Dubai: The national cuisines of some countries can boast of the variety of influences found in the dishes of Saudi Arabia, thanks to the extraordinary variety of flavors and ingredients that pilgrims, traders and travelers have brought to the kingdom over the centuries.
The variety of traditional dishes that can be found throughout the country reflects these diverse cultural influences – from India, North and East Africa, South and Central Asia and the Levant – that have enriched and enjoyed the traditions of the kingdom.
Now, Saudi chefs and the hospitality sector are once again using food to help build bridges between nations and cultures. One organization that embraces the art of “culinary diplomacy” is the Red Sea Development Company, which is managing the mega new tourism project that is taking shape along the kingdom’s Red Sea coast.
In line with the objectives of Saudi Arabia Vision 2030, the country’s strategy for economic diversification, TRSDC works to stimulate new industries, create jobs, encourage entrepreneurship and drive growth in the leisure tourism sectors. and hospitality.
“Right now, our focus is on attracting Saudi youth to the hospitality industry,” Lars Eltvik, the company’s senior education adviser, told Arab News.
“This is a new industry in the kingdom and there has been a very limited supply of hospitality and culinary education in the country before. “It’s no different than it was in Dubai 20 years ago.”
The Red Sea project is a plan for a sustainable tourist resort covering approximately 28,000 square kilometers along the west coast of Saudi Arabia, including more than 90 unpolluted islands. According to Eltvik, the 50 hotels and 1,300 residential properties that will be built there will be offered by some of the best restaurants in the kingdom.
He said, “We want to be able to attract, document and develop food products from all regions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia so that they can be displayed in luxury hotels throughout the Red Sea project.”
Eltvik has worked in the hospitality and education sector for three decades. Between 2001 and 2009 he was based in Dubai, where he worked at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management.
He hopes the sector’s success in the UAE’s commercial capital will be replicated in Saudi Arabia in a shorter time and in a way that is more real to the country’s cultural sensibilities.
“In Saudi Arabia, everything is on track now,” Eltvik said. We are working to achieve the same (as we did in Dubai), and more, but in a very tight time frame. At TRSDC, we look forward to joining the tens of thousands of employees, with a strong focus on hospitality, and in the hospitality industry, a focus on the culinary arts. “
He said the company is working to promote the hospitality industry as a desirable career opportunity for Saudi youth, in line with the government’s Saudi campaign. To this end, the UK education authorities have implemented a number of programs in which the Center for the Development of Educational Institutions in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will guarantee trainees who will eventually fulfill key roles in the sector.
“We focus on the authenticity of promoting tourism and hospitality through food in the Kingdom, and emphasizing and educating young Saudis to proudly present their history and past through a culinary experience,” Eltvik said.
There is consensus that replicating the kind of restaurants and cuisines that can be found in cities around the world will not help transform Saudi Arabia into a particular perceived culinary destination. Therefore, the focus on promoting the culinary arts and special Saudi flavors are clear priorities.
While many traditional local dishes are common throughout the country – like kabsa, which is made with rice, meat, vegetables, spices and bunny – the tastes, ingredients and cooking techniques can vary greatly from region to region.
The Red Sea city of Jeddah has long attracted travelers from the region and the world, resulting in dishes filled with Persian, Oriental, Turkish, Moorish, and Central and South Asian influences.
In the Hejaz, for example, the influences of dishes known as bukhari rice, mantuja (noodles stuffed with beef and onions), shish baraq (noodles cooked in a yogurt stew) and tribal rice can be traced back to Central Asia. and Eastern. , while the origin of common vegetable decoctions in the region lies in North Africa and the Arab East.
Meanwhile, on the Nyde Plateau in the center of the kingdom, local cuisine includes heavy dishes like soups, stews and sauces that best suit the region’s cooler climate.
In March, TRSDC appointed Lawrence Asdorian as Cuisine Director with a mandate to work with Saudi chefs to create unique dining options for regional and international visitors to enjoy, while also promoting local favorites.
“One of our missions is community development,” he told Arab News. “How do we ensure, as a group, that the Red Sea has a sense of place?” (This) is not merely a copy of the experience of another destination in the world?
One of the ways we are looking to do this is to build the necessary programs that will incubate and expedite chefs living in Saudi Arabia. “We think this is important because, in the long run, talent sustainability needs to be driven by local people to complement foreign talent.”
Sustainability is at the heart of what TRSDC hopes to achieve as the Kingdom’s tourism, leisure and hospitality industries begin to create offerings that respect local customs and are environmentally friendly.
“We are a refreshing tourist destination,” Asdorian said. “We deeply care about the environment and the integrity of the communities in which we build our projects.
“We need to make sure we strike a strong balance between internationally experienced cuisine at our destination and how we integrate Saudi Arabia’s culinary and cultural heritage throughout the guest experience journey.”
To achieve this, TRSDC is building partnerships with institutions across the UK that have been set up to preserve and promote Saudi cuisine.
Among those welcoming TRSDC’s mission to serve the world’s royal culinary traditions is Moe Inani, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Owner of Chifty, an elegant restaurant and international lounge in Riyadh.
Despite being an engineer by training, Annan said his first love was cooking, a skill he acquired at an early age while helping his mother prepare meals at the family home in his hometown of Jeddah.
After completing his studies in the United States, Annan became an assistant chef at Saison, a Michelin-starred restaurant in San Francisco where he learned how to make sushi, and later at the delicious Nobu and Morimoto restaurants.
With his background in Japanese cuisine, Inani has devised some new twists in traditional local Red Sea fish cuisine and Arab News has learned that discussions are underway for him to collaborate with TRSDC.
“Food has always united us,” Rania Mualla, a Saudi philanthropist and founder and president of ZADK, a non-profit culinary academy in Khobar in the Eastern Province, told Arab News.
The academy was founded in 2018, three years after Maalla published her cookbook, A Spoon from Home. Its mission to nurture the rich culinary heritage of Saudi Arabia by empowering local chefs is similar to that of the TRSDC, with which it has collaborated.
“I created Zadak because I saw that in Saudi Arabia we lacked an academy to know our cultural cuisine,” Mualla said. Most of our restaurants are in the hands of immigrants. I started ZADK because I wanted to do something that was sustainable and had a greater impact on society. ”
She said the academy is looking at ways it can develop its partnership with TRSDC by helping train the next generation of Saudi chefs.
“I can’t wait for their students to study at our academy,” Mualla said.
In doing so, ZADEC, which also has a special partnership agreement with the Swiss Academy of Culinary Arts, aims to promote the Saudi gastronomy scene and ensure that it meets international standards.
“Our mission is to develop the best cooking school in Saudi Arabia, make it a platform for social change and educate our cuisine in a way that enables students to learn international cuisine as well as Saudi cuisine,” Mualla said.
“We aim to allow our students to travel the world with Saudi food and heritage.”
It is precisely this kind of culinary diplomacy that TRSDC aims to offer visitors to Saudi Arabia to enjoy and enjoy until 2030, when the Red Sea Project is expected to be completed.