Meet the Chef: Samaan Hilal

 

According to chef Hilal, “When people ask what my profession is, I never say chef, rather, I answer ‘cook’. All I care about is the love and respect people who try my food express. I don’t want to make something special, I want to make something different.” This approach, he explains, dates back to an era before refrigerators or even electricity, when ingenuity was a necessity

 



What did you learn during your tenure at Le Notre?
I was very lucky to have worked with the renowned pastry chef, Gaston Lenôtre, the founder of that Parisian school. The approach there was based purely on a hands-on experience, rather than theory. I stayed at the school for four years, unlike most students who usually only sit for one or two three-week courses. Due to this unusually lengthy stay, I was allowed an all-access pass, which was of phenomenal value to my education. What I learned was to respect the person I’m working with. This was especially important back then, since the entire student body and staff enjoyed a close bond. The point is, it’s easy to follow instructions to achieve the best possible result; but the real challenge is creating a system that allows all involved to maintain this level of quality. This is crucial when operating with a multi-national workforce under pressure. The challenge would be
to facilitate the flow of the operation and in so doing, minimize the running cost as much as possible. I also learned how to develop the most efficient system and how to customize, or in some cases, build the tools required that are not always readily available. This led to me dabbling in kitchen and cooking tool design.

Can you brief us on your food consulting company and the difference your approach makes?
I consider myself a developer, not a consultant. It’s of paramount importance to me that when I take on a new assignment, the client understands that this is not a business deal, rather a long-term partnership. If we can’t agree on a specific point, I won’t consider the project, irrespective of the financial returns.

What were some of the key changes you introduced to the restaurants you ran and what of future plans?

I always say that there needs to be specific emphasis on Lebanese cuisine. My main concern is to work on something I love and am interested in. I want people to become part of an exceptional eating-out experience, rather than only eat good food. At La Crêperie, for instance, both the location and setup were wonderful, and we further complemented that by offering exceptional table and metal ware of my own personal design, which was not available elsewhere. We are also currently working on transforming the space into three restaurants. The original space is reserved for international cuisine. At the entrance, we created what we called Jnaynet La Crêperie, which is completely independent, and, in winter, we will reintroduce Les Caves de La Crêperie that will become an Arabesque lounge, possibly offering a variety of performances. We are handling everything related to F&B for Sky Management and La Creperie, while hopefully, we’ll launch SAX in Dubai next year, alongside two additional projects with Sky management that are in the pipeline.

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