In a city of expats, most of us don’t have the luxury of celebrating Mother’s Day with our mothers – and Dubai’s most acclaimed chefs are no exception. What is undeniable, however, is the fact that their relationship with cooking was first introduced and nurtured by their mothers, regardless of where they hail from. Food is the universal language, after all. Here, we join three of Dubai’s favourites as they reflect on their early experiences in the kitchen and how their mothers have shaped who they are as chefs. Listen in.
Chef Akmal Anuar
Akmal Anuar’s legacy may include 3Fils, which recently topped the inaugural list of Middle East & North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants, but his reign is just beginning. Today, this Singapore-born chef is responsible for the culinary creations at Goldfish Sushi & Yakitori, the recently opened 11 Woodfire, and Sharjah-based CHIE, always prioritising flavour and quality ingredients over culinary gimmicks.
“My parents are hawkers back in Singapore and, to this day, nothing has changed. My mother – being the chef of the business – has been cooking daily since 1992, so as a kid, that was all I knew in terms of making a living. Growing up, I never understood why she had to cook everywhere we went, even at big family gatherings.
Now that I’m much older, I realise that all the other women in the kitchen knew her level and were intimidated by how good she was! She was the queen of the kitchen, and her food made everyone happy. I can safely say that her consistent focus and drive to be her best every single day is what inspires me as a chef today.”
Chef Bernardo Paladini
Often dubbed the “hand-picked protégé of Massimo Bottura”, Bernardo Paladini helms the kitchen of Torno Subito at W Dubai – The Palm, designing Italian dishes that manage to span simplicity, sophistication, and sustainability. His prior experience includes a stint at Osteria Francescana, a Modena-based restaurant that was once ranked #1 on the World’s Best Restaurants list.
“For us Italians, our mothers and grandmothers are always the best chefs in the world. My mother is a teacher, and has always pushed me to value my culture and taught me the importance of diversity. And that’s why I believe a chef is not just the sum of his recipes – having a strong cultural background and relationships with the community is even more important.
Mum is all about minimising waste in the kitchen, teaching me that everything can be used. Vegetable scraps can be used in soups and stocks, for example. Incidentally, she grew up in Argentina, so I was exposed to several South American dishes as a child, which has made me passionate about Latin-American gastronomy too.”
Chef Vikas Khanna
Vikas Khanna rose to fame as his Manhattan-based restaurant Junoon maintained a Michelin star for eight consecutive years, elevating the perception of Indian cuisine on a global scale. Much to the delight of Dubai diners, the celebrity chef heads Kinara by Vikas Khanna, where the dishes are inspired by the raw beauty of home cooking, but with an inventive twist – and well worth the hype.
“My mother has been a pillar of strength for me – in my cooking obsession as a child and every other way. I was fortunate enough to start my career by opening something with her in the back of our house in Amritsar, and she taught me that so much of running a venture is about patience. This was back in 1991, when a woman running her own business was very rare, so she illustrated the power of walking the path alone if you want to be a pathbreaker.
We used to have a lemon tree in our house, and she always said that you can’t pluck lemons before they’re at the right stage. It’s the same when it comes to cooking – you can’t rush it. She also helped me understand temperature as a culinary technique. We used to sell puri, and she would explain that fried bread needs a shock. This was done with high temperatures, which requires one to observe, to be very vigilant. And that’s also the best way to learn in the kitchen. Her faith in me is the reason I take so many risks and have this global career. It’s all thanks to her.”