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My World on a Plate Caters to the Culinary Needs of Hollywood's Elite

My World on a Plate Caters to the Culinary Needs of Hollywood's Elite


My World on a Plate is more than your typical catering company. It's a catering company with an international reputation and services galore. Not to mention highly evolved food, thanks to the culinary wizardry of executive chef and CEO Keven A. Lee, better known as "Cheven."

With a culinary education that reads like the lengthy background of a Ph.D candidate, Cheven has studied at numerous institutions known for their food training programs including graduating from multiple culinary schools such as the C.I.A. (Culinary Institute of America) located in Hyde Park, N.Y., Dominican Carlton Tivoli located in Luzern, Switzerland, and A Taste of the Mediterranean located in Napa Valley, Calif.

After hitting the (cook) books, Cheven headed to the famous Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, Calif., to cook at the Prince of Whales Restaurant. He has since held positions at numerous highly acclaimed restaurants around the world, including being appointed "Celebrated Chef" of the mobile four-star renowned restaurant Lutece in the world famous Venetian Hotel.

While working on restaurant menus, he also organized multiple weddings, bar mitzvahs, corporate events, wine dinners, and extravagant galas for as many as 2,000 guests. That experience has since been parlayed into My World on a Plate, a business Cheven operates with his younger sister Robyn, that has become one of the most sought after catering teams in Hollywood.

Robyn is an events guru in her own right. With a penchant for finance and a love of hospitality learned from coordinating business events as a CEO, Robyn is the behind-the-scenes genius at My World on a Plate, ensuring that everything goes smoothly from start to finish. While her love of the hospitality industry began while growing up in her parents' restaurant, it went to a whole new level when she had the chance to work alongside her brother and see his passion for cooking. Her previous experience in finance and her new love of food has inspired Robyn to raise My World on a Plate to heights previously unknown by your average catering company.

Cheven describes his food as "classical French Mediterranean with strong Pacific Rim and Asian influences" and focuses on bringing balanced flavors and textures to every plate. These influences can be seen in the raw bar, made-to-order sushi bar, and other special offerings of My World on a Plate, including the Soba Noodle Station. A guest at a recent event said, "I think the custom Soba Noodle Bar is a great idea. I did the ponzu dressing and loved mine, but I think any combination would have been delicious."

"Presentation is not everything," says Cheven, "but it does play an important role regardless of whether it is painted in oil, preformed in brilliant character on stage, or created for a fine dining experience." Presentation may not be everything, but it certainly helps to have your food look good before you even taste.

Guests at a recent tropical/Bora Bora themed event remarked:

"I was really excited to find fresh sushi being prepared to order. And it isn't just the standard spicy tuna roll, they were serving all different kinds tonight."

"The grill station was my favorite; the smell hits you before you get there and the kabobs were really fantastic!"

My World on a Plate has catered events for television shows and productions such as Family Guy, So You Think You Can Dance, My Fair Wedding, Oprah Winfrey Network, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox and many others. Recently, My World on a Plate teamed up with the Trousdale in West Hollywood as well as The Beverly, where they are the preferred catering team for all VIP events and extravaganzas.

From Cheven's considerable experience in hospitality, My World on a Plate has expanded to include a consulting division that helps with all aspects of restaurant development including the architectural design and functionality of a kitchen, creating innovative menus, hiring and training staff, and implementing ironclad systems.

Despite all the behind-the-scenes action, the My World on a Plate team, led by Cheven, manages to turn out truly memorable meals for events large and small. The creativity and great tasting food have earned them a five-star rating on Yelp! Customers rely on My World on a Plate not only for great food (seafood seems to be a favorite), but perfect ambiance and professionalism in overcoming any snags and snafus. Plus, the well-trained team even cleans up and arranges for any rentals. For more on the dynamic brother/sister duo, check out all their amazing culinary capabilities at their web site, MyWorldOnaPlate.com.

— Carly Zinderman, JustLuxe

More From JustLuxe:

• Top Chefs Offer Bespoke In-Home Catering Through KitchIt

• New at Beverly Hills Hotel, Mr C. Exudes Italian Flair

• Assouline Puts the World On Your Coffee Table


Watch: First Emirati flight catering chef talks recipes, vegan cuisine and about growing up with a love for cooking

For Saud Al Matrooshi, it all started one morning when he was a little boy. As he walked into the kitchen, the centre of his household, the distinctive, wholesome aroma of freshly baked bread wafted through. A shakshouka was bubbling away in the background. Saud’s father Mohammed Al Matrooshi, his idol, was at the helm of it all. From his very frequent travels, he'd often bring back spices from his trips for Saud - new, exotic ones that Saud had never heard of or smelt before, fragrant ones that were now going into the shakshouka. And just like that, in the midst of the enticing smells and sounds, Saud decided he was going to become a chef.

Over the years, what started as a hobby, just cooking for friends and family - who were incidentally very generous with their compliments – was soon a passion and a profession for the 34-year-old chef.

But it wasn’t a passion that was easy to hone. Al Matrooshi hit many a stumbling block he recalls how anyone he asked for advice on where to start on the journey to donning a chef’s toque, they would say: “But you don’t want to be a chef! Our culture, our society was not ready for this job then, because they didn’t understand the nature of it. Almost everyone was against it. Which means I felt completely lost.”

After graduating from school in the UAE, he went into the communications and media field, and graduated but was still very lost. He worked as a marketing manager at a Dubai property that owned a few hotels, where he’d escape to the kitchen any chance he got: “Before meetings they always knew where to look for me.”

His appetite for a different career didn’t go unnoticed. “And one day, a very nice French chef said – why don’t we train you. And the rest as they say is history.”

He started from scratch as a steward, and for about four to six months learnt about detergents to use for sanitising in a kitchen: “What kinds are the best to use, the amounts, the water temperature. Slowly, I worked up to a higher rank. I worked in other restaurants, travelled abroad, took a few courses, came back with all that knowledge, and wanted to do something.” To do that “something”, he joined a well-known group as restaurant brand manager, and after a few successful restaurant openings, also took on another role of procurement manager in the Food and Beverage field, all of which helped him broaden his knowledge of the culinary world.

But throughout it all, he kept missing the chef’s jacket. Which means when he got a call from Emirates Flight Catering (EFC) in 2018, he didn’t hesitate twice. “And here I am now, living my dream,” he said.

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

The journey to the skies

In charge of the Middle East sector and menu development for the region’s largest carrier, nothing prepared Al Matrooshi for the huge production environment at Emirates Flight Catering. While he was used to a certain number of kilos of forecasting and ordering, at the world’s biggest flight catering kitchen the numbers changed – to about 225,000 meals a day. “An average order of just chicken was 22 tons per day,” Al Matrooshi said. “Adapting to such a busy environment was nothing short of a challenge - high standards have to be provided to meet high standards of some well-travelled audience.”

Despite having cooked for royalty and at government summits, it was a whole different ballgame at EFC, due to the journey of the food - dishes weren’t just travelling a few feet from kitchen to table. “It’s an entirely different method - not every food item will travel well. If I cook French fries and serve it on a flight, after it’s been blast chilled and reheated, it will have lost its crispness, its very essence.”

Saud has brought various Arabic flavours to the food served on Emirates flights Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Catering to countless cultures

Introducing Emirati dishes on flights in an attempt to present the cuisine to both old and new audiences was important to Saud. He says while Emirati cuisine has been based on the desert environment in the UAE, it lends itself to some remarkable flavours. “We have a very beautiful, humble cuisine that’s not well known worldwide, and I would like people to try it and know it. You have herbs, protein from the desert or protein from the sea. It has influences from around the region – India, the Levant. The main influences are of course from Indian cuisine because of the spices we used to get from there. Also the cooking technique – we have dishes similar to the biryani and those similar to the curry, like saloona. But our versions are way milder than Indian ones. The techniques in terms of stir-frying, fried onions, garlic paste, protein, then coating protein with the spices are the same.”

The UAE’s beginnings define its culinary heritage

He says various beginnings have defined the cuisine. “People back then lived a very hard life and wanted to preserve these ingredients all they could do was pickle or salt fish, or dehydrate, such as powdered yogurt, so they could carry it while travelling they’d hydrate it again and drink it. Now, as Arabs we’re known for larger portions and generosity - but not a smaller, casual or fine dining projection of the dishes.”

So, Chef Al Matrooshi set about achieving just that, introducing Emirati dishes on flights for a two-in-one outcome: First, for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine, and the second, for a new audience to discover it. So the machboos, [a spiced chicken and rice pilaf], was introduced on both a London flight and a Munich one. “We have seasonal cycles, and we put the unique flavours of the machboos on the summer cycle, the popular one, when a lot of Arabs travel abroad, and they loved it.”

Al Matrooshi set about introducing Emirati dishes on flights both for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine and for a new audience to discover it Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Another Emirati dish that found popularity on flights was the fish tahta - fish deep-fried with Emirati spices, a little curry, and rice added on top, similar to biryani. “It was very well received, especially as people didn’t expect to see it. We had some great feedback.” So was the bzar chicken - chicken made in a fragrant spice blend, authentically Emirati.

A fusion route

But for a wider audience, Al Matrooshi says the first step was going down a fusion route - in essence building bridges between cuisines. “Anyone new to Emirati cuisine will try it because it has been merged with another more familiar one. And that will then inspire them to try the traditional version, paving the way for the cuisine as a whole,” he said. “Modern flavours, playing around with different kind of fruits and vegetables… the ingredients are still local, the twist is only in the technique.”

An example of such a twist is the ouzi.

“Traditionally, we cook a whole lamb – if we want smaller portions, we cook the shoulder or leg, and if we want it smaller, we choose a premium cut like short rib - something that has a bone, because the identity of this dish is to have the bone with meat. In my fusion version, I’ve done away with the bone and used boneless cubes. And I’ve stir-fried it. But I’ve still stuck to traditions… such as using dates at the end as a coating.”

