Raghad Al Safi has passionately preserved her Iraqi heritage and memories of her homeland using her culinary skills and delivering them to her dining room table. With her new book, The Iraqi Table Raghad aims to showcase the eclectic cuisine and customs for both Iraqis who have left their country, as well as to culinary enthusiasts all over the world.
A global traveler, Raghad Al Safi left her beloved Iraq at the age of twenty-eight to see the world and has since both visited and lived in many cities across the world, including London, Baku, Vancouver and Amman. A civil engineer by training with a background in interior design, she now lives in Dubai with her husband and children.
Raghad Al Safi sat down with our Nasrine Abushakra to discuss her new book, The Iraqi Table, her inspirations, her impressions of Dubai and what every haute chef MUST have in their kitchen.
Raghad Al Safi Dishes on Dubai Delights
Tell us about your personal experience of networking and reaching out with your projects here in the Middle East and the United Arab Emirates.
In the Middle East, networking is a great tool, especially Instagram. I started my Instagram page @theiraqitable to post pictures about the history of Iraq and my food. I love connecting with culinary enthusiasts from around the world and getting to share stories and insights about the Iraqi cuisine.
What inspired you to publish your book?
Iraqi food goes back to the Mesopotamian Era or roughly 6000BC. The first recipe in the world was Iraqi and the first cookbook in the world was Iraqi – it was called “Kitab Al Tabookh” by Ibn al Sayer al Waraq. However, nowadays there have been very few Iraqi cookbooks. Also, most of them don’t have photos of the completed dishes, so when I read one of them I usually end up cooking only the recipes that have pictures. Most importantly, it’s a cuisine that’s virtually unknown beyond the Middle East, yet is unique, amazingly rich, and wins the hearts of everyone who tries it. So for all those reasons I made “The Iraqi Table”, a cookbook that seeks to infuse a little history, culture and great photography into each recipe.
For those not familiar with your work, what region is your culinary style modeled?
What has been your impression of the local food scene over the years here in the Middle East?
Ingredients for local food in the Middle East are fresh, organic, smell wonderful and are so flavorful. In Jumeirah, Dubai, there is a place that fishermen gather to display their daily catch every day at around 5 pm. Nearby, there is a small restaurant on the sand with very simple furniture that fry these fish to serve. This is a spot not to be missed in Dubai.
When you manage to find a little time to step away from your work, what are some of your favorite spots to dine or socialize?
Since I live in Dubai, the food and the restaurants here are so diverse. We are so lucky to have great restaurants from all over the world in such a great city. I love to go to Coya in the Four Seasons Hotel, I also love to go to Le Petite Maison. As for Arabic fare, I love EmSharif and Al Masgouf.
If you had not pursued a culinary career, what do you think you would have been?
I am a Civil Engineer and Interior Designer by trade and a loving mother of three wonderful boys – yet cooking is my passion.
What three ingredients you MUST have in your kitchen?
I always make sure I have my Cinnamon, Cumin and Cardamom with me whenever I step into the kitchen.
Are you launching any new projects (TV show, cookbook, products etc.) in the near future that you’d like to share with us?
Not yet, this book’s launch has been keeping me busy for the time being, but I am participating in the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2016 from 1-12 March 2016.