Life’s come a full circle for Dubai-based expatriate Simy Mathews. “I still get the shivers… Being on the Lowe menu, I am pinching myself, I still can’t believe it…,” says the 49-year-old relocation business entrepreneur, who won a local talent hunt by the Dubai-based Michelin-recognised restaurant Lowe, earlier this year.
The main prize – her recipe would be featured on the restaurant’s menu for a month. And it’s happening, her recipe for Kerala Beef Cutlets is available at Lowe for the entire month of June, titled Beef Croquettes.
For the Dubai-raised Malayalee, this is how dreams come true. “I have always been fascinated with food … more so to eat it. I hung around the kitchen growing up, mum’s a great cook, I loved to cook a lot, try out different cuisines. That’s my food story.
“I was born in India, Thiruvananthapuram, but raised in Dubai … so this is very much home to me.” She has two siblings, a younger sister who is based in Dubai and a brother based in Bangalore, India.
A cinematic food interlude
In 2014, she got a frantic call from a friend. A well-known Kerala chef Anil Kumar who went into people’s homes and cooked for a television show was facing a crisis – the Dubai-based family whose home was scheduled for the shoot had bailed.
“I refused, saying not going to go on television,” Mathews says but they convinced her. The show was a success. She was invited to co-host several such shows and did that for multiple channels including Kairali TV and Mazhavil Manorama.
Then 2018 brought a bit of a career downturn. Mathews was made redundant as the company relocated to Manila in Philippines. However, soon enough she was offered a top position in Belgrade, Serbia. She spent three years there and did a lot of supper clubs. “The pop ups introduced people to Indian cuisine other than butter chicken and naan. I remember people asking where is the roti … in the South we hardly eat roti, we have appams instead.”
She returned in 2020 to Dubai and went back to the relocation business. “I am now the owner of a moving company based in Dubai.
“I had just been waiting for an opportunity to do something, so when I saw the Lowe contest, I participated for fun. I never expected to win. I didn’t tell my family either. I thought, let me see how it goes. I was one of the finalists. All these fancy dishes and highly qualified participants, and me with my cutlets. I told my sister that I just wouldn’t go for the finals. She said, just go and meet people. They gave us four hours to cook, and I was done in two. I was so shocked to be the winner.
“They said they had never tasted a dish so flavourful. It would be a good fit for the Lowe menu!”
The reasons for winning
Chef Muhammad Ali Shiddique, the Singaporean head chef at Lowe, tells Gulf News: “The community is a major part of Lowe… we have a lot of residents who come here and we wanted to give back to them. We also wanted to learn what else is there outside that we cannot find in restaurants, what they would cook at home, what is their favourite food at home. We reached out to the public and organised this competition. And we found this very delicious beef cutlet, which we are excited to show on the menu.
“The flavour is what stood out for all the judges … a very simple dish but really appealed once we tasted it. It was really flavourful and hands down beat the rest of the competition.”
The community is a major part of Lowe… we have a lot of residents who come here and we wanted to give back to them. We also wanted to learn what else is there outside that we cannot find in restaurants, what they would cook at home, what is their favourite food at home. We reached out to the public and organised this competition. And we found this very delicious beef cutlet, which we are excited to show on the menu. The flavour is what stood out for all the judges … a very simple dish but really appealed once we tasted it. It was really flavourful and hands down beat the rest of the competition.
The restaurant plans to make it an annual event to discover more such local talent. They hope to get many more entries next year as part of the talent hunt including new recipes and cooking skills.
Zachary Roy, the restaurant manager at Lowe, which won its second Michelin green star recently, says, “The green star is for sustainability practices… how we interact with the community around us, who we work with and what we choose to put on our plates. We ensure that we work with local suppliers as much as possible in a farm to table sort of ethos and with a nose to tail ethos, and what I mean by that is that we don’t like to waste anything.
“An example … we took the peelings from the potatoes for our French fries and our chef turned it into a potato ice cream. We recycle everything we have. We make sure that our footprint is as little as possible.” The restaurant opened in 2019. He believes that this sustainable trend is going to expand further as there are already three restaurants with the Michelin green star in Dubai including Boca and Teible.
Roy says, “This is the first time we have done Lowe’s local talent search. It started with an idea to let’s show people that they don’t have to be a professional chef in order to come up with these ideas and concepts. A person cooking at home for their child or loved ones at home when they get home from work can create these really amazing dishes that are restaurant worthy – you don’t need a million dollars-worth of equipment to plate something that is truly special.
This is the first time we have done Lowe’s local talent search. It started with an idea to let’s show people that they don’t have to be a professional chef in order to come up with these ideas and concepts. A person cooking at home for their child or loved ones at home when they get home from work can create these really amazing dishes that are restaurant worthy – you don’t need a million dollars-worth of equipment to plate something that is truly special.
“It was open to anybody who applied in early February, we had chosen our finalists then there was Ramadan and we pushed the final to April.”
About 20 applicants sent in their recipes, five got shortlisted but one dropped out and on April 26, four finalists went through a live cooking test. The winner was chosen by the restaurant management along with the head chef.
“Everybody that partook had really amazing dishes and concepts … with Simi’s dish, there was something about the story, the textures, it had a little bit of a kick …. It is simple, homegrown, it is tasty, and it is beautiful.”
For Simi, the winning recipe is part of her heritage and culinary tradition. Click here to get Simy Mathews' award-winning recipe for Kerala beef croquettes.
“In Kerala, every Syrian Christian household has these beef cutlets in the freezer, we are so familiar with it – I love fried food and love that cutlets have a crispy texture and are soft on the inside. Also working with Lowe helped me elevate the dish with the addition of sumac onions and smoked labneh, along with learning so many aspects. Onions have to be cooked down well, that shallots are so much more flavourful than using normal onions and Panko breadcrumbs are crispier than regular breadcrumbs. You need to put spices but not overpower the meat, which is the star of the dish, let the meat shine. The recipe has a 70 per cent meat, 30 per cent potatoes ratio. The key is mince with good fat marbling, at the restaurant they are using sirloin for it.
“Portuguese trade brought this dish to Kerala and then we added spices, flavours to create something unique. Cutlets are such a celebratory thing.”
She always enjoyed cooking, so much so that she originally wanted to pursue a career in catering and hotel management but didn’t end up going because Mathews didn’t get through the entrance exam. “I went on to get a degree in business and finance. But with this win, life has come a full circle … God works in mysterious ways.”
Share your favourite food stories with us on email@example.com
(Note: This article was first published in June 2023)