The two key ingredients

Chef Al Matrooshi lists two elements to Emirati food - the Emirati spice mix and Emirati ghee or clarified butter. While the spice mix bzar is available everywhere, the ghee is found in bigger supermarkets. “What makes the ghee special is a secret ingredient – dates,” Saud said. “It’s purified butter that comes from animal fat, with certain spices added to it. Dates are added to preserve the moisture inside the ghee.

Chef Al Matrooshi uses the spice mix bzar in almost every dish he cooks, and calls it the essence of Emirati food. "There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

“As for the bzar, if we go way back, all these spices are from India. It’s a mix of garam masala, tandoor masala and biryani masala - each one is very different based on the balance of the spices. Bzar is one of the many spice mixes around the world like Chinese five-spice, and every Emirati household has it. There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar. All you need to do is toss whole spices in a pan, not for a long time, just until the oils come out. Then you blend it into a powder.”

The future looks vegan

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist. I have no limits when it comes to food, no favourite places, I keep experimenting. I eat everywhere – a shawarma joint one night, a fine dining one the next, a hidden gem I was told about.”

He’s also now working on menu around Arabic vegan food – he’s created numerous dishes that have an Arabic identity but are vegan. “There are now lots of vegetarian and vegan demands - but customers want it in Arabic cuisine. In the Arab world protein is key, but not so for the new generation. It’s quite a challenge to find ways to take out the protein. I did a fasulia (lamb and bean stew) recently, minus the lamb - mixed beans cooked slowly in a stew with Arabic spices, served with dill rice. The innovation continues.”

Read on for easy recipes from Saud to cook up an Emirati feast at home, plus a recipe to make the spice mix Emirati bzar.


Watch: First Emirati flight catering chef talks recipes, vegan cuisine and about growing up with a love for cooking

For Saud Al Matrooshi, it all started one morning when he was a little boy. As he walked into the kitchen, the centre of his household, the distinctive, wholesome aroma of freshly baked bread wafted through. A shakshouka was bubbling away in the background. Saud’s father Mohammed Al Matrooshi, his idol, was at the helm of it all. From his very frequent travels, he'd often bring back spices from his trips for Saud - new, exotic ones that Saud had never heard of or smelt before, fragrant ones that were now going into the shakshouka. And just like that, in the midst of the enticing smells and sounds, Saud decided he was going to become a chef.

Over the years, what started as a hobby, just cooking for friends and family - who were incidentally very generous with their compliments – was soon a passion and a profession for the 34-year-old chef.

But it wasn’t a passion that was easy to hone. Al Matrooshi hit many a stumbling block he recalls how anyone he asked for advice on where to start on the journey to donning a chef’s toque, they would say: “But you don’t want to be a chef! Our culture, our society was not ready for this job then, because they didn’t understand the nature of it. Almost everyone was against it. Which means I felt completely lost.”

After graduating from school in the UAE, he went into the communications and media field, and graduated but was still very lost. He worked as a marketing manager at a Dubai property that owned a few hotels, where he’d escape to the kitchen any chance he got: “Before meetings they always knew where to look for me.”

His appetite for a different career didn’t go unnoticed. “And one day, a very nice French chef said – why don’t we train you. And the rest as they say is history.”

He started from scratch as a steward, and for about four to six months learnt about detergents to use for sanitising in a kitchen: “What kinds are the best to use, the amounts, the water temperature. Slowly, I worked up to a higher rank. I worked in other restaurants, travelled abroad, took a few courses, came back with all that knowledge, and wanted to do something.” To do that “something”, he joined a well-known group as restaurant brand manager, and after a few successful restaurant openings, also took on another role of procurement manager in the Food and Beverage field, all of which helped him broaden his knowledge of the culinary world.

But throughout it all, he kept missing the chef’s jacket. Which means when he got a call from Emirates Flight Catering (EFC) in 2018, he didn’t hesitate twice. “And here I am now, living my dream,” he said.

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

The journey to the skies

In charge of the Middle East sector and menu development for the region’s largest carrier, nothing prepared Al Matrooshi for the huge production environment at Emirates Flight Catering. While he was used to a certain number of kilos of forecasting and ordering, at the world’s biggest flight catering kitchen the numbers changed – to about 225,000 meals a day. “An average order of just chicken was 22 tons per day,” Al Matrooshi said. “Adapting to such a busy environment was nothing short of a challenge - high standards have to be provided to meet high standards of some well-travelled audience.”

Despite having cooked for royalty and at government summits, it was a whole different ballgame at EFC, due to the journey of the food - dishes weren’t just travelling a few feet from kitchen to table. “It’s an entirely different method - not every food item will travel well. If I cook French fries and serve it on a flight, after it’s been blast chilled and reheated, it will have lost its crispness, its very essence.”

Saud has brought various Arabic flavours to the food served on Emirates flights Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Catering to countless cultures

Introducing Emirati dishes on flights in an attempt to present the cuisine to both old and new audiences was important to Saud. He says while Emirati cuisine has been based on the desert environment in the UAE, it lends itself to some remarkable flavours. “We have a very beautiful, humble cuisine that’s not well known worldwide, and I would like people to try it and know it. You have herbs, protein from the desert or protein from the sea. It has influences from around the region – India, the Levant. The main influences are of course from Indian cuisine because of the spices we used to get from there. Also the cooking technique – we have dishes similar to the biryani and those similar to the curry, like saloona. But our versions are way milder than Indian ones. The techniques in terms of stir-frying, fried onions, garlic paste, protein, then coating protein with the spices are the same.”

The UAE’s beginnings define its culinary heritage

He says various beginnings have defined the cuisine. “People back then lived a very hard life and wanted to preserve these ingredients all they could do was pickle or salt fish, or dehydrate, such as powdered yogurt, so they could carry it while travelling they’d hydrate it again and drink it. Now, as Arabs we’re known for larger portions and generosity - but not a smaller, casual or fine dining projection of the dishes.”

So, Chef Al Matrooshi set about achieving just that, introducing Emirati dishes on flights for a two-in-one outcome: First, for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine, and the second, for a new audience to discover it. So the machboos, [a spiced chicken and rice pilaf], was introduced on both a London flight and a Munich one. “We have seasonal cycles, and we put the unique flavours of the machboos on the summer cycle, the popular one, when a lot of Arabs travel abroad, and they loved it.”

Al Matrooshi set about introducing Emirati dishes on flights both for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine and for a new audience to discover it Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Another Emirati dish that found popularity on flights was the fish tahta - fish deep-fried with Emirati spices, a little curry, and rice added on top, similar to biryani. “It was very well received, especially as people didn’t expect to see it. We had some great feedback.” So was the bzar chicken - chicken made in a fragrant spice blend, authentically Emirati.

A fusion route

But for a wider audience, Al Matrooshi says the first step was going down a fusion route - in essence building bridges between cuisines. “Anyone new to Emirati cuisine will try it because it has been merged with another more familiar one. And that will then inspire them to try the traditional version, paving the way for the cuisine as a whole,” he said. “Modern flavours, playing around with different kind of fruits and vegetables… the ingredients are still local, the twist is only in the technique.”

An example of such a twist is the ouzi.

“Traditionally, we cook a whole lamb – if we want smaller portions, we cook the shoulder or leg, and if we want it smaller, we choose a premium cut like short rib - something that has a bone, because the identity of this dish is to have the bone with meat. In my fusion version, I’ve done away with the bone and used boneless cubes. And I’ve stir-fried it. But I’ve still stuck to traditions… such as using dates at the end as a coating.”

The two key ingredients

Chef Al Matrooshi lists two elements to Emirati food - the Emirati spice mix and Emirati ghee or clarified butter. While the spice mix bzar is available everywhere, the ghee is found in bigger supermarkets. “What makes the ghee special is a secret ingredient – dates,” Saud said. “It’s purified butter that comes from animal fat, with certain spices added to it. Dates are added to preserve the moisture inside the ghee.

Chef Al Matrooshi uses the spice mix bzar in almost every dish he cooks, and calls it the essence of Emirati food. "There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

“As for the bzar, if we go way back, all these spices are from India. It’s a mix of garam masala, tandoor masala and biryani masala - each one is very different based on the balance of the spices. Bzar is one of the many spice mixes around the world like Chinese five-spice, and every Emirati household has it. There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar. All you need to do is toss whole spices in a pan, not for a long time, just until the oils come out. Then you blend it into a powder.”

The future looks vegan

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist. I have no limits when it comes to food, no favourite places, I keep experimenting. I eat everywhere – a shawarma joint one night, a fine dining one the next, a hidden gem I was told about.”

He’s also now working on menu around Arabic vegan food – he’s created numerous dishes that have an Arabic identity but are vegan. “There are now lots of vegetarian and vegan demands - but customers want it in Arabic cuisine. In the Arab world protein is key, but not so for the new generation. It’s quite a challenge to find ways to take out the protein. I did a fasulia (lamb and bean stew) recently, minus the lamb - mixed beans cooked slowly in a stew with Arabic spices, served with dill rice. The innovation continues.”

Read on for easy recipes from Saud to cook up an Emirati feast at home, plus a recipe to make the spice mix Emirati bzar.


Watch: First Emirati flight catering chef talks recipes, vegan cuisine and about growing up with a love for cooking

For Saud Al Matrooshi, it all started one morning when he was a little boy. As he walked into the kitchen, the centre of his household, the distinctive, wholesome aroma of freshly baked bread wafted through. A shakshouka was bubbling away in the background. Saud’s father Mohammed Al Matrooshi, his idol, was at the helm of it all. From his very frequent travels, he'd often bring back spices from his trips for Saud - new, exotic ones that Saud had never heard of or smelt before, fragrant ones that were now going into the shakshouka. And just like that, in the midst of the enticing smells and sounds, Saud decided he was going to become a chef.

Over the years, what started as a hobby, just cooking for friends and family - who were incidentally very generous with their compliments – was soon a passion and a profession for the 34-year-old chef.

