The finest Middle Eastern cuisines are showcasing their talent through some of their best dishes, with the help of the new MENA Academy Chairs for The World’s Best 50 Restaurants. The list of the Middle East and North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants will provide us with information about the region’s world-class dining scene. The MENA Academy Chairs includes five brilliant experts, appointed as heads to help choose the best restaurants through a voting process that includes 250 food experts from 19 countries. And the result will eventually be announced in a spectacular awards ceremony that will be hosted in Abu Dhabi, UAE from February 4-11 of 2022. While the gala award ceremony will be taking place on February 7.
The event will be held next year and will reveal the Middle East and North Africa’s 50 best restaurants, all sponsored by S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna. The ranking of the best 50 restaurants is organized by the five Academy Chairs: Sherif Tamim, Claudia de Brito, Roy Yerushalmi, Leen Al Zaben, and Mohamed El Baroudi. Each of which was selected for their integrity and knowledge, they’re all food lovers who have experienced the food first hand and have no personal gain from advocating for any specific restaurant.
The 250-voters committee will have absolute confidentiality, as all the votes will be anonymous. Additionally, members of the academy will select restaurants based on their own personal dining experience, from the restaurants located in their countries or in the region.
Meet the 5 MENA Academy Chairs
Claudia de Brito
She’s a Portuguese-Cape Verdean who was raised in the UAE. She has fumbled around in many careers until she chose hospitality to master. She was the editor of the leading publication, Caterer Middle East for around a decade. She’s also a UAE-based freelance writer and hospitality consultant. She will be overseeing the voting process in the Gulf region, across UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman.
Yerushalmi is a travel journalist and culinary historian. He works in Israel’s Globes financial newspaper and has his own culinary recommendations site, where he publishes weekly wine selections and recipes. He is currently writing his first cookbook, which includes Israeli cuisine, mixed with Turkish heritage, so he’ll be overseeing the voting in Israel and Turkey.
Leen Al Zaben
Al Zaben is a culinary entrepreneur from Amman, Jordan. She’s traveled the world and tried out all kinds of foods. She loves the idea that food can tell a story and believes that food can bring people closer. She also has an interactive culinary workshop. Al Zaben will oversee voters from Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran.
Tamim is a food-lover, travel photographer, and lifestyle enthusiast. He has lived in many countries but is currently based in Cairo. His travels have mostly been food-based, trying all kinds of foods, from street food to high-class restaurants. He’s going to be responsible for the North Africa region, managing voters from Egypt and Libya.
Mohamed El Baroudi
El Baroudi is a tea company CEO. He’s a Moroccan who travels a lot, which enables him to discover new cuisines and experience new foods. El Baroudi has a lot of knowledge about the dining scene in Morocco. Hence, he’s going to oversee the voters from Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.
When the five MENA Academy Chairs were interviewed, they shared some of their views about the event and food!
What does the launch of MENA’s 50 Best Restaurants mean for the region?
It means that the Middle East gets a chance to shine for its diversity and cooking traditions. It means the region can showcase its culinary wealth and depth while inspiring chefs and restauranteurs. It’s a great chance to highlight MENA’s food scene, and a lot of restaurants will get international recognition.
Which local dish should visitors to your country try?
When in the UAE, try luquimat with a cup of Arabic coffee. When in Jordan, try shipswabasta and burghul dumplings. When in Israel, try out wild fish and seafoods. And finally, in Egypt, you got to try molokhia!
What culinary myths about your country would you like to dispel?
When people think of Moroccan dishes, they think of tagine. Ironically, it’s not a dish, it’s a cooking method applied to many recipes. People believe the myth about Emirati food mainly relying on imported ingredients, but that’s not true at all in 2021.
There will be a sixth Saudi Arabia-based MENA Academy Chair member to recruit voters from Saudi Arabia and maybe Yemen.