The vibrant city of San Francisco has always been a driving influence in my career as a Chef. Growing up there, I was surrounded by the hustle, competition, talent, fresh produce and most importantly, I witnessed a high level of passion for food.
I graduated from Le Cordon Bleu San Francisco in 2011 and haven’t looked back since. My goal was to always work in wholesome, talented, inspiring and creative restaurants. I worked my way up from pastry assistant, to lead positions side by side with some really remarkable Chefs.
The years I spent as a Sous Chef in a Michelin-starred kitchen was a privilege and an accomplishment. It was always a professional goal and really honed my skill set and palate.
I am in love with Middle Eastern food and passionate about learning more about this very traditional cuisine and being able to showcase it in a new light. I love being able to adapt my menus at Naim Restaurant with how I feel at the time, or what inspires me at a particular moment.
I met my current business partner in 2018 and had the opportunity to start operating my own restaurant. Naim has been an incubator for everything that I have learned over the years. I’m grateful to have achieved this life goal so early on in my career.
Have you always wanted to be a Chef?
Subconsciously, yes. I grew up in a family where traditional educational values were standard. Being a creative wasn’t necessarily looked on as a desirable career.
I actually attended the prestigious New York University, where I began studying medicine for some time, before dropping out to pursue my education at Le Cordon Bleu.
Academia was such a huge part of my life, so giving that up wasn’t an easy transition.
How would you define your style?
Traditional, with a deliberate twist (or two!)
What is your feature flavour these days?
Pomegranate. It’s interesting and challenging, because very few ingredients work well as sweet and/or savoury. For example, for brunch we garnish our avo toast with a pomegranate and sumac gel; then for dinner, we make pomegranate harissa jus to glaze our braised short ribs.
Labelling! Everything must be labelled. Industry-standard is to use masking tape to label and I just can’t stand ripped edges. I ask my staff to use scissors to get straight, clean edges on our labels.
Your greatest culinary influence:
I used to watch videos of Chef Jacques Pepin doing the basics, like how to de-bone a chicken, or make an omelette. He made me really geek out on learning classic French techniques of cooking and I was so into the old-school ways of cooking and prepping. He taught me that you can’t be avant-garde without really knowing your basics.
What do you love about this business?
I love hospitality because it’s an intimate job. In one day, you can experience the highest highs and lowest lows. You could be praised by every customer who walks through the door and still have your personal life hanging by a thread.
I say it is intimate because it tests our strengths and vulnerabilities. There’s no hiding. If you are a bad Chef, you can’t hide – the proof is in the pudding.
An ingredient you can’t live without?
Preserved lemons, and yes, we make our own. It’s one of the first ingredients that ever made me think this is completely different to what I know. Eating preserved lemons takes me back to that feeling of trying something entirely new. I love the intense lemon flavour, it has depth, bright acidity and most of all, it’s pretty fun to make them.
Most ‘eyebrow-raising’ menu item?
You know that phrase ‘when in Rome’? Well, in true Aussie spirit I decided to create my own version of a savoury pie.
I turned a traditional Moroccan meat pie (commonly made with squab) into a unique vegan creation. We take roasted mushrooms, ras al hanout spices and other ingredients to create a rich and creamy filling; then wrap each one intricately with filo pastry and bake them fresh to order.
They’re beautifully golden brown when they’re finished and breaking into the crispy, buttery layers is very rewarding.
One day, I’ll make my way over to the Middle East and eat a proper shakshuka. But for now, our version of this classic dish definitely ticks all the boxes. First of all, our eggs are baked in a rich tomato sauce, seasoned with sumac and other warm spices.
Then it is garnished with labneh, olives and grilled bread. We’re labelled as a contemporary restaurant, but our preparation is very traditional. It represents Naim because it’s a generous portion, it’s exciting and so full of flavour.