But it wasn’t a passion that was easy to hone. Al Matrooshi hit many a stumbling block he recalls how anyone he asked for advice on where to start on the journey to donning a chef’s toque, they would say: “But you don’t want to be a chef! Our culture, our society was not ready for this job then, because they didn’t understand the nature of it. Almost everyone was against it. Which means I felt completely lost.”

After graduating from school in the UAE, he went into the communications and media field, and graduated but was still very lost. He worked as a marketing manager at a Dubai property that owned a few hotels, where he’d escape to the kitchen any chance he got: “Before meetings they always knew where to look for me.”

His appetite for a different career didn’t go unnoticed. “And one day, a very nice French chef said – why don’t we train you. And the rest as they say is history.”

He started from scratch as a steward, and for about four to six months learnt about detergents to use for sanitising in a kitchen: “What kinds are the best to use, the amounts, the water temperature. Slowly, I worked up to a higher rank. I worked in other restaurants, travelled abroad, took a few courses, came back with all that knowledge, and wanted to do something.” To do that “something”, he joined a well-known group as restaurant brand manager, and after a few successful restaurant openings, also took on another role of procurement manager in the Food and Beverage field, all of which helped him broaden his knowledge of the culinary world.

But throughout it all, he kept missing the chef’s jacket. Which means when he got a call from Emirates Flight Catering (EFC) in 2018, he didn’t hesitate twice. “And here I am now, living my dream,” he said.

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

The journey to the skies

In charge of the Middle East sector and menu development for the region’s largest carrier, nothing prepared Al Matrooshi for the huge production environment at Emirates Flight Catering. While he was used to a certain number of kilos of forecasting and ordering, at the world’s biggest flight catering kitchen the numbers changed – to about 225,000 meals a day. “An average order of just chicken was 22 tons per day,” Al Matrooshi said. “Adapting to such a busy environment was nothing short of a challenge - high standards have to be provided to meet high standards of some well-travelled audience.”

Despite having cooked for royalty and at government summits, it was a whole different ballgame at EFC, due to the journey of the food - dishes weren’t just travelling a few feet from kitchen to table. “It’s an entirely different method - not every food item will travel well. If I cook French fries and serve it on a flight, after it’s been blast chilled and reheated, it will have lost its crispness, its very essence.”

Saud has brought various Arabic flavours to the food served on Emirates flights Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Catering to countless cultures

Introducing Emirati dishes on flights in an attempt to present the cuisine to both old and new audiences was important to Saud. He says while Emirati cuisine has been based on the desert environment in the UAE, it lends itself to some remarkable flavours. “We have a very beautiful, humble cuisine that’s not well known worldwide, and I would like people to try it and know it. You have herbs, protein from the desert or protein from the sea. It has influences from around the region – India, the Levant. The main influences are of course from Indian cuisine because of the spices we used to get from there. Also the cooking technique – we have dishes similar to the biryani and those similar to the curry, like saloona. But our versions are way milder than Indian ones. The techniques in terms of stir-frying, fried onions, garlic paste, protein, then coating protein with the spices are the same.”

The UAE’s beginnings define its culinary heritage

He says various beginnings have defined the cuisine. “People back then lived a very hard life and wanted to preserve these ingredients all they could do was pickle or salt fish, or dehydrate, such as powdered yogurt, so they could carry it while travelling they’d hydrate it again and drink it. Now, as Arabs we’re known for larger portions and generosity - but not a smaller, casual or fine dining projection of the dishes.”

So, Chef Al Matrooshi set about achieving just that, introducing Emirati dishes on flights for a two-in-one outcome: First, for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine, and the second, for a new audience to discover it. So the machboos, [a spiced chicken and rice pilaf], was introduced on both a London flight and a Munich one. “We have seasonal cycles, and we put the unique flavours of the machboos on the summer cycle, the popular one, when a lot of Arabs travel abroad, and they loved it.”

Al Matrooshi set about introducing Emirati dishes on flights both for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine and for a new audience to discover it Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Another Emirati dish that found popularity on flights was the fish tahta - fish deep-fried with Emirati spices, a little curry, and rice added on top, similar to biryani. “It was very well received, especially as people didn’t expect to see it. We had some great feedback.” So was the bzar chicken - chicken made in a fragrant spice blend, authentically Emirati.

A fusion route

But for a wider audience, Al Matrooshi says the first step was going down a fusion route - in essence building bridges between cuisines. “Anyone new to Emirati cuisine will try it because it has been merged with another more familiar one. And that will then inspire them to try the traditional version, paving the way for the cuisine as a whole,” he said. “Modern flavours, playing around with different kind of fruits and vegetables… the ingredients are still local, the twist is only in the technique.”

An example of such a twist is the ouzi.

“Traditionally, we cook a whole lamb – if we want smaller portions, we cook the shoulder or leg, and if we want it smaller, we choose a premium cut like short rib - something that has a bone, because the identity of this dish is to have the bone with meat. In my fusion version, I’ve done away with the bone and used boneless cubes. And I’ve stir-fried it. But I’ve still stuck to traditions… such as using dates at the end as a coating.”

The two key ingredients

Chef Al Matrooshi lists two elements to Emirati food - the Emirati spice mix and Emirati ghee or clarified butter. While the spice mix bzar is available everywhere, the ghee is found in bigger supermarkets. “What makes the ghee special is a secret ingredient – dates,” Saud said. “It’s purified butter that comes from animal fat, with certain spices added to it. Dates are added to preserve the moisture inside the ghee.

Chef Al Matrooshi uses the spice mix bzar in almost every dish he cooks, and calls it the essence of Emirati food. "There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

“As for the bzar, if we go way back, all these spices are from India. It’s a mix of garam masala, tandoor masala and biryani masala - each one is very different based on the balance of the spices. Bzar is one of the many spice mixes around the world like Chinese five-spice, and every Emirati household has it. There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar. All you need to do is toss whole spices in a pan, not for a long time, just until the oils come out. Then you blend it into a powder.”

The future looks vegan

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist. I have no limits when it comes to food, no favourite places, I keep experimenting. I eat everywhere – a shawarma joint one night, a fine dining one the next, a hidden gem I was told about.”

He’s also now working on menu around Arabic vegan food – he’s created numerous dishes that have an Arabic identity but are vegan. “There are now lots of vegetarian and vegan demands - but customers want it in Arabic cuisine. In the Arab world protein is key, but not so for the new generation. It’s quite a challenge to find ways to take out the protein. I did a fasulia (lamb and bean stew) recently, minus the lamb - mixed beans cooked slowly in a stew with Arabic spices, served with dill rice. The innovation continues.”

Read on for easy recipes from Saud to cook up an Emirati feast at home, plus a recipe to make the spice mix Emirati bzar.


Watch: First Emirati flight catering chef talks recipes, vegan cuisine and about growing up with a love for cooking

For Saud Al Matrooshi, it all started one morning when he was a little boy. As he walked into the kitchen, the centre of his household, the distinctive, wholesome aroma of freshly baked bread wafted through. A shakshouka was bubbling away in the background. Saud’s father Mohammed Al Matrooshi, his idol, was at the helm of it all. From his very frequent travels, he'd often bring back spices from his trips for Saud - new, exotic ones that Saud had never heard of or smelt before, fragrant ones that were now going into the shakshouka. And just like that, in the midst of the enticing smells and sounds, Saud decided he was going to become a chef.

Over the years, what started as a hobby, just cooking for friends and family - who were incidentally very generous with their compliments – was soon a passion and a profession for the 34-year-old chef.

But it wasn’t a passion that was easy to hone. Al Matrooshi hit many a stumbling block he recalls how anyone he asked for advice on where to start on the journey to donning a chef’s toque, they would say: “But you don’t want to be a chef! Our culture, our society was not ready for this job then, because they didn’t understand the nature of it. Almost everyone was against it. Which means I felt completely lost.”

After graduating from school in the UAE, he went into the communications and media field, and graduated but was still very lost. He worked as a marketing manager at a Dubai property that owned a few hotels, where he’d escape to the kitchen any chance he got: “Before meetings they always knew where to look for me.”

His appetite for a different career didn’t go unnoticed. “And one day, a very nice French chef said – why don’t we train you. And the rest as they say is history.”

He started from scratch as a steward, and for about four to six months learnt about detergents to use for sanitising in a kitchen: “What kinds are the best to use, the amounts, the water temperature. Slowly, I worked up to a higher rank. I worked in other restaurants, travelled abroad, took a few courses, came back with all that knowledge, and wanted to do something.” To do that “something”, he joined a well-known group as restaurant brand manager, and after a few successful restaurant openings, also took on another role of procurement manager in the Food and Beverage field, all of which helped him broaden his knowledge of the culinary world.

But throughout it all, he kept missing the chef’s jacket. Which means when he got a call from Emirates Flight Catering (EFC) in 2018, he didn’t hesitate twice. “And here I am now, living my dream,” he said.

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

The journey to the skies

In charge of the Middle East sector and menu development for the region’s largest carrier, nothing prepared Al Matrooshi for the huge production environment at Emirates Flight Catering. While he was used to a certain number of kilos of forecasting and ordering, at the world’s biggest flight catering kitchen the numbers changed – to about 225,000 meals a day. “An average order of just chicken was 22 tons per day,” Al Matrooshi said. “Adapting to such a busy environment was nothing short of a challenge - high standards have to be provided to meet high standards of some well-travelled audience.”

Despite having cooked for royalty and at government summits, it was a whole different ballgame at EFC, due to the journey of the food - dishes weren’t just travelling a few feet from kitchen to table. “It’s an entirely different method - not every food item will travel well. If I cook French fries and serve it on a flight, after it’s been blast chilled and reheated, it will have lost its crispness, its very essence.”

