When passion becomes one’s career, it opens doors to opportunities and experiences that allow the individual to grow and reach new heights beyond their imagination. Famous chefs are no exception growing beyond early beginnings of making homemade concoctions to becoming fully fledged chefs hosting their own TV programs, publishing cookbooks and owning their very own restaurants.
With today being International Chef Day, we curated a special collection of Arab chefs who have paved a delicious culinary journey.
Today, Mona Mosly is known as the famous judge who appears on the Middle Eastern version of Top Chef but before that, her beginnings were more humble. The 32-year-old Saudi chef’s passion for culinary arts began at a young age.
At that time, she would draw inspiration from her Syrian mother who would constantly whip up special dishes in the kitchen. By the time she completed secondary school, Mosly wanted to dive right into her culinary career and wanted to travel but her mother wouldn’t allow it. Through constant determination, Mosly managed to eventually convince her mother to pursue her culinary education abroad.
Her education was quite rich and varied as she started off by first attending an etiquette boarding school in Switzerland where she learned everything from floral art to table decoration. She then attended one of the most prestigious and well-recognized culinary schools, Le Cordon Bleu at London. From there, her career only blossomed as she did everything from working in the cold kitchen at Lality Hall, the biggest wedding venue in the Saudi Kingdom to interning at Plaza Athénée hotel in Paris under the tutelage of Alain Ducasse.
Her big break came when she joined the judge’s panel on Top Chef Middle East where she was known as a talented, elegant and compassionate judge among the contestants for 5 seasons. She even had a special phrase she became famous for that she would say to most of the contestants “your time starts now!”
Today, the Saudi chef is continuing her big culinary endeavors by taking on fun and unique projects, her latest being a collaboration with VOX cinemas. She tapped into her creative prowess to curate a special menu for cinemagoers with over 20 dishes to pick from including mushroom burgers, stuffed grapes, leaves and olive waffles. The menu was released September 22nd for all to enjoy.
Egyptian chef Nermine Hanno, known for her TV presence on Egypt’s cooking channel CBC Sofra, was not always destined to be a chef. In fact, her mother never let her cook when she was younger as she did not want Hanno to make a mess in the kitchen. During college, Hanno studied literature at the University of Alexandria and planned to become a professor there. At that same time, she was also married and that was how she ended up spending a lot of time in the kitchen causing her to discover her passion for cooking. Her life took a big turn ever since that day.
Today, among the Egyptian community, Hanno is considered a pioneer in the world of culinary arts. By turning her passion for cooking into a reality, she not only became the first Egyptian to receive a Grand Diplôme from Le Cordon Bleu in London but beyond that, she is considered the first female chef to receive a culinary diploma in Egypt.
Initially, she received rigorous training at a French restaurant in London called Orrery under the tutelage of chef Chris Galfi, working every day from 8 am until 2 am. Following that grueling experience, she moved with her family to Jeddah at a time when female chefs did not exist. Hanno struggled to find work until she made her way back to Egypt and began her very first cooking show on Fatafeat channel called “Wala Fe El Ahlam” (Not Even In Dreams) for five years.
Today, she is the host of her very own cooking show called Zay El Sokar (Like Sugar) on CBC Sofra where she creates desserts like Egypt’s Cairo Tower recreated using nougat. Each of her desserts looks like a literal art piece. Meticulous in her craft, in every episode, the chef’s performance is akin to a surgeon, delicately decorating glossy round-shaped desserts with tweezers and other simple tools. Many refer to her as the “kitchen fairy” because of her soothing gentle voice and elegant on-screen presence as she continues to entertain the masses and baking enthusiasts.
Joe Barza, the Lebanese chef and head judge of Top Chef Middle East with over 25 years of experience is not just a name known in the region, but also on a global scale. His story began during a tumultuous time as Lebanon was at the cusp of its Civil War. Barza found refuge through his passion for cooking and he decided that was the best time to pursue his dreams. Diving into his career, he began by enrolling in a hospitality training institute where from there he traveled to South Africa for six years, leading him to flourish and expand his culinary expertise.
