Abu Dhabi: Five-time college dropout and full-time day dreamer, Khulood Atiq had no clue what to do with her life. That was five years ago.
Today she is Chef Khulood, and has a flourishing career as the first Emirati female chef who is flying high as the brand ambassador for the local cuisine.
Currently hosting two popular cookery shows on local television channels, and busy in her new role as the national chef at the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA), the mother of one, who is expecting her second baby soon, says cooking is both her mission and passion.
“I was just sitting at home and wasting my time doing nothing. One day, my brother asked me what my plans were. And I blurted out ‘I want to cook’. That was the turning point of my life (this was in 2007),” Khulood told XPRESS.
With the help of her brother’s friend, Khulood enrolled as a culinary assistant with the Jumeirah Group of Hotels. And then there was no looking back. From 2008 to 2010 she held an Emirati-speciality chef position at Mina Al Salam, Jumeirah Group, where she was responsible for creating an Emirati menu.
Later she was handpicked by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), as the Arabian and Emirati cuisine specialist and was responsible for developing and preserving local culture by introducing Arabic and Emirati dishes at food and beverage outlets in the UAE.
To take off her abaya and don the chef’s gear was not easy, says Khulood. “My parents were supportive. But my extended family was against me working in a male-dominated area where I would have to break the traditional dress code,” she said.
But Khulood would not give up on her dreams. She knew she had bigger challenges outside her family. “Being ambitious for an Emirati woman is difficult. Initially my colleagues did not take me seriously because I am a local and they thought I was just having fun.”
But in no time stereotypes and prejudices gave way to appreciation and respect as Khulood’s talent and commitment to cooking were exemplary.
Currently, she is the author of a cookery book – Sarareed – which she released with the cooperation of TCA. The book, in Arabic and English, talks about traditional Emirati recipes and also gives an insight into Emirati hospitality.
The book also features some of Khulood’s signature fusion dishes like Cheesecake Beteeta, Risotte Machaboos and Jasheed Croquette. “Apart from trying to promote the traditional recipes, I do a lot of experimentation with the traditional recipes and come up with fusion dishes that will appeal to an international audience,” said Khulood.
“I want to take Emirati cuisine to the world and I am currently working on the next three series of Sarareed,” she said.
Camel Milk Ice Cream with Batheetha
1/2 liter of camel milk, 4 egg yolks, 125g of sugar, 6 crushed cardamom seeds, 200g of cream.
Prepare the custard: Put the milk in a saucepan with the cardamom until gently bring to boil. Place egg yolks in a bowl and add the sugar. Whisk the mixture to blend. Pour the boiling milk over the egg and sugar mixture. Put it back in the saucepan and let the custard cook very slowly over the heat until it becomes thick texture. Remove the cardamom seeds. Put the custard in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours.
Ice cream method: Add the cream to the custard mixture. Place in the ice cream maker for 1/2 hour.
Serve: Serve the ice cream with Batheetha (traditional dessert, see recipe) sprinkled over and fairness dates on the side
Batheetha (from Sarareed)
Batheetha is baked and can be stored for several months as it does not contain any water. Travellers used to carry Batheetha with them and ate it as lunch for it was considered a full meal that would provide them with energy during their long journeys.
1kg of seedless dates, 2 cups of roasted flour, 3/4 to 1 cup of ghee, 1/2 teaspoon of fennel (optional), 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom powder (optional)
Preparation method: Put the roasted flour in a pot. Add the dates, ghee, cardamom and fennel to the flour. Mix the ingredients by hand until they turn into crumbs. Store in an airtight container and serve at any time.
Chef’s note: Dates are easier to crumble when the flour is hot.