Saud has brought various Arabic flavours to the food served on Emirates flights Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Catering to countless cultures

Introducing Emirati dishes on flights in an attempt to present the cuisine to both old and new audiences was important to Saud. He says while Emirati cuisine has been based on the desert environment in the UAE, it lends itself to some remarkable flavours. “We have a very beautiful, humble cuisine that’s not well known worldwide, and I would like people to try it and know it. You have herbs, protein from the desert or protein from the sea. It has influences from around the region – India, the Levant. The main influences are of course from Indian cuisine because of the spices we used to get from there. Also the cooking technique – we have dishes similar to the biryani and those similar to the curry, like saloona. But our versions are way milder than Indian ones. The techniques in terms of stir-frying, fried onions, garlic paste, protein, then coating protein with the spices are the same.”

The UAE’s beginnings define its culinary heritage

He says various beginnings have defined the cuisine. “People back then lived a very hard life and wanted to preserve these ingredients all they could do was pickle or salt fish, or dehydrate, such as powdered yogurt, so they could carry it while travelling they’d hydrate it again and drink it. Now, as Arabs we’re known for larger portions and generosity - but not a smaller, casual or fine dining projection of the dishes.”

So, Chef Al Matrooshi set about achieving just that, introducing Emirati dishes on flights for a two-in-one outcome: First, for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine, and the second, for a new audience to discover it. So the machboos, [a spiced chicken and rice pilaf], was introduced on both a London flight and a Munich one. “We have seasonal cycles, and we put the unique flavours of the machboos on the summer cycle, the popular one, when a lot of Arabs travel abroad, and they loved it.”

Al Matrooshi set about introducing Emirati dishes on flights both for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine and for a new audience to discover it Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Another Emirati dish that found popularity on flights was the fish tahta - fish deep-fried with Emirati spices, a little curry, and rice added on top, similar to biryani. “It was very well received, especially as people didn’t expect to see it. We had some great feedback.” So was the bzar chicken - chicken made in a fragrant spice blend, authentically Emirati.

A fusion route

But for a wider audience, Al Matrooshi says the first step was going down a fusion route - in essence building bridges between cuisines. “Anyone new to Emirati cuisine will try it because it has been merged with another more familiar one. And that will then inspire them to try the traditional version, paving the way for the cuisine as a whole,” he said. “Modern flavours, playing around with different kind of fruits and vegetables… the ingredients are still local, the twist is only in the technique.”

An example of such a twist is the ouzi.

“Traditionally, we cook a whole lamb – if we want smaller portions, we cook the shoulder or leg, and if we want it smaller, we choose a premium cut like short rib - something that has a bone, because the identity of this dish is to have the bone with meat. In my fusion version, I’ve done away with the bone and used boneless cubes. And I’ve stir-fried it. But I’ve still stuck to traditions… such as using dates at the end as a coating.”

The two key ingredients

Chef Al Matrooshi lists two elements to Emirati food - the Emirati spice mix and Emirati ghee or clarified butter. While the spice mix bzar is available everywhere, the ghee is found in bigger supermarkets. “What makes the ghee special is a secret ingredient – dates,” Saud said. “It’s purified butter that comes from animal fat, with certain spices added to it. Dates are added to preserve the moisture inside the ghee.

Chef Al Matrooshi uses the spice mix bzar in almost every dish he cooks, and calls it the essence of Emirati food. "There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

“As for the bzar, if we go way back, all these spices are from India. It’s a mix of garam masala, tandoor masala and biryani masala - each one is very different based on the balance of the spices. Bzar is one of the many spice mixes around the world like Chinese five-spice, and every Emirati household has it. There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar. All you need to do is toss whole spices in a pan, not for a long time, just until the oils come out. Then you blend it into a powder.”

The future looks vegan

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist. I have no limits when it comes to food, no favourite places, I keep experimenting. I eat everywhere – a shawarma joint one night, a fine dining one the next, a hidden gem I was told about.”

He’s also now working on menu around Arabic vegan food – he’s created numerous dishes that have an Arabic identity but are vegan. “There are now lots of vegetarian and vegan demands - but customers want it in Arabic cuisine. In the Arab world protein is key, but not so for the new generation. It’s quite a challenge to find ways to take out the protein. I did a fasulia (lamb and bean stew) recently, minus the lamb - mixed beans cooked slowly in a stew with Arabic spices, served with dill rice. The innovation continues.”

Read on for easy recipes from Saud to cook up an Emirati feast at home, plus a recipe to make the spice mix Emirati bzar.


Watch: First Emirati flight catering chef talks recipes, vegan cuisine and about growing up with a love for cooking

For Saud Al Matrooshi, it all started one morning when he was a little boy. As he walked into the kitchen, the centre of his household, the distinctive, wholesome aroma of freshly baked bread wafted through. A shakshouka was bubbling away in the background. Saud’s father Mohammed Al Matrooshi, his idol, was at the helm of it all. From his very frequent travels, he'd often bring back spices from his trips for Saud - new, exotic ones that Saud had never heard of or smelt before, fragrant ones that were now going into the shakshouka. And just like that, in the midst of the enticing smells and sounds, Saud decided he was going to become a chef.

Over the years, what started as a hobby, just cooking for friends and family - who were incidentally very generous with their compliments – was soon a passion and a profession for the 34-year-old chef.

But it wasn’t a passion that was easy to hone. Al Matrooshi hit many a stumbling block he recalls how anyone he asked for advice on where to start on the journey to donning a chef’s toque, they would say: “But you don’t want to be a chef! Our culture, our society was not ready for this job then, because they didn’t understand the nature of it. Almost everyone was against it. Which means I felt completely lost.”

After graduating from school in the UAE, he went into the communications and media field, and graduated but was still very lost. He worked as a marketing manager at a Dubai property that owned a few hotels, where he’d escape to the kitchen any chance he got: “Before meetings they always knew where to look for me.”

His appetite for a different career didn’t go unnoticed. “And one day, a very nice French chef said – why don’t we train you. And the rest as they say is history.”

He started from scratch as a steward, and for about four to six months learnt about detergents to use for sanitising in a kitchen: “What kinds are the best to use, the amounts, the water temperature. Slowly, I worked up to a higher rank. I worked in other restaurants, travelled abroad, took a few courses, came back with all that knowledge, and wanted to do something.” To do that “something”, he joined a well-known group as restaurant brand manager, and after a few successful restaurant openings, also took on another role of procurement manager in the Food and Beverage field, all of which helped him broaden his knowledge of the culinary world.

But throughout it all, he kept missing the chef’s jacket. Which means when he got a call from Emirates Flight Catering (EFC) in 2018, he didn’t hesitate twice. “And here I am now, living my dream,” he said.

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

The journey to the skies

In charge of the Middle East sector and menu development for the region’s largest carrier, nothing prepared Al Matrooshi for the huge production environment at Emirates Flight Catering. While he was used to a certain number of kilos of forecasting and ordering, at the world’s biggest flight catering kitchen the numbers changed – to about 225,000 meals a day. “An average order of just chicken was 22 tons per day,” Al Matrooshi said. “Adapting to such a busy environment was nothing short of a challenge - high standards have to be provided to meet high standards of some well-travelled audience.”

Despite having cooked for royalty and at government summits, it was a whole different ballgame at EFC, due to the journey of the food - dishes weren’t just travelling a few feet from kitchen to table. “It’s an entirely different method - not every food item will travel well. If I cook French fries and serve it on a flight, after it’s been blast chilled and reheated, it will have lost its crispness, its very essence.”

Saud has brought various Arabic flavours to the food served on Emirates flights Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Catering to countless cultures

Introducing Emirati dishes on flights in an attempt to present the cuisine to both old and new audiences was important to Saud. He says while Emirati cuisine has been based on the desert environment in the UAE, it lends itself to some remarkable flavours. “We have a very beautiful, humble cuisine that’s not well known worldwide, and I would like people to try it and know it. You have herbs, protein from the desert or protein from the sea. It has influences from around the region – India, the Levant. The main influences are of course from Indian cuisine because of the spices we used to get from there. Also the cooking technique – we have dishes similar to the biryani and those similar to the curry, like saloona. But our versions are way milder than Indian ones. The techniques in terms of stir-frying, fried onions, garlic paste, protein, then coating protein with the spices are the same.”

The UAE’s beginnings define its culinary heritage

He says various beginnings have defined the cuisine. “People back then lived a very hard life and wanted to preserve these ingredients all they could do was pickle or salt fish, or dehydrate, such as powdered yogurt, so they could carry it while travelling they’d hydrate it again and drink it. Now, as Arabs we’re known for larger portions and generosity - but not a smaller, casual or fine dining projection of the dishes.”

So, Chef Al Matrooshi set about achieving just that, introducing Emirati dishes on flights for a two-in-one outcome: First, for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine, and the second, for a new audience to discover it. So the machboos, [a spiced chicken and rice pilaf], was introduced on both a London flight and a Munich one. “We have seasonal cycles, and we put the unique flavours of the machboos on the summer cycle, the popular one, when a lot of Arabs travel abroad, and they loved it.”

Al Matrooshi set about introducing Emirati dishes on flights both for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine and for a new audience to discover it Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Another Emirati dish that found popularity on flights was the fish tahta - fish deep-fried with Emirati spices, a little curry, and rice added on top, similar to biryani. “It was very well received, especially as people didn’t expect to see it. We had some great feedback.” So was the bzar chicken - chicken made in a fragrant spice blend, authentically Emirati.

A fusion route

But for a wider audience, Al Matrooshi says the first step was going down a fusion route - in essence building bridges between cuisines. “Anyone new to Emirati cuisine will try it because it has been merged with another more familiar one. And that will then inspire them to try the traditional version, paving the way for the cuisine as a whole,” he said. “Modern flavours, playing around with different kind of fruits and vegetables… the ingredients are still local, the twist is only in the technique.”

An example of such a twist is the ouzi.