Known as a rebel chef, Barza always liked to experiment and change the narrative when it came to Lebanese food. Tapping into his creative prowess, he would come up with dishes that incorporate Lebanese flavors and ingredients with a modern twist like his fresh take on burghul banadoura, a dish that combines burghul and tomatoes.
His mastery of food went beyond whipping up unconventional dishes in the kitchen. Merging his passion and expertise, in 2009, the Lebanese chef decided to open up his very own consultancy known as the “Joe Barza Culinary Consultancy” specializing in food and beverage consultancy, kitchen design and training activities. Today, he is the consultant for some of the most renowned establishments, including the Waldorf Astoria at Ras Al Khaimah and the Hilton hotel in Jordan.
The chef’s reputation extends even beyond that with him being featured on major international media channels, including The New York Times, as well as being the head judge of Middle East’s Top Chef.
Known as the winner of Top Chef Middle East in 2019, the Jordanian chef Ali Ghzawi is the youngest and most progressive chef on this list. He found his love for food all the way back when he was just seventeen years old. Every day, before heading to school, he would prepare his own sandwiches for his lunchbox, and from there, he thought of the idea of making extra sandwiches to sell at school.
It started off with him selling 10 sandwiches but things took an interesting turn. His sandwiches were in very high demand to the extent that at one point in time, he would sell 120 per day. The joy he would feel from seeing people enjoy his sandwiches acted as the spark that fueled his passion to become a professional chef. From there, he attended the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and after graduating at 19, he completed two internships, one at the Four Seasons Hotel and the other at a two-star Michelin restaurant owned by Paco Pérez in Spain. It was not easy as Ghzawi had to work continuously for 18-hour shifts.
His hard work paid off as by age 25 Ghzawi became a Sous Chef at the W Hotel in Amman and from there his reputation skyrocketed to the extent that he was approached by one of the crew members of MBC’s Top Chef. Being the youngest contestant on the show was quite daunting to Ghzawi, but he was able to take on the challenge. Similar to a determined detective, throughout the season, he would use his bedroom walls for planning recipes and winning strategies for winning the finale.
Today, he’s considered one of the region’s most famous chefs whose acclaim has landed him a nomination to be included on Forbes 30 under 30 in the Middle East. Now food enthusiasts can hit up the young chef’s very own passion project, the Alee Culinary Center, offering an upscale dining experience at Jordan’s Jabal Amman. The menu is said to highlight Ghzawi’s roots, culture and stories as well as expose diners to rich Middle Eastern cuisine.
Najat Kaanache’s story is one that combines tenacity, passion and an avid pride in one’s identity. The Moroccan chef’s passion and drive stemmed from her dad who years ago went through the grueling journey of traveling barefoot from Morocco to a village in Spain. Being raised in Spain as a young Arab woman proved difficult, as Kaanache always felt different because of her Moroccan roots. She stood out not just for her unique heritage and identity but for how she paved her career.
Both her education and career were a mix and match of many things as she did everything from studying theatre, and becoming an actress to traveling all the way to the Netherlands for a fresh start. She was the epitome of a hustler; going from kitchen to kitchen and fighting her way to gain the tutelage of famous chefs. She would send applications and letters to the best chefs in the world in an effort to grow and become the type of chef she always aspired to be. Her efforts did not go to waste as Kaanache did end up working with culinary legends like Noma’s René Redzepi.
Her story continues as she makes her way back home to Morocco, deciding to reconnect to her roots. Spending time with her grandfather and some of the indigenous people of Morocco, Kaanache absorbed much of the country’s rich culture.
She then made it her mission to represent her country through her love of food, opening her very own restaurant called Nur, meaning light in Arabic. There, she serves her own unique interpretation of Moroccan cuisine. Some of her dishes are infused and inspired by her time in Mexico like her north African chicken mole. Kaanache adds another unique touch to all her dishes by serving them in fine dining form.
Today, the chef has also made it on TV with her very own cooking show known as “Cocina Marroquí”, which is broadcasted in Latin American countries as well as Spain. Kaanache’s rich cuisine and artistry have also made their way into the pages of her very own cookbook.
So, what are you waiting for? Turn on the TV and start cooking with one of these delectable chefs.