At Cairo Bites, Egypt’s largest food festival last weekend, we caught up with decorated chef and restaurant owner Wesam Masoud before his stunt hosting the festival’s BBQ competition (get the scoop on Cairo Bites here). A man of many talents, Masoud moved from a past career in medicine to pursue his true passion for cooking. Here’s what he had to say about his journey in Egypt’s food industry as well as his thoughts on the festival:
What do you think about the Cairo Bites initiative?
I think it’s a fantastic initiative. It’s something that showcases local Egyptian businesses and helps them reach their clients, customers and people who wouldn’t usually try their food out. It’s also really fun and great to see – I would love more events like this to happen across the country and not just in Cairo.
Do you believe that we’ll witness another Cairo Bites event some time next year?
I certainly do hope so, yeah!
What’s your favorite thing about Cairo Bites so far?
I think my favorite thing would be the amount of variety that it has to offer. The fact that a customer can walk around and have some of this and some that – it’s really nice. It almost feels like a kid in a candy store.
What’s your least favorite thing? Or something you believe needs improvement?
I think the timing of the event. Because people starting showing up at around 3pm-3:30pm because it wasn’t as hot. It would’ve be better if it was maybe earlier in the year before Easter as the weather would have been nicer – not too cold but not too hot in the morning either.
What do you think the future of the food industry in Egypt holds?
It’s pretty much up in the air. I mean, there are a very few Egyptian restaurants that actually care about their products. There’s a philosophy behind it because it’s not just about making money. Obviously money is important, but it’s more about the passion behind the food you’re creating. You have to deliver a product that you’re passionate about, that are good for the people and the economy of the country. For example, I’d like to see more restaurants using locally sourced ingredients and not imported ones.
Can you tell us a little more about your restaurant?
Well, Scoop Empire already reviewed my restaurant (see review of Chef’s Market CityStars) – very unhappy with that. I mean, I used to do food reviews and to review a restaurant during an event where you are invited (instead of during regular operating hours) is a bit unfair. You can get a fantastic experience and it’s not fantastic and you can get a horrible experience when it’s not necessarily horrible.
A review that early? I understand you guys want to get the scoop but it comes to the point where it’s not good.
My brother is a huge fan of yours and he said that you were actually a physician before becoming a chef and a restaurant owner. How did you make that transition and why?
Well, I graduated from medical school at Ain Shams University and traveled to the States. Soon after I came back I turned 30 and figured out that this (pursuing medicine) was not good for me and I wasn’t having any fun. I’ve always loved to cook and to write and I decided that in order to be a better food writer, I needed to understand what it is like to be a chef. Then I stepped into the kitchen and was like this is way better than writing about food. I mean, you’re actually cooking it and you get to be creative about it and hey, I got away with doing the two best things I like the most – cooking and writing.
So you basically just quit your job and you started cooking and writing reviews.
As a member of the TEDxCairo audience, I found it really interesting that a chef was talking about Egyptian cuisine. Tell us about your experience and the idea behind the talk you gave.
Well, I spent a long time talking about koshary and what it really is. I was trying to identify the soul of koshary and the history of it because that’s as important as the ingredients themselves. Culturally and economically, koshary is essential for our country. At the end of the day, what I wanted to do was take something that we often overlook and think about it, break it down and create something new out of it but keeping its core characteristics in tact.
Are you planning on serving koshary in your restaurant?
Not yet, no. I literally have at least six versions of koshary that I want to do and I haven’t decided yet which one is the best – I am not willing to serve something that does not have a 100% complete identity and the dish is not quite there yet so I’ll keep it under wraps right now until I’m completely done with it.
WE SAID THIS: Stay tuned for our behind-the-scenes coverage and interviews from the Cairo Bites food festival!