“Traditionally, we cook a whole lamb – if we want smaller portions, we cook the shoulder or leg, and if we want it smaller, we choose a premium cut like short rib - something that has a bone, because the identity of this dish is to have the bone with meat. In my fusion version, I’ve done away with the bone and used boneless cubes. And I’ve stir-fried it. But I’ve still stuck to traditions… such as using dates at the end as a coating.”

The two key ingredients

Chef Al Matrooshi lists two elements to Emirati food - the Emirati spice mix and Emirati ghee or clarified butter. While the spice mix bzar is available everywhere, the ghee is found in bigger supermarkets. “What makes the ghee special is a secret ingredient – dates,” Saud said. “It’s purified butter that comes from animal fat, with certain spices added to it. Dates are added to preserve the moisture inside the ghee.

Chef Al Matrooshi uses the spice mix bzar in almost every dish he cooks, and calls it the essence of Emirati food. "There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

“As for the bzar, if we go way back, all these spices are from India. It’s a mix of garam masala, tandoor masala and biryani masala - each one is very different based on the balance of the spices. Bzar is one of the many spice mixes around the world like Chinese five-spice, and every Emirati household has it. There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar. All you need to do is toss whole spices in a pan, not for a long time, just until the oils come out. Then you blend it into a powder.”

The future looks vegan

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist. I have no limits when it comes to food, no favourite places, I keep experimenting. I eat everywhere – a shawarma joint one night, a fine dining one the next, a hidden gem I was told about.”

He’s also now working on menu around Arabic vegan food – he’s created numerous dishes that have an Arabic identity but are vegan. “There are now lots of vegetarian and vegan demands - but customers want it in Arabic cuisine. In the Arab world protein is key, but not so for the new generation. It’s quite a challenge to find ways to take out the protein. I did a fasulia (lamb and bean stew) recently, minus the lamb - mixed beans cooked slowly in a stew with Arabic spices, served with dill rice. The innovation continues.”

Read on for easy recipes from Saud to cook up an Emirati feast at home, plus a recipe to make the spice mix Emirati bzar.


Watch: First Emirati flight catering chef talks recipes, vegan cuisine and about growing up with a love for cooking

For Saud Al Matrooshi, it all started one morning when he was a little boy. As he walked into the kitchen, the centre of his household, the distinctive, wholesome aroma of freshly baked bread wafted through. A shakshouka was bubbling away in the background. Saud’s father Mohammed Al Matrooshi, his idol, was at the helm of it all. From his very frequent travels, he'd often bring back spices from his trips for Saud - new, exotic ones that Saud had never heard of or smelt before, fragrant ones that were now going into the shakshouka. And just like that, in the midst of the enticing smells and sounds, Saud decided he was going to become a chef.

Over the years, what started as a hobby, just cooking for friends and family - who were incidentally very generous with their compliments – was soon a passion and a profession for the 34-year-old chef.

But it wasn’t a passion that was easy to hone. Al Matrooshi hit many a stumbling block he recalls how anyone he asked for advice on where to start on the journey to donning a chef’s toque, they would say: “But you don’t want to be a chef! Our culture, our society was not ready for this job then, because they didn’t understand the nature of it. Almost everyone was against it. Which means I felt completely lost.”

After graduating from school in the UAE, he went into the communications and media field, and graduated but was still very lost. He worked as a marketing manager at a Dubai property that owned a few hotels, where he’d escape to the kitchen any chance he got: “Before meetings they always knew where to look for me.”

His appetite for a different career didn’t go unnoticed. “And one day, a very nice French chef said – why don’t we train you. And the rest as they say is history.”

He started from scratch as a steward, and for about four to six months learnt about detergents to use for sanitising in a kitchen: “What kinds are the best to use, the amounts, the water temperature. Slowly, I worked up to a higher rank. I worked in other restaurants, travelled abroad, took a few courses, came back with all that knowledge, and wanted to do something.” To do that “something”, he joined a well-known group as restaurant brand manager, and after a few successful restaurant openings, also took on another role of procurement manager in the Food and Beverage field, all of which helped him broaden his knowledge of the culinary world.

But throughout it all, he kept missing the chef’s jacket. Which means when he got a call from Emirates Flight Catering (EFC) in 2018, he didn’t hesitate twice. “And here I am now, living my dream,” he said.

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

The journey to the skies

In charge of the Middle East sector and menu development for the region’s largest carrier, nothing prepared Al Matrooshi for the huge production environment at Emirates Flight Catering. While he was used to a certain number of kilos of forecasting and ordering, at the world’s biggest flight catering kitchen the numbers changed – to about 225,000 meals a day. “An average order of just chicken was 22 tons per day,” Al Matrooshi said. “Adapting to such a busy environment was nothing short of a challenge - high standards have to be provided to meet high standards of some well-travelled audience.”

Despite having cooked for royalty and at government summits, it was a whole different ballgame at EFC, due to the journey of the food - dishes weren’t just travelling a few feet from kitchen to table. “It’s an entirely different method - not every food item will travel well. If I cook French fries and serve it on a flight, after it’s been blast chilled and reheated, it will have lost its crispness, its very essence.”

Saud has brought various Arabic flavours to the food served on Emirates flights Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Catering to countless cultures

Introducing Emirati dishes on flights in an attempt to present the cuisine to both old and new audiences was important to Saud. He says while Emirati cuisine has been based on the desert environment in the UAE, it lends itself to some remarkable flavours. “We have a very beautiful, humble cuisine that’s not well known worldwide, and I would like people to try it and know it. You have herbs, protein from the desert or protein from the sea. It has influences from around the region – India, the Levant. The main influences are of course from Indian cuisine because of the spices we used to get from there. Also the cooking technique – we have dishes similar to the biryani and those similar to the curry, like saloona. But our versions are way milder than Indian ones. The techniques in terms of stir-frying, fried onions, garlic paste, protein, then coating protein with the spices are the same.”

The UAE’s beginnings define its culinary heritage

He says various beginnings have defined the cuisine. “People back then lived a very hard life and wanted to preserve these ingredients all they could do was pickle or salt fish, or dehydrate, such as powdered yogurt, so they could carry it while travelling they’d hydrate it again and drink it. Now, as Arabs we’re known for larger portions and generosity - but not a smaller, casual or fine dining projection of the dishes.”

So, Chef Al Matrooshi set about achieving just that, introducing Emirati dishes on flights for a two-in-one outcome: First, for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine, and the second, for a new audience to discover it. So the machboos, [a spiced chicken and rice pilaf], was introduced on both a London flight and a Munich one. “We have seasonal cycles, and we put the unique flavours of the machboos on the summer cycle, the popular one, when a lot of Arabs travel abroad, and they loved it.”

Al Matrooshi set about introducing Emirati dishes on flights both for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine and for a new audience to discover it Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Another Emirati dish that found popularity on flights was the fish tahta - fish deep-fried with Emirati spices, a little curry, and rice added on top, similar to biryani. “It was very well received, especially as people didn’t expect to see it. We had some great feedback.” So was the bzar chicken - chicken made in a fragrant spice blend, authentically Emirati.

A fusion route

But for a wider audience, Al Matrooshi says the first step was going down a fusion route - in essence building bridges between cuisines. “Anyone new to Emirati cuisine will try it because it has been merged with another more familiar one. And that will then inspire them to try the traditional version, paving the way for the cuisine as a whole,” he said. “Modern flavours, playing around with different kind of fruits and vegetables… the ingredients are still local, the twist is only in the technique.”

An example of such a twist is the ouzi.

“Traditionally, we cook a whole lamb – if we want smaller portions, we cook the shoulder or leg, and if we want it smaller, we choose a premium cut like short rib - something that has a bone, because the identity of this dish is to have the bone with meat. In my fusion version, I’ve done away with the bone and used boneless cubes. And I’ve stir-fried it. But I’ve still stuck to traditions… such as using dates at the end as a coating.”

The two key ingredients

Chef Al Matrooshi lists two elements to Emirati food - the Emirati spice mix and Emirati ghee or clarified butter. While the spice mix bzar is available everywhere, the ghee is found in bigger supermarkets. “What makes the ghee special is a secret ingredient – dates,” Saud said. “It’s purified butter that comes from animal fat, with certain spices added to it. Dates are added to preserve the moisture inside the ghee.

Chef Al Matrooshi uses the spice mix bzar in almost every dish he cooks, and calls it the essence of Emirati food. "There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

“As for the bzar, if we go way back, all these spices are from India. It’s a mix of garam masala, tandoor masala and biryani masala - each one is very different based on the balance of the spices. Bzar is one of the many spice mixes around the world like Chinese five-spice, and every Emirati household has it. There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar. All you need to do is toss whole spices in a pan, not for a long time, just until the oils come out. Then you blend it into a powder.”

The future looks vegan

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist. I have no limits when it comes to food, no favourite places, I keep experimenting. I eat everywhere – a shawarma joint one night, a fine dining one the next, a hidden gem I was told about.”

He’s also now working on menu around Arabic vegan food – he’s created numerous dishes that have an Arabic identity but are vegan. “There are now lots of vegetarian and vegan demands - but customers want it in Arabic cuisine. In the Arab world protein is key, but not so for the new generation. It’s quite a challenge to find ways to take out the protein. I did a fasulia (lamb and bean stew) recently, minus the lamb - mixed beans cooked slowly in a stew with Arabic spices, served with dill rice. The innovation continues.”

Read on for easy recipes from Saud to cook up an Emirati feast at home, plus a recipe to make the spice mix Emirati bzar.


Watch: First Emirati flight catering chef talks recipes, vegan cuisine and about growing up with a love for cooking

For Saud Al Matrooshi, it all started one morning when he was a little boy. As he walked into the kitchen, the centre of his household, the distinctive, wholesome aroma of freshly baked bread wafted through. A shakshouka was bubbling away in the background. Saud’s father Mohammed Al Matrooshi, his idol, was at the helm of it all. From his very frequent travels, he'd often bring back spices from his trips for Saud - new, exotic ones that Saud had never heard of or smelt before, fragrant ones that were now going into the shakshouka. And just like that, in the midst of the enticing smells and sounds, Saud decided he was going to become a chef.

