A Chit Chat with Chef Sahar Parham Al Awadhi
Chef Sahar Parham Al Awadhi joined Burj Al Arab in 2016, as a Junior Pastry Chef in the Pastry Kitchen, and in doing so became the first Emirati Chef to work at the iconic hotel. She was promoted to Pastry Chef in 2019, becoming the first and only female Emirati Pastry Chef in the region.
Sahar’s career could have taken an entirely different direction were it not for her passion for pastry. After graduating from high school, she studied Communications and Design Management at the American University of Sharjah which was followed by a role in Marketing and PR. She later recognised that what was previously a hobby - her love for pastry and baking and the scientific art that it involves - was growing and that she needed to take a leap of faith to change her career path.
Chef Sahar then applied to work at a home-grown restaurant, La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie in 2014, in the role of Pastry Commis. Based in this position for one year, Sahar had the privilege of working alongside some of Dubai’s most talented chefs, and her ability and hard work was recognised and rewarded when her head chef, Chef Izu Ani, sent her to Paris to perfect the art of bread making from his own mentor. Upon completion of the internship at Le Saint Georges, Sahar returned to La Serre for another year before joining the team at Burj Al Arab in 2016.
Today, Chef Sahar works alongside a team of 34 pastry chefs in a kitchen that operates 24 hours a day, creating memorable dishes for guests at Burj Al Arab. As well as continuing on her constant learning journey of gastronomy, Sahar is hugely passionate about sustainability and the ways in which improvements and differences can continue to be made in this area.
We had the pleasure of asking Chef Sahar some questions related to her career at Burj Al Arab, here is what this talented and charming young Emirati chef had to say:
What inspired you to change direction and pursue a career in baking?
I’ve always loved how food unites and brings people together. The combination of that, along with my fascination of how pastry and bakery works like chemistry, continued to grow and I knew that I needed to take the leap and turn it into my career otherwise I would have always wondered ‘what if’. I feel very fortunate to have worked with such excellent mentors on my journey so far.
What was the first dish you can remember?
Food was such a big part of my childhood, my parents are both excellent cooks with great palates and love to explore new dishes; they definitely instilled that philosophy in the house.
My earliest memory of a dish that got me really excited (and still does) is Belaleet, which we have on Eid morning. Belaleet is essentially vermicelli noodles cooked sweet with notes of saffron and cardamom and topped with an egg omelette (extra salt for me because I love the contrast of sweet and salty – they bring out each other’s flavours). The most amazing thing about this dish is that for 364 days a year, our family of 7 rarely enjoy breakfast together, but on Eid morning everyone makes it to the table for Belaleet. Needless to say, one helping is never enough!
I’m part of an incredibly hard working team of 34 highly skilled and passionate pastry chefs in a kitchen that operates 24 hours a day
Why Burj al Arab?
Burj Al Arab is the world’s most luxurious hotel, it holds a place in the heart of people living in Dubai.
There’s an amazing focus and leadership that comes from the culinary team at Jumeirah on nurturing new talent and pioneering the visionaries. We are encouraged and supported to always learn and develop our techniques and to continue creating outstanding dishes that can’t be experienced anywhere else in the world, and that’s essentially the ethos of the hotel.
I’m part of an incredibly hard working team of 34 highly skilled and passionate pastry chefs in a kitchen that operates 24 hours a day. It’s an intense but highly rewarding environment to be a part of. I love the challenge of knowing that what we produce and serve from our kitchen has to be nothing short of the best - we never take shortcuts. We make everything from scratch whether that’s a simple cookie or a 20-tier wedding cake.
What is special about the Emirati character and approach when it comes to cooking?
The Emirati culture by nature is a hospitable one that is warm and generous,; we love to share an abundance of food with family and friends which I think is clear in the type of dishes that are traditionally associated with this region.
As I work on creating new recipes and developing ideas, I often look to my Emirati heritage for inspiration, there are lots of ways to innovate and incorporate ingredients so that we can provide unique experiences through our offerings.
As an Emirati Pastry Chef, what influence did you have on the menu of the Henna Night package of Burj Al Arab?
We worked really hard with the events team at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah to make sure we got this one right. Since I have attended many henna nights myslef, I have always imagined what I would want to have at this event that would make it a memorable and an exciting experience for me and my guests, and obviously food plays an important part.
As I have left many henna nights unsatisfied with the food I had there, we wanted to make sure that did not happen to our guests here at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah and, hence, we created a very pleasing and innovative menu for our Henna Night package.
we created a very pleasing and innovative menu for our Henna Night package
Do you have a particular food philosophy that you follow and bring into your kitchen?
My food philosophy is centered on the ingredients and where they come from. Using and supporting local produceis something that I have long been an advocate of. Knowing the how, where and when is extremely important in making sure you are getting your ingredients at their prime, be it texture or flavour, from the best sources and not to mention the importance of using sustainable products.
Whether we are buying local, regional or international, I make sure to instill that ethic in my team so that they are educated on how we can make a difference through what we choose.
What wedding cake options do you have for brides and grooms at Burj Al Arab? Can you customize wedding cakes?
We can absolutly customize any wedding cake for the bride and groom. More often than not, they know what they want for their special day, and because we know that it is a once in a lifetime kind of day, we make sure that we accommodate their requirements to help them attain their dream wedding.
We are an exclusive luxury hotel and the advantage that we have is that everything we make is made in-house and tailor-made for our guests.
What are the most important aspects of your job?
The importance of teamwork and communication is so crucial in any kitchen, but particularly one that operates on the scale that we do at Burj Al Arab.
We are a large and diverse group and each individual plays an equally important roleand everyone brings something important to the table. To me, a well-run kitchen functions like an orchestra, every one is playing a different instrument (a different skill or a different section) and harmoniously we are running the kitchen in smooth symphony.
What do you see are the main trends in pastry and desserts worldwide that you'd like to introduce (or have introduced) at Burj Al Arab?
I see chefs embracing the idea of using local ingredients a lot more nowadays. I wouldn’t call it a trend, but I would say it’s a return to our primal habits where people had no choice but to eat farm to table food using local ingredients. We are lucky these days as we now have the resources to elevate them in ways we haven’t seen before. I have tried to introduce this concept at Burj Al Arab through our new dessert menu at Sahn Eddar.
I focused on seasonality and nostalgia and introduced them into modern cooking formats. I also complimented them with ingredients that they aren’t normally paired with, to create a unique gastronomy experience. I strongly feel that food tastes so much better when thoughtfulness and feelings are behind them.