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TORONTO: For Tala Bashmi, 33, patron chef of Fusions by Tala at the Gulf Hotel, Manama, modernizing Bahraini and khaleeji cuisine sounds like a “responsibility.”
Bashmi grew up in Bahrain and began her career at the Gulf Hotel, before traveling to Switzerland to train at the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois and the Michelin-starred Prisma.
She returned to Bahrain in 2014 and rose through the ranks at the Gulf Hotel to eventually lead Fusions by Tala, where she is determined to reinvent Gulf cuisine. She was recently named Best Female Chef in the Middle East and North Africa by 50 Best.
“I always saw a gap for a different take on Middle Eastern cuisine and Khaleeji,” Bashmi told Arab News. “I want to be globally competitive by improving our cuisine technically, visually and tastefully,” she says.
Here, Bashmi offers some tips and a delicious fish recipe to try at home.
What’s your best advice for home cooks?
Don’t rush things. For the first two years of my career, I wasn’t even allowed to cook. It was purely preparation. I believe all young chefs should start this way and not take the leap. When you rush things, you end up burning something. You want to (eventually) combine perfection and speed, but speed alone is not beneficial.
Plus, there’s nothing more dangerous than a dull knife. A dull knife will slip and, most likely, cause injury. So invest in a good quality knife and keep it sharp.
What is the ingredient that can instantly improve any dish?
I can think of a few. There is olive oil. And invest in good salt — not iodized table salt! Whenever I travel I always get local salt in the area. I firmly believe that the simplest local ingredients can enhance or transform a dish.
What is your favorite cuisine?
Currently it is Korean. The whole experience of making your own Korean BBQ is fun. With its fermented and pickled elements, it leans heavily on the traditional umami taste, which I really enjoy.
What dish do you prefer to cook?
I really like to cook seafood, especially when it comes from the market. I love clams. I make a kind of curry that has local clams and crabs in it, which you simmer over the fire. When you’re cooking all day, every day, you want your meals to be quick and tasty.
What is the most difficult dish you prepare?
Restaurant desserts have many elements and are relatively time consuming. There is cooking, cooling, mise en place, assembly and layering. I would say that my lavender dessert – lavender sponge cake, blueberry jelly, white chocolate mousse and lemon crème brûlée – is the most difficult to make.
How are you in the kitchen? Are you disciplined or are you more laid back?
I was fortunate to work under a second boss who showed me that you can be kind, gentle and forgiving in this environment, without being disrespectful. So I am his example. I don’t like putting people down because everyone learns differently. I want my team to feel happy, comfortable and confident when they walk into the kitchen. It is important to be patient and learn to deal with different personalities.
RECIPE: Chef Tala’s Seared Faskar with Grape Leaf Risotto
90g Faskar fillet; salt; pepper; 30g of butter; 3g of thyme; turmeric (optional); 150g of Arborio rice; 20g onion (finely chopped); 70 g of vine leaves; 10 g lime juice; 10 g of parmesan; cooking oil; vegetable broth or water
Pat your nets dry. Season with salt, pepper and turmeric (optional).
Heat a nonstick skillet until almost smoking. Add 2 tablespoons of oil per fillet.
Lay the tenderloin (skin side down) with a weight on it.
Cook for one minute, until the skin is golden brown.
Reduce the heat to low, add the thyme and 10 g of butter.
The residual heat will finish cooking the fish (time depends on the thickness of the fillets)
How to use (risotto):
Over low-medium heat, melt 10g of butter in a pan, add the onion, sauté until translucent.
Stir the rice into the mixture.
And a ladleful of vegetable broth (or water) at a time, making sure the broth is completely absorbed.
Meanwhile, blanch grape leaves in hot water for one minute or until softened. Finely chop.
Cook the risotto for 20 minutes, stirring regularly. It should be al dente, but creamy.
Add the remaining butter, cheese, vine leaves, salt and lime juice.