Over the years, what started as a hobby, just cooking for friends and family - who were incidentally very generous with their compliments – was soon a passion and a profession for the 34-year-old chef.

But it wasn’t a passion that was easy to hone. Al Matrooshi hit many a stumbling block he recalls how anyone he asked for advice on where to start on the journey to donning a chef’s toque, they would say: “But you don’t want to be a chef! Our culture, our society was not ready for this job then, because they didn’t understand the nature of it. Almost everyone was against it. Which means I felt completely lost.”

After graduating from school in the UAE, he went into the communications and media field, and graduated but was still very lost. He worked as a marketing manager at a Dubai property that owned a few hotels, where he’d escape to the kitchen any chance he got: “Before meetings they always knew where to look for me.”

His appetite for a different career didn’t go unnoticed. “And one day, a very nice French chef said – why don’t we train you. And the rest as they say is history.”

He started from scratch as a steward, and for about four to six months learnt about detergents to use for sanitising in a kitchen: “What kinds are the best to use, the amounts, the water temperature. Slowly, I worked up to a higher rank. I worked in other restaurants, travelled abroad, took a few courses, came back with all that knowledge, and wanted to do something.” To do that “something”, he joined a well-known group as restaurant brand manager, and after a few successful restaurant openings, also took on another role of procurement manager in the Food and Beverage field, all of which helped him broaden his knowledge of the culinary world.

But throughout it all, he kept missing the chef’s jacket. Which means when he got a call from Emirates Flight Catering (EFC) in 2018, he didn’t hesitate twice. “And here I am now, living my dream,” he said.

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

The journey to the skies

In charge of the Middle East sector and menu development for the region’s largest carrier, nothing prepared Al Matrooshi for the huge production environment at Emirates Flight Catering. While he was used to a certain number of kilos of forecasting and ordering, at the world’s biggest flight catering kitchen the numbers changed – to about 225,000 meals a day. “An average order of just chicken was 22 tons per day,” Al Matrooshi said. “Adapting to such a busy environment was nothing short of a challenge - high standards have to be provided to meet high standards of some well-travelled audience.”

Despite having cooked for royalty and at government summits, it was a whole different ballgame at EFC, due to the journey of the food - dishes weren’t just travelling a few feet from kitchen to table. “It’s an entirely different method - not every food item will travel well. If I cook French fries and serve it on a flight, after it’s been blast chilled and reheated, it will have lost its crispness, its very essence.”

Saud has brought various Arabic flavours to the food served on Emirates flights Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Catering to countless cultures

Introducing Emirati dishes on flights in an attempt to present the cuisine to both old and new audiences was important to Saud. He says while Emirati cuisine has been based on the desert environment in the UAE, it lends itself to some remarkable flavours. “We have a very beautiful, humble cuisine that’s not well known worldwide, and I would like people to try it and know it. You have herbs, protein from the desert or protein from the sea. It has influences from around the region – India, the Levant. The main influences are of course from Indian cuisine because of the spices we used to get from there. Also the cooking technique – we have dishes similar to the biryani and those similar to the curry, like saloona. But our versions are way milder than Indian ones. The techniques in terms of stir-frying, fried onions, garlic paste, protein, then coating protein with the spices are the same.”

The UAE’s beginnings define its culinary heritage

He says various beginnings have defined the cuisine. “People back then lived a very hard life and wanted to preserve these ingredients all they could do was pickle or salt fish, or dehydrate, such as powdered yogurt, so they could carry it while travelling they’d hydrate it again and drink it. Now, as Arabs we’re known for larger portions and generosity - but not a smaller, casual or fine dining projection of the dishes.”

So, Chef Al Matrooshi set about achieving just that, introducing Emirati dishes on flights for a two-in-one outcome: First, for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine, and the second, for a new audience to discover it. So the machboos, [a spiced chicken and rice pilaf], was introduced on both a London flight and a Munich one. “We have seasonal cycles, and we put the unique flavours of the machboos on the summer cycle, the popular one, when a lot of Arabs travel abroad, and they loved it.”

Al Matrooshi set about introducing Emirati dishes on flights both for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine and for a new audience to discover it Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Another Emirati dish that found popularity on flights was the fish tahta - fish deep-fried with Emirati spices, a little curry, and rice added on top, similar to biryani. “It was very well received, especially as people didn’t expect to see it. We had some great feedback.” So was the bzar chicken - chicken made in a fragrant spice blend, authentically Emirati.

A fusion route

But for a wider audience, Al Matrooshi says the first step was going down a fusion route - in essence building bridges between cuisines. “Anyone new to Emirati cuisine will try it because it has been merged with another more familiar one. And that will then inspire them to try the traditional version, paving the way for the cuisine as a whole,” he said. “Modern flavours, playing around with different kind of fruits and vegetables… the ingredients are still local, the twist is only in the technique.”

An example of such a twist is the ouzi.

“Traditionally, we cook a whole lamb – if we want smaller portions, we cook the shoulder or leg, and if we want it smaller, we choose a premium cut like short rib - something that has a bone, because the identity of this dish is to have the bone with meat. In my fusion version, I’ve done away with the bone and used boneless cubes. And I’ve stir-fried it. But I’ve still stuck to traditions… such as using dates at the end as a coating.”

The two key ingredients

Chef Al Matrooshi lists two elements to Emirati food - the Emirati spice mix and Emirati ghee or clarified butter. While the spice mix bzar is available everywhere, the ghee is found in bigger supermarkets. “What makes the ghee special is a secret ingredient – dates,” Saud said. “It’s purified butter that comes from animal fat, with certain spices added to it. Dates are added to preserve the moisture inside the ghee.

Chef Al Matrooshi uses the spice mix bzar in almost every dish he cooks, and calls it the essence of Emirati food. "There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

“As for the bzar, if we go way back, all these spices are from India. It’s a mix of garam masala, tandoor masala and biryani masala - each one is very different based on the balance of the spices. Bzar is one of the many spice mixes around the world like Chinese five-spice, and every Emirati household has it. There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar. All you need to do is toss whole spices in a pan, not for a long time, just until the oils come out. Then you blend it into a powder.”

The future looks vegan

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist. I have no limits when it comes to food, no favourite places, I keep experimenting. I eat everywhere – a shawarma joint one night, a fine dining one the next, a hidden gem I was told about.”

He’s also now working on menu around Arabic vegan food – he’s created numerous dishes that have an Arabic identity but are vegan. “There are now lots of vegetarian and vegan demands - but customers want it in Arabic cuisine. In the Arab world protein is key, but not so for the new generation. It’s quite a challenge to find ways to take out the protein. I did a fasulia (lamb and bean stew) recently, minus the lamb - mixed beans cooked slowly in a stew with Arabic spices, served with dill rice. The innovation continues.”

Read on for easy recipes from Saud to cook up an Emirati feast at home, plus a recipe to make the spice mix Emirati bzar.


Watch: First Emirati flight catering chef talks recipes, vegan cuisine and about growing up with a love for cooking

For Saud Al Matrooshi, it all started one morning when he was a little boy. As he walked into the kitchen, the centre of his household, the distinctive, wholesome aroma of freshly baked bread wafted through. A shakshouka was bubbling away in the background. Saud’s father Mohammed Al Matrooshi, his idol, was at the helm of it all. From his very frequent travels, he'd often bring back spices from his trips for Saud - new, exotic ones that Saud had never heard of or smelt before, fragrant ones that were now going into the shakshouka. And just like that, in the midst of the enticing smells and sounds, Saud decided he was going to become a chef.

Over the years, what started as a hobby, just cooking for friends and family - who were incidentally very generous with their compliments – was soon a passion and a profession for the 34-year-old chef.

But it wasn’t a passion that was easy to hone. Al Matrooshi hit many a stumbling block he recalls how anyone he asked for advice on where to start on the journey to donning a chef’s toque, they would say: “But you don’t want to be a chef! Our culture, our society was not ready for this job then, because they didn’t understand the nature of it. Almost everyone was against it. Which means I felt completely lost.”

After graduating from school in the UAE, he went into the communications and media field, and graduated but was still very lost. He worked as a marketing manager at a Dubai property that owned a few hotels, where he’d escape to the kitchen any chance he got: “Before meetings they always knew where to look for me.”

His appetite for a different career didn’t go unnoticed. “And one day, a very nice French chef said – why don’t we train you. And the rest as they say is history.”

He started from scratch as a steward, and for about four to six months learnt about detergents to use for sanitising in a kitchen: “What kinds are the best to use, the amounts, the water temperature. Slowly, I worked up to a higher rank. I worked in other restaurants, travelled abroad, took a few courses, came back with all that knowledge, and wanted to do something.” To do that “something”, he joined a well-known group as restaurant brand manager, and after a few successful restaurant openings, also took on another role of procurement manager in the Food and Beverage field, all of which helped him broaden his knowledge of the culinary world.

But throughout it all, he kept missing the chef’s jacket. Which means when he got a call from Emirates Flight Catering (EFC) in 2018, he didn’t hesitate twice. “And here I am now, living my dream,” he said.

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

The journey to the skies

In charge of the Middle East sector and menu development for the region’s largest carrier, nothing prepared Al Matrooshi for the huge production environment at Emirates Flight Catering. While he was used to a certain number of kilos of forecasting and ordering, at the world’s biggest flight catering kitchen the numbers changed – to about 225,000 meals a day. “An average order of just chicken was 22 tons per day,” Al Matrooshi said. “Adapting to such a busy environment was nothing short of a challenge - high standards have to be provided to meet high standards of some well-travelled audience.”

