 schedule, which provides him with the flexibility to pursue his culinary passion. “I make the most of my time by cooking as soon as I get back home. I cook, shoot, edit, and post my videos. As I gained popularity, I had to sacrifice a part of my social life to make room for both my medical profession and culinary pursuits,” he shares.
With an impressive 2.5 million likes on TikTok, Watban emphasizes the importance of choosing the right medium for sharing his recipes. “When I started, TikTok had the lowest barrier of entry and was trending everywhere. I took a gamble, and it worked out brilliantly. Eventually, I branched out to different platforms, gaining popularity across the board.”
However, pursuing both careers hasn’t been without its challenges. “I’ve had to make some sacrifices, not only in my social life but also in my culinary career. I’ve always maintained that medicine will come first. This means sacrificing some opportunities that might have propelled me further in the culinary world. But I don’t regret my choices. I’ve always prioritized my medical career,” he confesses.
Despite the apparent differences between medicine and cooking, Watban has discovered that there are valuable skills and mindsets that overlap. “Medicine taught me precision, which I’ve found extremely useful in the culinary world. Butchering, for instance, requires a steady hand and an understanding of anatomy, something I learned in medical school. Additionally, my scientific background enables me to view cooking as a science, rather than just an art. I’ve delved into the science of food, studying the interactions between ingredients and techniques,” he explains. This unique perspective has allowed him to develop a distinct touch in his culinary creations.
To stay updated in both fields, Watban carefully selects his ingredients based on his knowledge of medical and nutritional principles. “I choose my meals based on the ingredients I want to use, considering protein, fiber, and vegetables. This approach allows me to create unique dishes with my signature touch.”
As for his future plans,Watban is already making significant strides in the culinary world. “I currently own a restaurant in Khobar, and I’m planning to open another one in the future. This new restaurant will focus on celebrating Saudi cuisine in a fine dining setting, with my personal touch to make the dishes stand out. I’m hoping for the best,” he says, with an air of anticipation and determination.
Omar Watban’s unique journey from doctor to chef is a testament to his unwavering passion for both fields. His ability to balance these two demanding careers, each requiring precision and dedication, serves as an inspiration to many aspiring professionals. As he continues to expand his culinary horizons and influence, there’s no doubt that we can expect more exciting culinary creations from this multi-talented individual in the future.
Food is Hospitality…?
HiHome welcomes you home
Showcasing the best of Saudi Arabia, a remarkable venture known as HiHome has been quietly redefining the way travelers experience the Kingdom’s rich culture. Founded by Nourah Alsadoun, HiHome is a testament to the warmth, hospitality, and authentic traditions that have been cherished by her family for generations.
“I’m lucky to have a family that’s open-minded; it’s why I got to travel so much. In addition, they always remind my siblings and me that we represent the Kingdom on our travels. It has made me proud of my uniqueness, culture, and traditions. They have factored into who I am today, and I want people to see that,” Nourah shared.
The genesis of HiHome traces back to Nourah’s family desert farm, nestled just two hours west of Riyadh. Her father’s extraordinary habit of inviting people into their home, forming deep connections with the locals, left an indelible mark on Nourah’s heart. These heartfelt experiences ignited her passion for travel and the thrill of new encounters, setting the stage for HiHome’s birth.
The spark for HiHome came to life during Nourah’s travels to Cuba and Colombia. These journeys opened her eyes to the beauty of connecting with locals, immersing herself in their culture, and partaking in unique experiences. This epiphany led her to bring a similar concept to Saudi Arabia in 2019, perfectly timed with the Kingdom’s active promotion of international tourism.
HiHome’s mission is to share the authentic cultural experiences that Nourah herself cherished through her father’s warm and inviting nature. The goal is to help travelers connect with the heart and soul of Saudi Arabia, just as Nourah’s family did with the wonderful people of their desert farm.
Nourah paints a vivid picture of the diverse experiences that HiHome offers: “A guest can browse the website, choose the city he wants to book and type of experience, such as Home tour, Craft Art, Farm tour, or Cooking Experience.” The activities range from learning about the culture and daily life, experiencing traditional Saudi coffee service, enjoying local hospitality and dishes, assisting in cooking, visiting art workshops, and embarking on unique farm tours.
Since its inception in 2019, HiHome has evolved and grown significantly, proudly winning the Best Kiram Tourism Experience award. The organization has expanded its offerings to more than 20 cities across the Kingdom and established vital partnerships with tourism companies and the Ministry of Tourism.
Booking a HiHome experience is a breeze, as guests can meet and live a real Saudi experience with their hosts and their families. Visitors can book their experiences through the HiHome website, www.hihome.sa.
