Dubai: UAE celebrated the sixth edition of Emirati Women's Day on Saturday, under the theme 'Women: Ambitions & Inspiration for the Next 50 Years'. The celebration holds particular significance as it coincides with the celebration of UAE's 'Year of the 50th'.
In line with both of these observations, we spoke to Laila Al Mansoori, Chef at DoubleTree by Hilton Resort & Spa Marjan Island. As an Emirati and as a woman, she aims to make a significant mark on the global culinary scene while paying tribute to Emirati culture and cuisine. Here are the excerpts from our interview:
Why did you decide to become a chef?
I chose the culinary industry because it is a distinguished field for an Emirati woman. I excel in the kitchen and people recognise me because of what I can bring to the table (so to speak). Hospitality is deeply ingrained in our culture and who we are as Emiratis -- that and the delicious aroma of food cooking in the kitchen, which reminds me of family times I cherish deeply, is what drives me to share that experience with guests every day. I am dedicated to progressing in a career that I truly love.
Was it difficult for you to enter this clearly male-dominated sector?
The work environment has many challenges for any female. You need to have the ability to withstand the pressure and long working hours and work well with people from all nationalities. Most importantly, you need to continue to master your abilities and skills as a professional chef, especially when it comes to finding solutions in emergencies. But despite the challenges, nothing is impossible. My belief in my abilities and my quest to constantly develop myself has opened so many doors to achieve honorable success.
As an Emirati woman and chef, how do you feel that you can inspire the new generation of girls in the country?
My message to every Emirati woman, every mother, every sister, and every daughter is that as long as you are doing something you love and doing it with conviction, there is no such thing as impossible.
As the UAE celebrates its fiftieth year, how do you feel as a citizen about the tangible progress the country has made in various fields with regard to gender balance and equality?
I feel incredibly proud. Being distinguished, having the opportunity to realise my ambitions, and being in a society that truly values and empowers women is truly something to be proud of and makes me very optimistic not just about my future but for the generations of women to come.
What is the influence of Emirati culture and cuisine on your culinary style?
I acquired and became familiar with so many cultures from my field of work as an Emirati. I have learnt about the culture of international culinary art, blending it with my own Emirati cooking techniques where possible to create a fusion of global and Emirati flavours. The cultural nuances of dialogue, body language, and the various expressions of greetings and peace from many different countries – these are all valuable things I have learned through my work in hospitality and gastronomy.
What is your ambition as a chef in terms of advancing your culinary skills or ideas?
I aspire to establish an Emirati academic institute for chefs and highlight the Emirati identity in the world of global gastronomy.
During my career, I invested in my abilities until I became affiliated with more than one prestigious organisation. For example, I am a certified trainer and a member of the Emirates Chefs Association. I also received the Sheikh Saqr Award for Governmental Excellence, and I have a professional diploma in Hospitality and Culinary Arts from the American University of Ras Al Khaimah.
Additionally, I participated in many international competitions and culinary programmes on TV channels. I was also honored by the country’s leadership for excellence in my field.
What advice would you give young Emiratis about pursuing their dreams, especially girls?
My message to Emirati women on Emirati Women’s Day is to never be afraid to pursue their dreams, and this includes a career in hospitality. It is a diverse, interesting field where you will never stop growing and learning. As we are on the front lines of the tourism sector, it is a great way to introduce people who visit us from around the world to Emirati culture.