The dancing chefs – We arrive by metro at the Mall of the Emirates, a huge shopping mall in Dubai’s Al Barsha district. It is one of the largest in the Middle East and has over 500 stores and about 80 cafés and restaurants. But the main reason we’re here is our hotel, the Kempinski Mall of the Emirates.

Meeting Alejandro Bernabe in Kempinski Mall of the Emirates - CoolBrands Around the World in 80 Brands
Meeting Alejandro Bernabe in Kempinski Mall of the Emirates – CoolBrands Around the World in 80 Brands

We turn right and arrive at the mall’s centrepiece, the Galleria. We continue and pass in front of various luxury boutiques until we arrive at the VOX cinema complex. We go down a level and take a sharp left at the Virgin Megastore. On we go until we hit the indoor ski resort and see some people in kandoora sliding down the slope. We turn right and enter the lobby café of the Kempinski hotel. “Do you want to stop for a café latte or go straight up to the pool for a dip?” I ask Anouk. “No café latte today?” a voice behind us says. We turn around and see Alejandro Bernabe, the hotel’s General Manager. We met Alejandro in Aqaba, Jordan where he was GM of the Kempinski Hotel. He showed us the hidden city of Petra and took us diving in the Red Sea. We stayed in touch and met again when we came to Dubai for business. “How was your day?” he asks. “Interesting,” I say. “We spent our afternoon in the old town of Dubai, taking pictures of the spice souk. It’s a pity the aromas won’t show up on the images.” “What are your plans for tonight?” he asks.

“Nothing special,” I reply. “Go to the mall, have a shrimp dynamite at P.F. Chang’s and maybe go to the cinema.” “I have a better idea,” Alejandro says. “Why don’t you come to the poolside restaurant around 8 pm. The restaurant is closed for maintenance on the terrace, but I have a surprise. You remember Sudqi Naddaf, the chef at the Kempinski in Aqaba?”

“How can we forget Sudqi,” I say, “and the great fish dishes he prepared for us? Why, is he here?” “I asked him to come and spend some time in Dubai,” Alejandro says. “He is training the kitchen staff this afternoon and that always ends in… something special.”

It’s almost eight o’clock as we take the elevator again, down to the second floor. We exit and turn left towards the poolside restaurant. On the door is a sign that says the restaurant is closed for maintenance. The door is closed but as we try the handle, it opens. We enter the restaurant and it is empty and the lights are dimmed. We continue walking and hear music coming from the kitchen. “Hello!” I shout in as civilised a way as I can, not forgetting it is a five-star hotel.

The kitchen door opens and Alejandro comes out. “Anouk, Maarten, come in,” he says. “You’re right on time.” We enter the kitchen and see ten chefs busy cooking and preparing a large dish. In the middle we see Sudqi giving tips and tasting from the various pans. As he sees us, a smile appears on his face. “Welcome!” he says, “I’m training my chefs and we’re preparing a Mansaf. It’s a traditional Jordanian dish.”

We follow him further into the kitchen. “The lamb is cooked in a broth made with a fermented then dried yoghurt-like product called jameed,” he says pointing at a large pan. “It’s traditionally served on a large platter with a layer of flatbread topped with rice and then meat, garnished with almonds and pine nuts, and then sauce poured over all it.” Sudqi turns to us and comes a step closer. “A spice mixture called baharat adds distinctive flavour,” he adds in a low voice, as if he’s telling a secret.

It is traditionally eaten collectively from a large platter in the Bedouin and rural style, standing around the platter with the left hand behind the back and using the right hand instead of utensils. “Sudqi, don’t forget to mention it is often eaten at joyous occasions,” Alejandro says while giving him a mysterious wink.

“Oh, of course… I almost forgot,” Sudqi continues, “Mansaf is eaten at joyous occasions, where we also dance the Dabke.” Sudqi claps his hands and says something in Arabic to the other men. One of the chefs takes out what looks like an MP3 player and speakers, which starts playing Arab music. The other chefs stand in line holding each other’s shoulder. We take a step backwards and stand with Alejandro and Sudqi next to the big platter of Mansaf. On the other side ten men are dancing and laughing. Instinctively I start clapping my hands.

Alejandro picks up a bag and takes out two Jordanian scarves and hands them to us. “Here you are,” he says, “with the compliments of Kempinski.”

© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands


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