Authenticity is a core pillar of HiHome, and Nourah’s team ensures this by personally visiting and training the hosts before any experience goes live on their website. A stringent checklist verifies each experience, guaranteeing its cultural integrity.
Nourah is proud to share the many heartwarming stories that have emerged from HiHome experiences. Each visit creates a lasting friendship between guests and hosts, fostering constant communication. One memorable story involves the ambassador of the State of China and his wife, who visited a family in Riyadh, cooked a Saudi dish, and formed a deep bond.
The significance of connecting with local families and like-minded individuals worldwide through HiHome experiences lies in the opportunity to truly understand Saudi culture from the people of the country. It’s a platform for the exchange of culture and traditions, celebrating the uniqueness of Saudi Arabia.
As for the future, HiHome has grand plans. With 100+ homes and farms across 20 vibrant Saudi cities, the organization is gearing up for exciting additions. More overnight stays and fresh experiences are on the horizon, promising unforgettable adventures. The ambitious dream is to expand across the Gulf region and explore other Arab countries, where the potential for genuine experiences is limitless.
Nourah’s journey with HiHome has been deeply personal, dedicated to a concept she believes in wholeheartedly. With the support of her family and the warm embrace of Saudi hospitality, HiHome is making its mark as a gateway to the authentic and beautiful heart of Saudi Arabia. Join them in celebrating culture and embarking on unforgettable adventures with HiHome, where every visit is a story waiting to be told.
Food is Style…?
Amnah Almahdaly on styling food
In an exclusive interview, the young and talented Food Artist, Amnah Almahdaly, looks back on her expedition on taking on art, as her eternal passion while choosing to do Media and Communications as her university major.
Amnah took on this remarkable journey from working on various food related photoshoots to officially combining both interests, food and art and finally becoming a talented and well known Food Artist. This journey was rooted in her vision to incorporate art and food into her career path. With acquiring various Food Art related skills, Amnah started with taking two main food styling courses, one at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu and the other at the renowned Leiths School of Food and Wine. A part of her exciting journey, she not only learned about what Food Art and Food Styling are, but also gained knowledge and further understanding on how to work with a camera and a deeper understanding on lighting, angles and numerous photography techniques.
Key to this journey, Amnah highlighted what Food Art means to her and what elements she chooses to incorporate within her shoots. She strongly believes that when it comes to food and art, there are no limitations whatsoever. She mentioned, “Food art is anything you want it to be. Whatever you are capable of envisioning, thinking of or dreaming of, you can always put it on a plate. A person has no limits when it comes to art in general, which leads me to think, why not the same when it comes to food? So whatever I do for my art, I do it for my food as well.” She also added, “I enjoy incorporating odd colors with different textures to add layers to a typical dish. It’s all about creating something out of nothing, with no limits.”
Delving deeper into Amnah’s passion, she gave us exclusive insight on what goes on behind the scenes, the creative process that takes place behind the art and what inspires her to invent different ideas and concepts for her shoots. “The creative process definitely depends on the type of shoot I’m working on. I receive the initial concept and try to work around it,” Amnah explains. “First I come up with the main item in the dish and then see what component or aspect would complement it most. I like to come up with different concepts and themes because it becomes easier to narrow down my options according to what’s most suitable for the shoot,” she adds. To further elaborate, Amnah highlighted that when it comes to food styling, one can go two ways, either make the concept very traditional and perfect, or incorporate a more futuristic and artistic style, which is the style she chooses to go with in her shoots.
When asked about the importance of adding texture, in Amnah’s opinion, “adding texture is definitely important and is probably my favorite part in making the dish come to life. In my opinion, it’s what elevates the classic dish. I love incorporating a minimum of two textures, just to make sure you are able to differentiate between the different elements on the dish. There always has to be something liquidy and something solid.” Amnah, even though finding textures to be the trickiest part of styling, further affirms, “textures always elevate the colors within the picture and add an aspect that results in a more visually appealing dish. It is very important for any food stylist to learn and know how to make each and every element in the dish last.”
In regards to the aspect of arranging elements in an aesthetically pleasing manner on a dish, and what possible techniques she uses, Amnah says, “I personally think there is no specific way to plate a dish. However, what I do believe in is the rule of thirds; which basically involves dividing the space that is to be shot into a 3X3 grid, consisting of two vertical and two horizontal lines. To further elaborate, ‘Place your subject at any of the four intersecting points or in the top or bottom third of the screen.’ On the other hand, if you were to style a dish, you need to make sure the colors compliment each other and not allow certain parts of the dish to overpower other important elements.”
