“In The Kitchen With….” is a new feature added to my blog, where I will be interviewing chefs in Kuwait with few questions! While doing so, I will be telling the chef what I don’t like (food-wise) and the chef’s challenge here is to prepare a dish that is not on the menu for me to judge! I am starting this feature with Chef Dana AlTourah, the first chef to be interviewed for this challenge. The very first time I met Dana was back in 2009 by my friend Mohammed AlMatouq (link) and I have been a fan of hers since then!
I arrived Tatami where she currently works at 6:00PM – a somewhat off-peak hour for Dana to be able to prepare something for me. I snapped few pictures here and there before hitting the kitchen with the chef.
She prepared everything while I was chit-chatting with her in the kitchen! She was really sweet talking in details about things I asked about, giving kitchen tips, talking about her job as a chef… a free spirited young lady! Loved that in her
If You had to cook a nice meal in 30 minutes (or less), what would it be?
I would sear a fillet of fish and drizzle it with lemon & olive oil, sprinkle of sea salt. I would also blanch some veggies (like asparagus or string beans), then quick sauté them with shallots & garlic, just to meld the flavors, and sprinkle the veggies with toasted shaved almonds. I would also make myself a cherry tomato salad with avocado chunks, tossed in a lemon thyme vinaigrette.
What is the longest you ever worked without a break in the kitchen?
Probably around 9/10 hours or so for catering gigs
Do you wait to eat dinner until your evening customers are all fed?
I don’t plan meals when I’m in the kitchen, I graze as I go along. It’s definitely not a sit down for dinner situation, more like a standing at the counter devouring food between seatings situation. I try to do most of my eating earlier on in the day before dinner service. Then I munch on fruit or labna when I get home.
What was your worst kitchen disaster?
Thankfully I haven’t really had any major disasters… injuries, yes.
I was removing a large HOT pan out of the oven, using hand towels (we don’t use oven mitts in the kitchen). The oven had doors that swung out on both sides, so I was in-between both open doors taking this pan out and backing out of the space when another chef tripped and put his hand out to catch himself…. on the oven door. The door closed on my arm, pressing my forearm into the pan, searing it nicely on both sides for a good amount of time.
The only thing I could think was “DON’T DROP THE PAN!!!” I did not, which made for a deeper burn. This was at the beginning of my shift.
The worst part about burns is that the pain gets worse after the fact for a few hours. Not fun. You have to just suck it up and continue working like nothing happened.
Do you cook at home?
Not as much as I would like to. When I do cook at home, it’s usually a 2-day ordeal, as I’m cooking for occasions, like having people over for futoor, Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
I took a bit of a detour before committing myself to being a full time chef.
I started cooking when I was in college. I would host big dinners at my apartment, and cook all day for them. People would drop in throughout the day to help out, and then more would show up for dinner. I loved the process of going to the market to get fresh ingredients, playing around with recipes, and putting my own twists on them. My memories of food & cooking are my favorite from when I was studying in the States, and cooking in my own space was something that I had missed the most when I came back to Kuwait. After working for an investment company here for a few years, I felt like I needed to change my career.
So I packed up and moved to New York City in 2008 to give myself some time to reconnect with the things I had enjoyed. I needed to throw myself in a different environment to shake myself out of the rut I was feeling from working in a corporate office. I took a few recreational cooking classes initially, and that’s when I knew that this is what I needed to pursue. So I signed up for the Chef’s Training Program at the Natural Gourmet Institute and trained full time to become a chef.
Can you describe a prize-winning Dish? And what is your best masterpiece in the kitchen?
If at your first bite you stop, nod your head, make yum noises, and your eyes grow big, you know you’ve got a winning dish.
When I braise ribs and the meat just falls apart when you pick it up, those dishes are usually the most crowd-pleasing ones. I also make a fantastic roasted pumpkin pecan pie. Fresh pumpkin roasted to perfection & pureed for the filling with fall season spices, toasted pecans, flakey butter crust, freshly whipped vanilla bean cream… it’s good stuff.
Describe your typical day as a chef:
Wake up, work out, eat, get ready and I’m out.
When I get into the restaurant, I check the mise en place in the kitchen, check the stations, and production work being done. I then touch base with all staff, including front of the house. When orders come in, I’m in the kitchen overseeing the orders being fired, if we’ve super busy, I’ll jump in at a station.
I also spend a lot of time in the kitchen developing recipes for our catering arm, Crave, and also testing recipes for our cooking classes, which we offer through “Whisk Cooking Classes.” We also provide consultancy services (Culinary Concepts) for other restaurants, so I spend a lot of time developing recipes and menus for our clients.
What do you love most about your job?
The fact that no two days are ever alike, the continuous development of recipes, menus, ideas. Being a chef demands that creativity be in constant development, you never stop learning. Ever.
I also love the camaraderie involved with the staff and interacting with customers, clients, and cooking class students. You learn a lot about yourself and about people working in this industry.
Tell us more about yourself:
My comfort meal is: White rice with lentil soup. Sounds boring, but I prefer simple, homey foods.
If I’m stranded on a deserted island, the five foods I would want to have with me: Dates, nuts, olives, cheese and seeds for planting grains, fruit, herbs & veggies… oh, and drinking water (since its not a food, I’ll add it in as an essential)
The most essential items in the kitchen to me are: A sharp knife, a whisk, heat-proof rubber spatula & an all-clad saute pan
My favorite kitchen tool is: Since I absolutely loathe waste, it would have to be my rubber spatula, it picks up every bit of sauce/batter
If I wasn’t a chef, or in the food business, I would: Have a nursery. Well it probably be more of a boot camp for toddlers actually
The Five things I cannot live without (does not have to be food related): My passport, my darling nieces Faye & Samar (and the rest of my family), my dogs, running shoes & good tweezers
My biggest culinary guilty pleasure is: vanilla ice cream! Pints and pints and pints of it. I also have a weak spot for semsamiya
Moment of truth….
Dana placed the potatoes on a plate, topped’em with the steak and then drizzled the mushroom sauce all over it… on top of which, she added a dollop of goat cheese and sprinkle it with finely chopped chives
The steak was juicy and tender… cooked perfectly to medium, just the way I like! The sauces with all those mixed flavors within, the in-house made beef stock, the hint of mustard, the dried herbs, fresh mushroom, the strong goat cheese… the meat itself and the potatoes! Whoa! I believe this was one of the best steaks I have had in K-Town!! It earned 518 Seal of Approval on spot
Tatami is located on Amr Ibn AlKhattab St in Kuwait City – Its advisable to reserve a table before going because its usually full – Call 22251266
If interested, you can check my first Tatami review here 😉