(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) It's the knowledge of those ''small little things'' about Middle Eastern cooking that has given this master chef an edge over his contemporaries.
This, and of course, his ''love for food and the desire to never stop learning''.
How else would you describe the story of a young man, who went to the US to become a pilot, but returned as a chef.
Today, with millions in the MENA region watching and following his gastronomical sojourns on Fatafeat TV shows 100 Lahma and Min Misr, Egyptian master chef Tarek Ibrahim has become a household name to reckon with.
He was in the city last week for a live culinary performance at the InterContinental Muscat. Owner of six restaurants across the globe and a judge to Olympic culinary competitions, Ibrahim, who is currently also a corporate executive chef for Meat and Livestock Australia, is the only Egyptian to be certified as master chef by the World Association of Chefs' Societies.
Amusing to know that he is ''not a trained cook''. Food, he says, happened to him by accident, when he was training to be a pilot in the US. ''While in aviation school, I ran out of money. Instead of asking my father for financial help, I decided to look for something to help myself,'' he says.
He soon landed himself a job at a restaurant. ''For some reason, I just eased into cooking. Despite no professional training, I never really got my dishes wrong. A lot of people loved what I made, and this encouraged me to cook more,'' says Ibrahim. He eventually became a certified pilot. ''But the love for food really drew me in.
So, I decided to pursue cooking full-time instead.'' That he never went back to flying a plane is another story. But the result was more than just good. In the many kitchens where Ibrahim has worked in the US, his unparalleled understanding of food did not go unnoticed.
''It was my mother's cooking that did the trick,'' he said. ''As a child, I would sit and watch my mom cook in the kitchen. It's the techniques that I learnt from her that actually set the stage for me. I eventually incorporated it into my own style,'' the master chef says, adding,
''In Egypt, while cooking, we prefer to do things on our own. We do not eat frozen food. If we want to eat lamb, we slaughter it, skin it, take the internal organs and cook it. We know what exactly to do with each organ. We never waste anything. For instance, I remember seeing mom dip the kidneys of a lamb in milk to get rid of the foul smell. It tasted fantastic after that.
''I realised that some of the finest chefs did not know these little details. When I shared them, I suddenly became a guru.'' But Ibrahim's learning did not stop at that. ''My mom's cooking gave me the right foundation. Some of my other learnings were by observing other chefs, reading, teaching and learning from my students. That helped me on the way,'' says Ibrahim, who has also taught culinary art at the Art Institutes International Minnesota between 1999 and 2005.
''Teaching culinary art was actually an eye-opener. When my students asked me 'Why I did, what I did,' I did not really have an answer. So I started reading up. That's when I really became a real chef because I now understood the cause and effect of food.'' Ibrahim boasts of a collection of over 1,000 cookbooks. ''And it's not your ordinary book of pictures. It's all heavy stuff,'' he says.
Tips for great meat
Don't cook, just warm it: Instead of cooking it in a frying pan, grill it. Flip it just when you see tiny droplets forming on top of the meat. \
Avoid marinating: Add the marinade like a sauce in the end. Cooking marinated meat has an osmosis effect which takes the juice out of the meat and lets the juice of the sauce in.
From the chef's kitchen
Double rib lamb chops with cassoulet of summer beans and rosemary
2tbsp dried marrow beans (or other white beans), soaked overnight at room temperature in 1 cup water
2tbsp dried cranberry beans, soaked overnight at room temperature in 1 cup water
1/2 a cup chicken broth
2'' sections of leek
2'' sections of carrot
2'' long onion wedges u1tsp unsalted butter
Ten large green beans, blanched until tender and chilled in ice water. Drain the water out. Cut into 1'' pieces
Ten large yellow wax beans, blanched until tender, chilled in ice water, drained and cut into 1'' pieces
1/4 cup peeled fava beans, germs removed, blanched until tender, chilled in ice water and drained
1/4 cup fresh soybeans blanched until tender, chilled in ice water and drained u2tbsp finely cut tomatoes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
(For lamb sauce ingredients, see method) For lamb chops
Six double-cut rib lamb chops, trimmed of excess fat and silverskin and bones frenched (about 4 to 5 ounces each)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2tbsp unsalted butter
3 garlic cloves, split and crushed
sprigs of thyme
1 sprig rosemary, leaves only
Rosemary oil METHOD To make quick lamb sauce
Add a little oil to lamb bones, place them in a pan and roast in an oven. Keep stirring till they develops a slight red colour. Meanwhile, take two cups of onion, one cup celery, one cup of carrot, one large tablespoon of tomato paste and mix it. Add this to the roasting bone. Put the pan back in the oven and continue roasting. When all the veggies develop a dark colour, add about one gallon of water. Place the pan on high heat first, then lower the heat, and let it simmer. You will get a creamy broth. Your quick lamb sauce is ready.
To cook the dried beans
Drain and rinse the beans and place them in two separate small pots. Add cold water covering them in upto two inches and bring to boil. Remove and discard any beans that come to the surface. Drain the beans and run under cold water to cool. Return the beans to the pot and pour half the chicken stock and enough water to cover the beans by 1 inch in each pot. Add a piece of leek, carrot, and onion to each pot and slowly bring to a simmer. Any beans that have not hydrated and any loose skins will come to the top. Skim them off and discard. Simmer the beans for about one hour, or until they are tender. The beans can be cooked upto a day ahead and refrigerated in their cooking liquid
For the lamb
Loop a piece of kitchen twine around the bone of a lamb chop just above the meat, wrap both ends of the twine around the meat, bring them back to the bone, and tie around the bone to give a uniform shape. Cut off the excess twine and repeat with the remaining chops. Season them with salt and pepper and wrap in aluminium foil to protect them from burning, and let it rest at room temperature for an hour. Preheat the oven to 375F. Heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the lamb chops and saut till they turn brown. The chops should be well browned but still slightly rare. Remove most of the fat from the pan and add the butter, basting the lamb chops with the butter as it melts. Top the lamb with the garlic cloves and thyme sprigs.
Place the pan in the oven for about four minutes or until the meat is medium-rare. An instant-read thermometer should register 115F to 120F. Remove the pan from the oven and let the meat rest for three to four minutes. While the lamb is cooking, drain the cooked beans and combine them and about half of the lamb sauce in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, skim the sauce, and warm for one to two minutes. Stir in the butter, then add the green and yellow beans, fava beans, soybeans, tomatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Meanwhile, place the remaining lamb sauce in a small pot and simmer over low heat for three to four minutes to reduce the glaze (about 1/4 cup). Place a portion of the warm ragout on each plate. Stand a lamb chop on its side with the bone facing up over the beans. Sprinkle a few rosemary leaves over the ragout and drizzle a few drops of rosemary oil over the beans and the lamb.
-2 sirloin steaks
-50ml cooking oil
-Salt and pepper
Lightly season the steaks on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a frying pan until it is moderately hot.
Gently place the steaks into the pan with plenty of space between them. Do not move or turn them! There should be lots of sizzle. Regulate the heat until the steaks are sizzling. It should neither burn, nor stew.
Once this is achieved, leave the steaks to cook for three minutes (for steaks with thickness of 15mm). Turn over and cook for another three minutes. Remove the steaks from the pan to rest for three m