By Mudassir Raja
He is on a personal mission. His mission is to introduce authentic Qatari cuisine to the world. He is not alone in his mission. His mother — his guide shows him the way.
Mohammed Abdul Malik al-Hammadi is not a chef by profession but he has inherited the love and passion for food from his mother Aisha al-Tamimi, a Qatari celebrity chef and media personality. Mohammed has been supporting his mother every inch of the way to promote and introduce authentic Qatari culinary experiences world over.
The son and mother have teamed up in the mission and have recently set up a cooking academy — The Cooking Academy (TCA) — to introduce Qatari food to the world and vice versa. In an interview with Community, Mohammed, CEO, TCA, spoke extensively about TCA and his mission at length.
By profession an aeronautical engineer, Mohammed also carries a degree in strategic management. He has a full time job but his interest in food continues to grow. “I come from a media family. My father — Dr Ahmed Abdul Malik al-Hammadi — remained associated with TV and newspapers in Qatar. He is also a novelist. My sister is also a journalist. My mother is a TV chef. I have studied in the UK and Canada.
“Travelling is my hobby. I have travelled to 51 countries so far. I travel with purpose. I am part of an archaeological group called Wahat. This is a Spain-based group. They have been carrying different archaeology activities in Sudan. We have been excavating multiple sites there since 2010. Archaeology has given a purpose to my hobby of travelling. I go out meet the people and understand their culture. I try to figure out the mystery of history and bridge the gaps of cultures.
“This hobby has made me enter different cultures, taste different foods and have more understanding about the food.”
Mohammed’s first real interaction with the art of food took place when he was only five. “It was Ramadan. I was introduced to fasting. There used to be a lot of free time during the holy month for me as a kid. I would see my mother busy in the kitchen. She would always invite me to the kitchen. The very first thing that I ever made was a samosa roll with the help of my mother.
“Later in my life, when my mother became an expert culinary professional, I started supporting her through different ventures by way of arranging her travels and escorting her to other countries.
“I would like to mention two major international events where I was with my mother promoting Qatari cuisine. These events brought me closer to the kitchen. The first was Expo Milan in 2014; it was a four-month-long exhibition. My mother was the main Qatari chef there. The second event was 2016 Rio Olympics where Qatar has a big project called The House of Qatar. We stayed there for 40 days. I was involved both in the kitchen and with the operation. The organisers gave us a staff of 150 people, all Portuguese speaking. Using my communication skills, I helped my mother manage the staff. We delivered a very successful event there.
“The purpose of the project was to showcase Qatar to the world in Brazil. As many as 7,000 people entered the house. One part of the house was the kitchen offering authentic Qatari cuisine. We created a fusion menu having local flavours with a Qatari touch. There, I met a lot of different people related to food and cooking industry bringing me closer to the kitchen.”
Mohammed tried to set up a high-end restaurant to serve Qatari food at The Pearl but his business idea could not materialise because of the unjust blockade of Qatar. Instead, he started working on the concept of TCA. However, during his efforts to set up the restaurant, he learnt diverse sides to cooking. “I realised that man is distinct from other creatures because we have discovered and developed the art of cooking. This art has led to development of a civilised world. I thought to take the statistics of today, strength of cooking from the past, and to add my mother’s experience. I decided to build a reference or a cornerstone of Qatar where I will bring the local flavour — courtesy my mother — and chefs from different countries working in Qatar. Qatar has become a cosmopolitan country.
“The TCA is more of our value-adding project than a commercial project. It is an edutainment company. It is mix of both education and entertainment. The academy was started in July 2018. Initially, we worked in collaboration with Qatar Foundation and later with Ikea. TCA offers services such as building a team for the new businesses, consultative services, idea development and cooking classes for house cooks, professional chefs, and leisure cooking for children. The most interesting part is sharing cooking knowledge and how to handle various foods with the kids.”
In response to a question about what kind of food he likes; home cooked or from restaurant, Mohammed said: “I love the food cooked by my mother. I will tell you my daily case. Nine out of ten times, I prefer eating at home, the food prepared by my mother. We make sure that whosoever comes to the academy learns the cooking mothers do.”
For Mohammed, there is a certain kind of motherly spirit that needs to be present in the food. “There is a spirit that must be the driving force for a chef. I fire people from my academy only when they lose the spirit. You harm yourself by doing the job that you are not interested in. In the food, a chef serves a piece of him or herself also to the customers. The customer will know if the cook is sad or in bad mood. It is the small touch that differentiates good food from bad. The two chefs can prepare a same recipe with two different tastes. I will never be able to teach chefs the spirit but I can teach you how to develop the spirit. Being a Qatari platform, our vision is to link food professionals and food lovers.”
About the question regarding whether he prefers nutrition over taste, Mohammed said: “Being a cooking academy, we cannot label ourselves in one direction. Food is served in different ways in different countries. East depends on industrialised food, Europe is more for nutrition. Americans go for quick and big meals. Africa is very homey. India is very authentic.
“To put all of that in one kitchen is very hard. Therefore, we run different themes to bring in cultural depths. Different mobile apps and YouTube can give us every kind of recipe. The only difference is the relationship we have with the food and it makes real impact. Not everyone likes nutrition — especially kids.”
Mohammed sees diverse demography of Qatar as an opportunity to introduce Qatari cuisine to the world. “Food migrates with people. Qataris usually do not migrate. That is why I want to introduce authentic Qatari cuisine to the world. For example, Khanfaroush, a small cake, is a Qatar specialty and I have made it my personal mission to see the cake in every restaurant in the world.”
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