Having done various different shoots, Amnah speaks about her two favorite ones, “I have two projects that I worked on and I can’t decide between them. The first one would be the time I went on a 15 day road trip to three different destinations in the Kingdom, where we filmed a Saudi food documentary. I learned a lot about my country’s food origins and I loved getting the opportunity to showcase my food styling skills in the different dishes that were shot,” she reflects. “My second favorite shoot would have to be a commercial I worked on, where the dish’s concept revolved around being traditional and futuristic, giving me complete freedom on how and what I wanted to showcase. The hero dish would be the traditional Saleeg dish, where I placed portions of the yellow Saleeg slightly under each other, with thin caramelized carrots, red chili and small mushrooms, each carefully placed on top. I made sure that the true colors and details of the dish were properly showcased.”
Amnah Almahdaly’s journey as a Food Artist exemplifies the limitless possibilities of merging art, passion, and culinary creativity. Her dedication to creating visually captivating and artistically expressive dishes express the different thoughts and emotions that go into every shoot and work of hers.
Food is Tradition…?
Saudi is a melting pot of cultures, where the aromas of distant lands waft through the bustling streets. Destination KSA had the pleasure of sitting down with a dynamic duo, Najat Nejaim affectionately known as Annati, and her granddaughter, Shahad Nejaim. They’ve embarked on a journey, one that transcends time, borders, and generations, and is deeply rooted in their heritage.
As we gathered around the table, Annati, a matriarch who embodies the wisdom of generations, shares her cherished family recipes with the world. But what inspired this unique endeavor? Shahad recounts, “It was during the lockdown, and there wasn’t much to do. I realized I didn’t know how to cook Annati’s recipes. So, I said, ‘Anna, you have to teach me how to cook like you, and let’s record it and put it online.’ We used to think about making a cookbook, but in the age of TikTok, we decided to take it online.”
Annati’s passion for teaching and sharing is palpable. She reflects on her culinary journey: “I learned these recipes a long time ago from my family. I always loved cooking and enhancing my dishes. The way I cook is not with measuring spoons; it’s more about instincts. I love teaching anyone, and I don’t have an issue with that.”
The roots of Annati’s culinary prowess trace back to her own mother. She fondly remembers, “I was around 12 or 14 when I first learned how to cook from my mother. I helped her a lot because we have a big family. It’s a tradition that I wanted to pass down.”
The significance of these recipes goes beyond mere sustenance. Shahad explains, “Anna expresses her love through food. You can’t enter her home without being offered a delightful meal. Our Saudi food is our childhood, our love, and our cherished memories. It’s something we can’t let go of.”
Annati’s approach to cooking is as unique as it is delightful. She elaborates, “I don’t follow traditional measurements. It’s all about what I see fit. Even if someone else cooked and I’m allowed to comment or tell them it’s not that good, I add or let them know. It’s really hard for one to lose their own personal taste. I have to share my taste and flavors with everyone.”
But what about adding a modern twist to traditional recipes? Shahad chimes in, “We like to keep the dishes authentic while adding a modern touch. It’s like a fusion of the traditional and contemporary. We may change the crust or add extra garnishes, but we always stay true to Annati’s unique twist.”
Annati is a firm believer in adapting to the times. She emphasizes, “The world is constantly changing, and we should move with it. If a new spice enhances the flavor of a dish, why not use it?”
With the world rapidly evolving, Annati’s unique approach to cooking has found a place in the hearts of her family and her online audience. Shahad shares, “Anna’s cooking is a blend of tradition and innovation. We finish something, and there’s still more to explore. We always missed home food when we were abroad.”
But what about the challenges in sharing these cherished recipes? Shahad reflects, “Everyone has their own way of preparing a recipe. It’s traditional with Annati’s twist. We always say, ‘This is Anna’s recipe; it’s how it is.'”
Annati adds, “Sometimes there are people who claim certain ingredients don’t belong in Saudi food, but I believe in experimenting and enhancing the taste. As long as the final dish comes out delicious, that’s all that really matters.”
As our conversation continued, it becomes evident that Annati’s wisdom extends beyond the kitchen. She shares an essential life lesson: “Preparation and time management are vital. Plan carefully in every way the night before, so when you wake up, you know what you have to do.”
Annati’s journey is an ode to embracing change while preserving traditions. As Shahad aptly puts it, “Come as you are and you’re good to go.”
The best dish they’ve prepared? Annati smiles, “Almost everything we’ve done is delicious. A few Fattah dishes stand out; we add our own touch to them, and they all turn out delicious.”
For Shahad, it’s all about the journey, “The best recipe has to be the first chicken we stuffed. We were at the very beginning of our journey. It’s all about learning and growing.”
As our conversation nears its end, Annati leaves us with a timeless piece of advice: “In cooking and in life, it’s about being prepared and organized. In the end, you just put in the final ingredients.”
