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Saudi female chef takes iftar to a new level with culinary skills

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Saudi female chef takes iftar to a new level with culinary skills
Armed with years of training Beirut and India, Doha Abdullah (pix) is taking iftar to a new level with her own interpretation of traditional dishes. - REUTERS
RIYADH: Like most chefs, Doha Abdullah starts each work day brimming with ideas and inspiration.

But unlike most chefs in Saudi Arabia, Abdullah is a woman. And she's taking on this male-dominated culinary scene by storm.

Saudi Arabia is well known as the world's most gender-segregated nation, where women live under the supervision of a male guardian, cannot drive, and in public must wear head-to-toe black garments.

But since 2011 when the late King Abdullah declared women could join the government advisory Shura Council, the situation for women has started to change in line with moves to diversify the economy, get more women working, and cut reliance on oil.

Women can now work in certain retail and hospitality jobs and were allowed to compete in the Olympics for the first time in 2012.

Last year a new women's section was set up at the sports authority and this year the Saudi Stock Exchange appointed its first female chair, Sarah al-Suhaimi.

And in Saudi's culinary scene, Abdullah is making her own name.

Armed with years of training Beirut and India, Abdullah is taking iftar to a new level with her own interpretation of traditional dishes, including the well-loved 'marqoq' - a type of curry with spices, vegetables, meat and the traditional "pratha" or bread.

"Marqoq is a traditional dish, inherited from our ancestors. It is an old dish, but as a chef, I added some things to it and some flavours were enhanced and I put my mark on it so that it would have a distinctive flavour and I am hoping it becomes special in this meal," Abdullah said.

Riyadh's Andalusia Hotel recognised Abdullah's skills and snapped her up to have full control of Al-Majles, the hotel's Saudi-themed restaurant.

A move which Abdullah embraced.

"They have given me the confidence and told me you are in charge of the kitchen. Choose the staff, decide on your working hours, do whatever you like. We are looking at the results and we will not interfere in your work. They encouraged me and gave me all the support," she said.

With full control of the kitchen, Abdullah's creativity and inspiration are evident in the dishes which guests go back for again and again.

"The most delicious dish I liked was marqoq, She added beans and usually the people of Najd (Riyadh) add only vegetables - pumpkin, zucchini, eggplant, meat but she added beans which has given the dish a different in flavour, as well as coriander and lemon both gave a very wonderful flavour. I enjoyed eating it," said restaurant guest Abdulmalek.

"The reputation of this restaurant has attracted us to reserve today and try it. It met our expectations and we wish them success," said another restaurant guest Mohammed Mubarak.

But Abdullah is not letting success get in the way and is now eyeing her next project - which is her own cooking channel on YouTube.

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Tag: chef, Saudi Arabia, Doha Abdullah, culinary, King Abdullah

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