Despite having cooked for royalty and at government summits, it was a whole different ballgame at EFC, due to the journey of the food - dishes weren’t just travelling a few feet from kitchen to table. “It’s an entirely different method - not every food item will travel well. If I cook French fries and serve it on a flight, after it’s been blast chilled and reheated, it will have lost its crispness, its very essence.”

Saud has brought various Arabic flavours to the food served on Emirates flights Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Catering to countless cultures

Introducing Emirati dishes on flights in an attempt to present the cuisine to both old and new audiences was important to Saud. He says while Emirati cuisine has been based on the desert environment in the UAE, it lends itself to some remarkable flavours. “We have a very beautiful, humble cuisine that’s not well known worldwide, and I would like people to try it and know it. You have herbs, protein from the desert or protein from the sea. It has influences from around the region – India, the Levant. The main influences are of course from Indian cuisine because of the spices we used to get from there. Also the cooking technique – we have dishes similar to the biryani and those similar to the curry, like saloona. But our versions are way milder than Indian ones. The techniques in terms of stir-frying, fried onions, garlic paste, protein, then coating protein with the spices are the same.”

The UAE’s beginnings define its culinary heritage

He says various beginnings have defined the cuisine. “People back then lived a very hard life and wanted to preserve these ingredients all they could do was pickle or salt fish, or dehydrate, such as powdered yogurt, so they could carry it while travelling they’d hydrate it again and drink it. Now, as Arabs we’re known for larger portions and generosity - but not a smaller, casual or fine dining projection of the dishes.”

So, Chef Al Matrooshi set about achieving just that, introducing Emirati dishes on flights for a two-in-one outcome: First, for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine, and the second, for a new audience to discover it. So the machboos, [a spiced chicken and rice pilaf], was introduced on both a London flight and a Munich one. “We have seasonal cycles, and we put the unique flavours of the machboos on the summer cycle, the popular one, when a lot of Arabs travel abroad, and they loved it.”

Al Matrooshi set about introducing Emirati dishes on flights both for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine and for a new audience to discover it Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Another Emirati dish that found popularity on flights was the fish tahta - fish deep-fried with Emirati spices, a little curry, and rice added on top, similar to biryani. “It was very well received, especially as people didn’t expect to see it. We had some great feedback.” So was the bzar chicken - chicken made in a fragrant spice blend, authentically Emirati.

A fusion route

But for a wider audience, Al Matrooshi says the first step was going down a fusion route - in essence building bridges between cuisines. “Anyone new to Emirati cuisine will try it because it has been merged with another more familiar one. And that will then inspire them to try the traditional version, paving the way for the cuisine as a whole,” he said. “Modern flavours, playing around with different kind of fruits and vegetables… the ingredients are still local, the twist is only in the technique.”

An example of such a twist is the ouzi.

“Traditionally, we cook a whole lamb – if we want smaller portions, we cook the shoulder or leg, and if we want it smaller, we choose a premium cut like short rib - something that has a bone, because the identity of this dish is to have the bone with meat. In my fusion version, I’ve done away with the bone and used boneless cubes. And I’ve stir-fried it. But I’ve still stuck to traditions… such as using dates at the end as a coating.”

The two key ingredients

Chef Al Matrooshi lists two elements to Emirati food - the Emirati spice mix and Emirati ghee or clarified butter. While the spice mix bzar is available everywhere, the ghee is found in bigger supermarkets. “What makes the ghee special is a secret ingredient – dates,” Saud said. “It’s purified butter that comes from animal fat, with certain spices added to it. Dates are added to preserve the moisture inside the ghee.

Chef Al Matrooshi uses the spice mix bzar in almost every dish he cooks, and calls it the essence of Emirati food. "There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

“As for the bzar, if we go way back, all these spices are from India. It’s a mix of garam masala, tandoor masala and biryani masala - each one is very different based on the balance of the spices. Bzar is one of the many spice mixes around the world like Chinese five-spice, and every Emirati household has it. There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar. All you need to do is toss whole spices in a pan, not for a long time, just until the oils come out. Then you blend it into a powder.”

The future looks vegan

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist. I have no limits when it comes to food, no favourite places, I keep experimenting. I eat everywhere – a shawarma joint one night, a fine dining one the next, a hidden gem I was told about.”

He’s also now working on menu around Arabic vegan food – he’s created numerous dishes that have an Arabic identity but are vegan. “There are now lots of vegetarian and vegan demands - but customers want it in Arabic cuisine. In the Arab world protein is key, but not so for the new generation. It’s quite a challenge to find ways to take out the protein. I did a fasulia (lamb and bean stew) recently, minus the lamb - mixed beans cooked slowly in a stew with Arabic spices, served with dill rice. The innovation continues.”

Read on for easy recipes from Saud to cook up an Emirati feast at home, plus a recipe to make the spice mix Emirati bzar.


Watch: First Emirati flight catering chef talks recipes, vegan cuisine and about growing up with a love for cooking

For Saud Al Matrooshi, it all started one morning when he was a little boy. As he walked into the kitchen, the centre of his household, the distinctive, wholesome aroma of freshly baked bread wafted through. A shakshouka was bubbling away in the background. Saud’s father Mohammed Al Matrooshi, his idol, was at the helm of it all. From his very frequent travels, he'd often bring back spices from his trips for Saud - new, exotic ones that Saud had never heard of or smelt before, fragrant ones that were now going into the shakshouka. And just like that, in the midst of the enticing smells and sounds, Saud decided he was going to become a chef.

Over the years, what started as a hobby, just cooking for friends and family - who were incidentally very generous with their compliments – was soon a passion and a profession for the 34-year-old chef.

But it wasn’t a passion that was easy to hone. Al Matrooshi hit many a stumbling block he recalls how anyone he asked for advice on where to start on the journey to donning a chef’s toque, they would say: “But you don’t want to be a chef! Our culture, our society was not ready for this job then, because they didn’t understand the nature of it. Almost everyone was against it. Which means I felt completely lost.”

After graduating from school in the UAE, he went into the communications and media field, and graduated but was still very lost. He worked as a marketing manager at a Dubai property that owned a few hotels, where he’d escape to the kitchen any chance he got: “Before meetings they always knew where to look for me.”

His appetite for a different career didn’t go unnoticed. “And one day, a very nice French chef said – why don’t we train you. And the rest as they say is history.”

He started from scratch as a steward, and for about four to six months learnt about detergents to use for sanitising in a kitchen: “What kinds are the best to use, the amounts, the water temperature. Slowly, I worked up to a higher rank. I worked in other restaurants, travelled abroad, took a few courses, came back with all that knowledge, and wanted to do something.” To do that “something”, he joined a well-known group as restaurant brand manager, and after a few successful restaurant openings, also took on another role of procurement manager in the Food and Beverage field, all of which helped him broaden his knowledge of the culinary world.

But throughout it all, he kept missing the chef’s jacket. Which means when he got a call from Emirates Flight Catering (EFC) in 2018, he didn’t hesitate twice. “And here I am now, living my dream,” he said.

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

The journey to the skies

In charge of the Middle East sector and menu development for the region’s largest carrier, nothing prepared Al Matrooshi for the huge production environment at Emirates Flight Catering. While he was used to a certain number of kilos of forecasting and ordering, at the world’s biggest flight catering kitchen the numbers changed – to about 225,000 meals a day. “An average order of just chicken was 22 tons per day,” Al Matrooshi said. “Adapting to such a busy environment was nothing short of a challenge - high standards have to be provided to meet high standards of some well-travelled audience.”

Despite having cooked for royalty and at government summits, it was a whole different ballgame at EFC, due to the journey of the food - dishes weren’t just travelling a few feet from kitchen to table. “It’s an entirely different method - not every food item will travel well. If I cook French fries and serve it on a flight, after it’s been blast chilled and reheated, it will have lost its crispness, its very essence.”

Saud has brought various Arabic flavours to the food served on Emirates flights Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Catering to countless cultures

Introducing Emirati dishes on flights in an attempt to present the cuisine to both old and new audiences was important to Saud. He says while Emirati cuisine has been based on the desert environment in the UAE, it lends itself to some remarkable flavours. “We have a very beautiful, humble cuisine that’s not well known worldwide, and I would like people to try it and know it. You have herbs, protein from the desert or protein from the sea. It has influences from around the region – India, the Levant. The main influences are of course from Indian cuisine because of the spices we used to get from there. Also the cooking technique – we have dishes similar to the biryani and those similar to the curry, like saloona. But our versions are way milder than Indian ones. The techniques in terms of stir-frying, fried onions, garlic paste, protein, then coating protein with the spices are the same.”

The UAE’s beginnings define its culinary heritage

He says various beginnings have defined the cuisine. “People back then lived a very hard life and wanted to preserve these ingredients all they could do was pickle or salt fish, or dehydrate, such as powdered yogurt, so they could carry it while travelling they’d hydrate it again and drink it. Now, as Arabs we’re known for larger portions and generosity - but not a smaller, casual or fine dining projection of the dishes.”

So, Chef Al Matrooshi set about achieving just that, introducing Emirati dishes on flights for a two-in-one outcome: First, for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine, and the second, for a new audience to discover it. So the machboos, [a spiced chicken and rice pilaf], was introduced on both a London flight and a Munich one. “We have seasonal cycles, and we put the unique flavours of the machboos on the summer cycle, the popular one, when a lot of Arabs travel abroad, and they loved it.”

Al Matrooshi set about introducing Emirati dishes on flights both for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine and for a new audience to discover it Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Another Emirati dish that found popularity on flights was the fish tahta - fish deep-fried with Emirati spices, a little curry, and rice added on top, similar to biryani. “It was very well received, especially as people didn’t expect to see it. We had some great feedback.” So was the bzar chicken - chicken made in a fragrant spice blend, authentically Emirati.

A fusion route

But for a wider audience, Al Matrooshi says the first step was going down a fusion route - in essence building bridges between cuisines. “Anyone new to Emirati cuisine will try it because it has been merged with another more familiar one. And that will then inspire them to try the traditional version, paving the way for the cuisine as a whole,” he said. “Modern flavours, playing around with different kind of fruits and vegetables… the ingredients are still local, the twist is only in the technique.”

