Brand View: President 50th Anniversary

Elie Lteif is the executive chef at Nassima Royal Hotel in Dubai. We talked to him about his passion and beginnings; his inspiration and ingredients
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Halawi cheesecake by chef Elie Ltief.
Halawi cheesecake by chef Elie Ltief.

How did you decide to become a chef?

The Lebanese are known for their hospitality and loving the company of friends and family. I’ve always enjoyed inviting my friends over and cooking for them. So this was surely a part of it: my culture and upbringing. However, another aspect was a product of chance; I lived near a hospitality school, and would watch the chefs walk in and out in their uniforms. I was curious about this profession and wanted to know more about it. Four years later, I graduated from that hospitality school. I worked in Lebanon for nine years, moving between different cuisines: French, Arabic, American and then Asian. In 2013, I moved to Dubai.

Do you have a signature dish?

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My country’s cuisine, of course. I was born and raised in this environment. In every kitchen, about 70% of ingredients or products are standardised across cuisines. The remaining 30% is my space to search for different flavours and add my personal touch. This is how you please your clients.

Where do you get your inspiration?

From my environment. I’m keen on attending different exhibitions and culinary functions, to meet more experienced chefs. One can never stop learning. I am always looking forward to the next step, to new trends in cuisine. When I started working as a chef, the profession was vastly different from today. Products, ingredients and mentalities have changed over time.

Where do you find your ingredients? Can they inspire you to create new dishes?

I believe that ingredients are everywhere. Finding high-quality ingredients, however, is the challenge. My criteria for choosing ingredients are shelf life, production region and price. When I first arrived in Dubai, it was difficult for me to find all ingredients I wanted, but things got easier with time.Also, when it comes to traditional recipes, I use home-made ingredients, rather than mass-produced or industrial ones. When you are an executive chef, you can create a flavour in your mind before bringing it to life on a plate. Any ingredient can be a star when used properly; each ingredient carries its inspiration.

How important are dairy products in your kitchen?

Dairy products are of primary importance to my kitchen. You can’t make any sauce without cream and butter. I use dairy products in all the meals I prepare; breakfast, lunch and dinner. I am very loyal to the Président brand, since I have been using it since my early career in Lebanon. When I came to Dubai, I was pleased to find it was also available here; these are high-quality products.

How often do you use dairy products in your recipes?

It depends on what I’m preparing. For pastries, dairy products comprise 70% of my ingredients. We also use it in abundance for breakfast, as people need to start the day with a high quantity of protein. For lunch and dinner, dairy products are mostly used to prepare garnish and complementary elements, such as sauces.

What is your latest creation?

In Ramadan, I decided to combine two cultures and two cuisines: cheesecake made with Président cream cheese and whipping cream, touched with a special product I brought from Lebanon — halawa, made from tahina and sugar. This dish is on our menu for the next two months.

Do you have tips for people wanting to be chefs?

It is not easy to be a chef. First, you need to have passion, because when you’re not involved in the kitchen, it can seem very tedious. But with passion, it is full of possibilities and potential. Being a chef is not only about cooking. You have to know how to manage your team and lead your kitchen. With 12 nationalities in my team, everyone is different. And I make sure that we all fit well together.

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