Dubai: Making the perfect pizza dough may take years of practice for many chefs but for 13-year-old Abdulrahman Al Hashmi it came naturally. Keeping up with his passion is his 13-year-old twin sister Maitha Al Hashmi, who tosses noodles in a skillet like a professional chef. Meet UAE’s youngest Emirati chefs.
Their Instagram account gives us a glimpse of their culinary journey and passion for food. For instance, one can see pictures of grilled wagyu steak, noodles, lamb Bukhara, beef wellington, penne pasta, pastries and a 10-kilogram, three-tier cake to name a few. International Centre for Culinary Arts, Dubai, the institute where they received their professional diploma, introduced them as ‘the youngest twin Emirati chefs studying the professional program in cookery’ in a post shared on September 25, earlier this year.
Gulf News Food met with the young culinary stars for a chat on what got them started on this unique journey….
From coding to cooking…
Abdulrahaman, a grade 9 student at Dubai ATS (Institute of Applied Technology), loves to grill and bake. “I enjoy cooking, as it is a fun thing to do for myself. It is also about creativity in creating dishes and the excitement associated with that,” he said. Apart from his passion for cooking, he is tech-savvy and spends a lot of time doing computer programming, robotics, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence. Whereas Maitha, fond of Italian and Indian cuisine for its spicy flavours, is a grade 9 student at Science Research School, Dubai. She said: “I like to cook because it is relaxing, exciting and crazy at the same time. And, most of all, it is the excitement of cooking for the people I love.” Maitha enjoys drawing cartoons and playing outdoor sports such as horse riding, basketball and badminton.
They draw a lot of inspiration for food, arts and academics from their parents and grandparents. “Our parents and our grandmother are our role models, especially when it comes to cooking because they are so passionate about good food.” Abdulrahman and Maitha are Dr Shihaab Ghanem’s grandchildren. He is a famous Emirati poet and the first Arab to win the Indian Tagore Peace Award.
Their journey into the kitchen
They must have been around four or five years old when they first started helping their dad cook. “I used to cook a lot, say breakfast, like eggs and all. So they used to come and help me,” Dr Waddah Al Hashmi, their father who works in the UAE’s energy sector, told the Gulf News Food team. Sharing a memory, he said, “Abdulrahman has always been a boy who likes to question. When he was around five years old, he came to me and said that he wanted to cut onions. However, I refused because the process involved a lot of tears and told him that he could not do it. His next question was, ‘But how do you do it?’ To which I replied, ‘My eyes still itch, but I have years of practice.’”
Abdulrahman refused to accept the answer and wanted to understand the science behind what makes one cry while cutting onions, and his father explained. After a few minutes, Dr Waddah was surprised to see his son cut onions without shedding a tear.
“He wore swimming goggles to cut onions! Now you see, he has a knack for understanding concepts; he is an intelligent lad!”
It was the same for Maitha; she entered the kitchen at a young age. “They are so attached, you see. They do fight a lot, but that’s different. They do many activities together, like horse riding, something they are excellent at. Maitha has other things she is busy with at the moment. For instance, she is an excellent cartoonist and also good at reciting the Quran, for which she has received many awards,” said Maitha’s mother, Hind Al Kindi.
From an early age, the twins would cook different cuisines at home for their family and friends as a hobby, and with time it became a habit. Their parents took notice of their passion and thought it would help them pursue their love of cooking better, if they got a professional certificate. “Because then they will be known as chefs...,” said their mother. And that’s what the brother-sister duo went ahead and did.
“Learning professional cooking will enable us to study food science to ensure we don’t go wrong while cooking for others or when we are invited/offered to cook with some chefs at their restaurants. As we don’t only learn practical cooking at the institute but a lot of theory on food hygiene, sustainability and even the economics of operating a kitchen and the hospitality industry overall,” explained Abdulrahman.
The diploma and black box challenge
This twins often joke at the expense of each other but it is always in good humour, for come adversity, they are a team; like any other siblings, maybe more, because they are twins and more attached, said their mother. To which their father, Dr Waddah agreed, and said, “When they were told at International Centre for Culinary Arts, Dubai (ICCA) that they are too young for a professional cooking course, they were not deterred. Instead, they came together and challenged older students at the academy for a black box challenge.”
A black box challenge is a cooking competition between two teams, where a box of ingredients are handed to them, and within a limited timeframe, they have to use the ingredients to prepare a unique dish.
It was their determination and perseverance that got them through the course. There were obstacles, and many people criticised them when they decided to join the professional course. Many older students could not comprehend how such a young duo could compete or even be on a par with them. But Abdulrahman and Maitha proved that age is just a number.
Working hard and believing in themselves, Abdulrahman and Maitha became UAEs youngest national twin chefs to get a Diploma in Cookery from the International Centre for Culinary Arts (ICCA), Dubai. Abdulrahman said: “The final test was a three-course meal, and we did not know what we were to cook until the test started, but I was pretty confident.” So was Maitha, “I was very nervous at the start, but by the end, I was confident, and I passed with a good mark as well.”
The certification did not come easy, and it involved three months of theoretical studies and labour intensive work in the kitchen. “It was like military training. The twins would wake up at 6am and go for their training, which involved long hours of standing. Right from cleaning dishes, to chopping vegetables, with minimal breaks, they did get to experience what goes on in a professional kitchen,” said Dr Waddah. “And not just that, there were theoretical studies and exams involved as well,” added Hind.
Cooking taught the twins to be responsible
Not only did they earn a professional degree, but by the end of the course, they became more responsible. To which Abdulrahman said: “I think the diploma was a very challenging and tough course that changed us.” His mother added: “To go to school, they started waking up early, setting their own alarms and even started making a to-do list for their tasks. Abdulrahman became more structured and disciplined when it came to academics. They both realised that if you put more effort, you will see better results.” Whereas for Maitha, she became more conscious of the cooking processes. “We are more conscious about the storage temperatures and hygiene as before we didn’t know much about the science, health and safety in cooking, as well as the different techniques,” she said.
Their personality types complement each other in the kitchen. Dr Waddah said. “He is the more energetic but she is the one who is more resilient and has a stronger personality.” Their passion for cooking unites them and brings the family together.
A family that travels and cooks together
It might come as a surprise, but not many people believe that the twins have not eaten burgers and other junk food from famous fast-food chains, said their mother. Instead, they have always been fond of fresh home-cooked meals, including watching how they are prepared. Dr Waddah said: “Even when we travel, we rent out properties that have a kitchen because we cannot keep eating outside for so many days.”
But this does not restrict them from trying out new and different cuisines. “We enjoy different cuisines, and we like to try as many cuisines as possible to get to know other countries food cultures,” Maitha said. They want to continue working on their skills and enriching their knowledge in the future. Abdulrahman added: “Maybe we would like to associate on a part-time basis with some good restaurants and cafes; maybe take cooking even more seriously.”
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