A Lunch Date with Nina Abu-Wardeh

16 Dec 2011
By Ahlanlive.com

We talk food with the face of BBC World’s Middle East Business Report Nina Abu-Wardeh at her favourite restaurant, Royal Mirage’s Eauzone

Do you have a favourite dish?
I love food – all types of food. Everything, anything, I don’t have a favourite. Having said that, when I was a little girl in Nigeria, my comfort food was, should I say this, sticky rice that I ate with my hands.

Why do you love Eauzone?
It’s away from the crowd. And, at this time of year, it’s lovely weather and great to be outside without facing a brick wall!

What are your guilty food pleasures?
I don’t feel guilty about anything. My body is my guide and it tells me what I need or what I want, whether that’s carbs or lentils for example. Sounds really freaky but it’s true. Oh and by the way, I had three yummy delicious cup cakes yesterday at my nephew’s birthday party.

Do you have any special food memories?
Any roast, especially turkey which is a family thing with my mother and my four siblings and all our children. It’s a sort of quintessentially English thing to do that’s very much associated with Christmas.

Who is your food inspiration?
It’s a mixture of people who I’ve been alongside over the years where we’ve cooked dishes at home, or gone to their houses and tasted something. My sister or my Italian friends in my life - amazing stuff, so simple, so delicious. And people who are passionate about their food, about every single ingredient – like Martha Stewart who reinvented herself as a foodie in her 40s, Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver who cares enough to spread the word amongst children in schools. Where food comes from is important. Is it fresh? I would rather sacrifice quantity for quality.

What would you never eat?
I wouldn’t eat for the sake of eating. A good example is when I went with mum to Kenya on safari for her birthday just a few months ago. All the tour guides said you must go to the Carnivore restaurant and I couldn’t think of anything worse than to go somewhere where they gratuitously kill these wild animals so you can have a taste. So I boycotted that. That kind of thing I would never do, and I wish they wouldn’t pump chickens full of hormones.

What do you think of Dubai’s restaurant scene?
I’ve had some terrible meals in Dubai at supposedly really good restaurants as well. Typically here, you can buy the hardware, but the talent, the people that’s where it lacks. So it doesn’t matter for me, I can be sitting on a Coca-Cola box but give me good food. Don’t tell me it’s Italian when some other nationality is cooking it, and it’s only the person that trained them that is Italian.

What do you look for in a restaurant apart from great food?
I am very happy that there is no smoking as it really used to restrict me in the past. Look at where we are now – you can see. I don’t like enclosed surroundings. For me to enjoy, I would much rather be outside without a roof over my head. And not to have people bothering me too much. Fine ask me, make the experience nice, look after me, but please leave me alone. Let me enjoy the meal and take my time.

What do you like to cook at home?
My four year old’s palate is very specific because of what I feed him! It’s all whole wheat and whole meal – none of that white stuff. He adores smoked haddock and kipper because I do. I have six nieces and nephews so I am very conscious of always having things to cater to them, so pesto, whole meal goods, we eat a lot of fish - grilled and pan-fried. I adore aubergine, but apparently it has nicotine in it so I could be addicted to it! Tomato based dishes with the sharpness of cheese on top. That’s my cup of tea.

Who taught you how to cook?
My friends and my sister. And, just by experimenting to get the right flavour.

Your kitchen cupboard must-haves?
I have a small vegetable patch at home in my garden where I grow my mint, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, aubergine, cucumbers, lettuce and spinach. Even asparagus but that one’s a nightmare to grow. In my cupboard I have good quality salt – and then you need less of it. Freshly ground pepper, I would never use powder. Olive oil. Garlic and lentils. Cumin and cardamom. Halloumi and fresh bread. With just those ingredients you can make a lot.

What is your foodie dream?
Food is fantastic, it’s wonderful, so my dream is to have a farm, like a collective, almost a time-share, where we know the cows, the produce we are eating.