Dubai: The UAE is home to one of the fastest growing culinary scenes in the world. People living here have hundreds of different cuisines to choose from. Dubai alone houses a plethora of young chefs working hard to make a name for themselves.
Sahar Al Awadhi is one of them.
Hardworking, passionate and in love with hectic life of working in the kitchen. The young woman is the first and only female Emirati Pastry Chef in the region. Her kitchen of choice, the Burj Al Arab.
Sahar’s career could have taken an entirely different direction were it not for her passion for pastry. After graduating from high school, Sahar went on to study Communications and Design Management at the American University of Sharjah. Her first job was at Zayed University where she handled social media, communications, marketing and branding for four years.
“I loved that job!” she said. “I got to work on their social platforms and start them from scratch! It was amazing and creative and wonderful, but deep down I knew that I wanted to work in the restaurant business.”
That was when she took a leap of faith to follow her passion for pastry as an experimental journey. “I quit my job without having another one lined up, I knew I would succeed because I wanted it bad enough.”
It was due to this that a Sahar applied to work at Dubai’s home-grown restaurant La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie in 2014, in the role of Pastry Commis.
Based in this position for one year, Sahar worked alongside one of Dubai’s most talented chefs, Izu Ani, who recognized her talents and sent her to Paris to perfect the art of bread making from his own mentor at ‘Le Saint Georges’.
Sahar returned to La Serre for another year before joining the team at Burj Al Arab in 2016. She joined as a Junior Sous Chef and worked her way up to Pastry Chef.
She knew her whole life that she wanted to work with food.
“I love pastries and being in a kitchen. It is a very tough job. I work 14 hour days on my feet and have to do the same thing over and over again and I don’t mind because I love it so much. I get to do what I am passionate about.” Sahar is among the few Emirati women who work in the culinary sector.
The Emirati influence on her craftsmanship
“The Emirati culture by nature is a hospitable one that is warm and generous, we love to share an abundance of food with family and friends which I think is clear in the type of dishes that are traditionally associated with this region.
"As I work on creating new recipes and developing ideas I often look to my Emirati heritage for inspiration, there are lots of ways to innovate and incorporate ingredients so that we can provide unique experiences through our offerings.”
I quit my job without having another one lined up, I knew I would succeed because I wanted it bad enough.
“My earliest memory of a dish that got me really excited (and still does) is Belaleet, which we have on Eid morning. Belaleet is essentially vermicelli noodles cooked sweet with notes of saffron and cardamom and topped with an egg omelette (extra salt for me because I love the contrast of sweet and salty – they bring out each other’s flavours). The most amazing thing about this dish is that for 364 days a year, our family of seven rarely enjoy breakfast together, but on Eid morning everyone makes it to the table for Belaleet.”
Sahar’s food philosophy is centered on the ingredients and where they come from. Using and supporting local produce is something that she has long been an advocate of. “Whether we are buying local, regional or international, I make sure to instill that ethic in my team so that they are educated on how we can make a difference through what we choose.”
Today, Chef Sahar works alongside a team of 34 pastry chefs in a kitchen that operates 24 hours a day.
What time do you usually wake up?
What is the first thing you do?
When my alarm goes off, Google Assistant tells me the weather, the time it will take me to get to work and what’s on my calendar. It then plays a podcast and I’ll listen in bed for around 15 minutes while I plan out my day and then I’ll check my phone.
When you check your phone, what do you look at first?
What do you usually choose to wear for work and why?
Chef jacket, it’s my uniform.
What do you have for breakfast?
When do you have to be at work?
What does your usual day at work look like?
At Burj Al Arab, no two days are the same. Typically, I’ll have lots of emails to work through as well as food tastings and menu development which keeps things interesting and exciting.
What do you like to eat on your lunch break?
I very rarely take a lunch break, I am tasting food all day so I don’t get hungry or have huge amounts of spare time. If I get the chance, I’ll take a freshly baked bread roll from the bakery at 5pm and eat that with cheese.
What time do you go home?
There’s no specific time, but I usually work a 12 hour day. I love it!