An example of such a twist is the ouzi.

“Traditionally, we cook a whole lamb – if we want smaller portions, we cook the shoulder or leg, and if we want it smaller, we choose a premium cut like short rib - something that has a bone, because the identity of this dish is to have the bone with meat. In my fusion version, I’ve done away with the bone and used boneless cubes. And I’ve stir-fried it. But I’ve still stuck to traditions… such as using dates at the end as a coating.”

The two key ingredients

Chef Al Matrooshi lists two elements to Emirati food - the Emirati spice mix and Emirati ghee or clarified butter. While the spice mix bzar is available everywhere, the ghee is found in bigger supermarkets. “What makes the ghee special is a secret ingredient – dates,” Saud said. “It’s purified butter that comes from animal fat, with certain spices added to it. Dates are added to preserve the moisture inside the ghee.

Chef Al Matrooshi uses the spice mix bzar in almost every dish he cooks, and calls it the essence of Emirati food. "There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

“As for the bzar, if we go way back, all these spices are from India. It’s a mix of garam masala, tandoor masala and biryani masala - each one is very different based on the balance of the spices. Bzar is one of the many spice mixes around the world like Chinese five-spice, and every Emirati household has it. There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar. All you need to do is toss whole spices in a pan, not for a long time, just until the oils come out. Then you blend it into a powder.”

The future looks vegan

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist. I have no limits when it comes to food, no favourite places, I keep experimenting. I eat everywhere – a shawarma joint one night, a fine dining one the next, a hidden gem I was told about.”

He’s also now working on menu around Arabic vegan food – he’s created numerous dishes that have an Arabic identity but are vegan. “There are now lots of vegetarian and vegan demands - but customers want it in Arabic cuisine. In the Arab world protein is key, but not so for the new generation. It’s quite a challenge to find ways to take out the protein. I did a fasulia (lamb and bean stew) recently, minus the lamb - mixed beans cooked slowly in a stew with Arabic spices, served with dill rice. The innovation continues.”

Read on for easy recipes from Saud to cook up an Emirati feast at home, plus a recipe to make the spice mix Emirati bzar.


Watch: First Emirati flight catering chef talks recipes, vegan cuisine and about growing up with a love for cooking

For Saud Al Matrooshi, it all started one morning when he was a little boy. As he walked into the kitchen, the centre of his household, the distinctive, wholesome aroma of freshly baked bread wafted through. A shakshouka was bubbling away in the background. Saud’s father Mohammed Al Matrooshi, his idol, was at the helm of it all. From his very frequent travels, he'd often bring back spices from his trips for Saud - new, exotic ones that Saud had never heard of or smelt before, fragrant ones that were now going into the shakshouka. And just like that, in the midst of the enticing smells and sounds, Saud decided he was going to become a chef.

Over the years, what started as a hobby, just cooking for friends and family - who were incidentally very generous with their compliments – was soon a passion and a profession for the 34-year-old chef.

But it wasn’t a passion that was easy to hone. Al Matrooshi hit many a stumbling block he recalls how anyone he asked for advice on where to start on the journey to donning a chef’s toque, they would say: “But you don’t want to be a chef! Our culture, our society was not ready for this job then, because they didn’t understand the nature of it. Almost everyone was against it. Which means I felt completely lost.”

After graduating from school in the UAE, he went into the communications and media field, and graduated but was still very lost. He worked as a marketing manager at a Dubai property that owned a few hotels, where he’d escape to the kitchen any chance he got: “Before meetings they always knew where to look for me.”

His appetite for a different career didn’t go unnoticed. “And one day, a very nice French chef said – why don’t we train you. And the rest as they say is history.”

He started from scratch as a steward, and for about four to six months learnt about detergents to use for sanitising in a kitchen: “What kinds are the best to use, the amounts, the water temperature. Slowly, I worked up to a higher rank. I worked in other restaurants, travelled abroad, took a few courses, came back with all that knowledge, and wanted to do something.” To do that “something”, he joined a well-known group as restaurant brand manager, and after a few successful restaurant openings, also took on another role of procurement manager in the Food and Beverage field, all of which helped him broaden his knowledge of the culinary world.

But throughout it all, he kept missing the chef’s jacket. Which means when he got a call from Emirates Flight Catering (EFC) in 2018, he didn’t hesitate twice. “And here I am now, living my dream,” he said.

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

The journey to the skies

In charge of the Middle East sector and menu development for the region’s largest carrier, nothing prepared Al Matrooshi for the huge production environment at Emirates Flight Catering. While he was used to a certain number of kilos of forecasting and ordering, at the world’s biggest flight catering kitchen the numbers changed – to about 225,000 meals a day. “An average order of just chicken was 22 tons per day,” Al Matrooshi said. “Adapting to such a busy environment was nothing short of a challenge - high standards have to be provided to meet high standards of some well-travelled audience.”

Despite having cooked for royalty and at government summits, it was a whole different ballgame at EFC, due to the journey of the food - dishes weren’t just travelling a few feet from kitchen to table. “It’s an entirely different method - not every food item will travel well. If I cook French fries and serve it on a flight, after it’s been blast chilled and reheated, it will have lost its crispness, its very essence.”

Saud has brought various Arabic flavours to the food served on Emirates flights Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Catering to countless cultures

Introducing Emirati dishes on flights in an attempt to present the cuisine to both old and new audiences was important to Saud. He says while Emirati cuisine has been based on the desert environment in the UAE, it lends itself to some remarkable flavours. “We have a very beautiful, humble cuisine that’s not well known worldwide, and I would like people to try it and know it. You have herbs, protein from the desert or protein from the sea. It has influences from around the region – India, the Levant. The main influences are of course from Indian cuisine because of the spices we used to get from there. Also the cooking technique – we have dishes similar to the biryani and those similar to the curry, like saloona. But our versions are way milder than Indian ones. The techniques in terms of stir-frying, fried onions, garlic paste, protein, then coating protein with the spices are the same.”

The UAE’s beginnings define its culinary heritage

He says various beginnings have defined the cuisine. “People back then lived a very hard life and wanted to preserve these ingredients all they could do was pickle or salt fish, or dehydrate, such as powdered yogurt, so they could carry it while travelling they’d hydrate it again and drink it. Now, as Arabs we’re known for larger portions and generosity - but not a smaller, casual or fine dining projection of the dishes.”

So, Chef Al Matrooshi set about achieving just that, introducing Emirati dishes on flights for a two-in-one outcome: First, for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine, and the second, for a new audience to discover it. So the machboos, [a spiced chicken and rice pilaf], was introduced on both a London flight and a Munich one. “We have seasonal cycles, and we put the unique flavours of the machboos on the summer cycle, the popular one, when a lot of Arabs travel abroad, and they loved it.”

Al Matrooshi set about introducing Emirati dishes on flights both for the Arab traveller to find their cuisine and for a new audience to discover it Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

Another Emirati dish that found popularity on flights was the fish tahta - fish deep-fried with Emirati spices, a little curry, and rice added on top, similar to biryani. “It was very well received, especially as people didn’t expect to see it. We had some great feedback.” So was the bzar chicken - chicken made in a fragrant spice blend, authentically Emirati.

A fusion route

But for a wider audience, Al Matrooshi says the first step was going down a fusion route - in essence building bridges between cuisines. “Anyone new to Emirati cuisine will try it because it has been merged with another more familiar one. And that will then inspire them to try the traditional version, paving the way for the cuisine as a whole,” he said. “Modern flavours, playing around with different kind of fruits and vegetables… the ingredients are still local, the twist is only in the technique.”

An example of such a twist is the ouzi.

“Traditionally, we cook a whole lamb – if we want smaller portions, we cook the shoulder or leg, and if we want it smaller, we choose a premium cut like short rib - something that has a bone, because the identity of this dish is to have the bone with meat. In my fusion version, I’ve done away with the bone and used boneless cubes. And I’ve stir-fried it. But I’ve still stuck to traditions… such as using dates at the end as a coating.”

The two key ingredients

Chef Al Matrooshi lists two elements to Emirati food - the Emirati spice mix and Emirati ghee or clarified butter. While the spice mix bzar is available everywhere, the ghee is found in bigger supermarkets. “What makes the ghee special is a secret ingredient – dates,” Saud said. “It’s purified butter that comes from animal fat, with certain spices added to it. Dates are added to preserve the moisture inside the ghee.

Chef Al Matrooshi uses the spice mix bzar in almost every dish he cooks, and calls it the essence of Emirati food. "There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar." Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/GN

“As for the bzar, if we go way back, all these spices are from India. It’s a mix of garam masala, tandoor masala and biryani masala - each one is very different based on the balance of the spices. Bzar is one of the many spice mixes around the world like Chinese five-spice, and every Emirati household has it. There are four kinds – chicken, meat, fish and a general bzar. All you need to do is toss whole spices in a pan, not for a long time, just until the oils come out. Then you blend it into a powder.”

The future looks vegan

Al Matrooshi aims to continue reinventing dishes, techniques of cooking, and presentation. “Arabic food with a Western twist. I have no limits when it comes to food, no favourite places, I keep experimenting. I eat everywhere – a shawarma joint one night, a fine dining one the next, a hidden gem I was told about.”

He’s also now working on menu around Arabic vegan food – he’s created numerous dishes that have an Arabic identity but are vegan. “There are now lots of vegetarian and vegan demands - but customers want it in Arabic cuisine. In the Arab world protein is key, but not so for the new generation. It’s quite a challenge to find ways to take out the protein. I did a fasulia (lamb and bean stew) recently, minus the lamb - mixed beans cooked slowly in a stew with Arabic spices, served with dill rice. The innovation continues.”

Read on for easy recipes from Saud to cook up an Emirati feast at home, plus a recipe to make the spice mix Emirati bzar.