DiningDubai’s self-raising star chef

An interview with Burj Al Arab’s Sahar Parham, the first female Emirati pastry chef in Dubai

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A passion nurtured, a wish fulfilled. Many people will see Chef Sahar Parham’s journey, from office worker to pastry chef at Burj Al Arab, as an inspiration. While working in marketing, Parham cultivated a love of baking in her spare time, and in 2014, after years making bread, cakes and pastries of an evening, she finally made the leap.

Starting at restaurant La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie in downtown Dubai working as a pastry commis, Parham had the privilege of working alongside some of Dubai’s most talented chefs. In 2015, her ability and hard work were recognised when the head chef, Izu Ani, sent her to Le Saint Georges in Paris to perfect her skills with his own mentor.

When she joined Burj Al Arab in 2016, Parham became the first Emirati to cook at the hotel, bringing with her a passion for exploring sustainable ways of working. After a promotion in 2019, she became the first female Emirati pastry chef in Dubai.

We talked to Chef Parham to find out why she made the jump into the kitchen, her philosophy about food, and where she thinks Dubai’s culinary scene is heading.

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What inspired you to change direction and take up baking?

I’ve always loved how food unites and brings people together. The combination of that, along with my fascination with 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 is the first dish you can remember eating?

Food was such a big part of my childhood. 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). The most amazing thing about this dish is that for 364 days a year, our family of seven rarely enjoy breakfast together, but on Eid morning everyone makes it to the table for Belaleet. One helping is never enough.

 

Do you have a particular food philosophy that you bring into your kitchen?

My food philosophy is centred on ingredients and where they come from. Using and supporting local produce is something that I have long been an advocate of. Knowing the how, where and when is extremely important in making sure you’re getting your ingredients in 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 instil that ethic in my team so that they are educated on how we can make a difference through what we choose.

The Emirati culture is by nature 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 new recipes, I often look to my Emirati heritage for inspiration.

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What are your thoughts on Dubai and its culinary scene?

Growing up in Dubai, I had the privilege of meeting and experiencing so many different cultures because of the diversity in the city. This meant that everyone brought a little piece of their home to the small restaurants they opened. Now Dubai’s culinary scene is growing so fast, and it’s exciting. There’s such a diverse range of cuisines available, and talented chefs from all over the world adding their individual flair. We’re lucky to have such a huge offering to learn from, and I do believe that the little holes-in-the-wall play just as big a part as the more well-known restaurants, in giving the city its soul.

 

Why Burj Al Arab?

There’s an amazing focus on nurturing new talent and pioneering the visionaries at Jumeirah. We’re encouraged and supported to learn and develop our techniques, and to continue creating outstanding dishes that can’t be experienced anywhere else in the world. 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 knowing that what we produce in our kitchen has to be nothing short of perfect. We never take shortcuts. We make everything from scratch whether that’s a simple cookie or a 20-tier wedding cake.

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