Annati’s culinary journey is a testament to the enduring power of tradition, the art of adaptation, and the love shared through food. In a world that is constantly changing, Annati’s kitchen remains a comforting place where heritage and innovation meet, and where the heart of Saudi culture is served on a plate.
Food is Art…?
Rawan Shouman on food art and photography
In the world of culinary creativity and visual storytelling, there exists a niche that blends artistry with gastronomy – food artistry. At the heart of this captivating realm is Rawan Shouman, a food artist whose work transcends mere culinary aesthetics.
Rawan’s journey as a food artist has deep roots that harken back to her childhood. “From when I was young, I knew I loved cooking, recipes, food, I loved it all,” she reminisces. Her early fascination with culinary arts led her to dream of hosting her own cooking show. However, as she matured, her focus shifted to the behind-the-scenes magic of food presentation. “I want to be the part that is showcasing the whole thing,” she shares.
During her university studies in IT, Rawan began her freelancing career. This experience fueled her passion, and she eventually transitioned from a food stylist to a professional photographer. As her craft evolved, so did her toolkit, making her a versatile artist in the realm of food artistry.
For Rawan, food art is about bringing the essence of a dish to life through captivating visuals. “I love to showcase the food in a proper, beautiful, and eye-catching way,” she explains. Her portfolio spans a diverse clientele, from renowned chefs to local eateries, each project bearing her distinctive creative signature.
Over the years, Rawan has collaborated with esteemed names such as Nobu and Shangri-La, as well as the revered Mohammed Fawzi. She proudly defines her art as a combination of food styling, photography, videography, retouching, montage, creative direction, and art direction – a multifaceted approach to bring food to life through the camera lens.
Rawan’s creative process knows no bounds. Whether she is working with chefs, cookbooks, or even fashion models, her enthusiasm to incorporate food into various contexts is unwavering. “Anything I can add food into, I’ll happily and willingly do it,” she exclaims. Her innovation shines through projects where she unites seemingly unrelated elements, such as fashion and food, for an unexpected visual delight.
Drawing inspiration from her surroundings is Rawan’s modus operandi. She emphasizes the importance of real-life stimuli, from music and street colors to everyday objects. She believes that these elements are the building blocks of her creativity. To avoid creative blocks, Rawan recommends taking breaks and enrolling in courses, which provide fresh perspectives and ideas.
The duration of a project, she explains, is a variable dictated by the specific requirements. Some shoots demand months of planning, while others are straightforward and can be completed in a day or two. The extensive team, including lighting experts and assistants, makes intricate shoots more manageable.
Texture plays a pivotal role in Rawan’s work. She tailors her props and backgrounds to suit the project’s needs, using materials like tiles, pastes, or coloring to emphasize texture. Rawan’s distinctive style embraces vibrant, unconventional colors and a profusion of elements to enhance the visual appeal of her photographs.
Lighting is another critical factor in Rawan’s artistry. She enjoys the challenges presented by both natural and artificial light, as they each require distinct approaches. Her goal is to capture the perfect image of the product, whether it’s a sumptuous burger or an elegant dish.
Food styling involves arranging elements to showcase a dish’s true character. Rawan clarifies that the beauty in food styling doesn’t always equate to making food look aesthetically pleasing. It’s about portraying the food in its most authentic form, whether it’s for a fine dining experience, a natural, rustic look, or even something intentionally unappetizing.
Rawan’s techniques revolve around understanding how each food item is meant to look. Thorough research into recipes and ingredients ensures that her images do justice to the dish’s visual and taste qualities. She also emphasizes the significance of perfect lighting conditions to enhance the visual appeal of the dish.
Rawan’s kit is an ever-evolving collection of tools, including salts, spices, cleaning tools, coloring tools, and heating equipment, all tailored to the specific needs of each project. She emphasizes the use of natural and organic substitutes to ensure food remains safe for consumption and reduces waste. Leftover food is often donated to charitable causes.
When asked about the key factors in food artistry, Rawan underscores the importance of passion, a deeper understanding of food, an art background, attention to detail, and above all, patience. She cautions against entering the field for monetary gain alone, emphasizing the need for a genuine love for the craft.
Rawan’s favorite projects are those that grant her creative freedom and the opportunity to forge a personal connection. She mentions a cookbook collaboration with a private chef and a project for Abraj Hypermarket, a supermarket in Makkah, as two standout experiences. The latter project was particularly memorable, as it allowed her and her team free rein within the expansive supermarket, resulting in an array of exciting shots.
Rawan encourages aspiring food artists to showcase their work, take courses, and develop skills not only in their craft but also in areas such as accounting and client communication. She emphasizes the importance of flexibility, an affable personality, and the ability to collaborate effectively with others. Listening to feedback and considering others’ perspectives are key to growth and success in this field.