Chef Halima Boubakri – Interview
Tagine Talk with Chef Halima Boubakri – Senior Chef de Partie, AL Maeda Restaurant
A great restaurant is where you instantly connect with the place, savor the flavors and feel somewhat at home, and probably get so comfortable that you don’t want to leave; a place where you feel welcome, while the warmth of the food wafts in the air and wraps you in a furtive craving. Dubai has many great places to eat and drink and explore and one such place that came under our radar was quite literally at the extreme corner of Dubai Marina, Al-Maeda Restaurant at DoubleTree by Hilton. It is no secret that Dubai Marina has an abundance of hotels and restaurants, all offering archetypal flavors and cuisines, but what sets Al-Maeda apart was something uniquely interesting that is difficult to find anywhere else.
Serenading with a mystical charm of the ‘Maghrib’ Morocco, the restaurant instantly catches your eye with its blue tiles and mounting cornices of colorful tagines. There’s such homely animation which you can feel within seconds of stepping into the main dining area, filled with all the liveliness and the clitter-clatter of diners, yet it is uniquely private at the same time with the smiling staff simply adding the proverbial zest to the whole experience. We talked to Chef Halima Boubakri, Senior Chef de Partie, AL Maeda Restaurant, about the mesmerizing restaurant and learned a few charming facts about Arabic and Levant cuisine that makes the whole dining experience so inviting…
Tell us about yourself?
I was born in Morocco and started my career in 1997 in a small hotel in Fez. Over the years I have worked in popular restaurants in Morocco and Yemen and have fallen in love with the different and delicious dishes particularly, of each country in the Arab world. I had the great opportunity to be part of the Bouyotina Fi Ramadan program broadcasted by Yemen TV for 3 years where I worked with some of the most amazing people I have met so far. In 2012 I published a series of cookbooks called Chehiwate Halima, a project very close to my heart. Currently, I am part of the Al-Maeda restaurant team at DoubleTree by Hilton Dubai – Jumeirah Beach as Senior Chef de Partie.
How long have you been working at Al-Maeda, DoubleTree by Hilton?
I joined the team in January 2016 and I have had a wonderful time working with them.
Cooking for me is expressing myself through my dishes, it is an activity that comforts me. It reminds me of my childhood and teen years when I used to spend many hours in the kitchen with my mom. Food is a very important part of the Arabic culture, we love good food!
How would you describe the Arabian and Levant cuisine?
Arabic and Levant dishes are rich in flavor and ingredients; it satisfies all kinds of palates due to its diversity in dishes. Moroccan’s keep the spices subtle and the combinations of flavors rich and interesting. You’ll find the tartness of olives, mixed in with the tanginess of preserved lemons, spices like saffron adding flavor to chicken or meat. It brings friends and family together thanks to the set-up of the portions, everything is ready for sharing.
What is the essential item in your kitchen?
As a Moroccan, I would say a tagine, a large earthenware pot in which Moroccans cook their traditional tagines as it cooks the meat and makes it juicy and tender.
Can you tell us about these dishes?
Sure, Dawood Baasha is Moroccan meatballs in tomato sauce, usually served with rice vermicelli. While, Dejaj Mushakan is chicken and onions, seasoned with sumac, then Machbous is chicken marinated in subtle spices served over rice cooked with saffron and rose petals and sprinkled with almonds and raisins, and finally, Koosha Mahashi is marrow stuffed with beef and rice.
Being a Chef what is your favorite dish, and something that you enjoy cooking the most?
I love Harira Soup, it is my favorite dish. It comforts me, it’s a simple dish full of flavor. It has a delicate aroma of saffron and ginger and usually it is reserved for special occasions. Being Moroccan I love cooking our traditional tagines, they make me feel at home and they are full of flavor.