Up Close and Personal with Silvena Rowe
She is a top celebrity chef and internationally renowned restaurateur, famous for hosting the tables of royalty and international celebrities. When we caught up with her recently at chic lifestyle boutique, O’De Rose, she was warm and sincere, yet it was evident she possesses a no-nonsense attitude to food. She doesn’t agree with the use of gluten, sugar or salt, so her Dubai restaurant Omnia Gourmet may seem like a bore, but believe us, one taste of her sugarless chocolate cake and you’ll be hooked! With an emphasis on fresh, locally sourced organic food, this is where the raw movement reigns supreme, and is a somewhat niche concept in the region. We were inspired after meeting her, (if not a little converted) to her way of thinking…
You’ve recently lost a lot of weight by substituting the ingredients you use in your recipes. Can you give us some advice for healthy home cooking?
First of all omit butter and oil from your diet. If you need to use oil, use olive or coconut varieties. These are good for you. If a recipe requires sugar, use dates or honey instead as a sweetener. And above all, go gluten free. I am very against gluten. There is no nutritional value in it and it’s actually more dangerous for you than you think.
You are against the use of salt in your food, so what’s the method of bringing out the flavours of your dishes?
I use fresh herbs, not so much the Indian powdered kind but fragrant Arabic versions like zaatar and dukkah and my own special spice blends.
What would be a great three-course menu that you could prepare for a loved one that’s both healthy and easy?
I think I would start with something fresh and crispy with beetroot or asparagus with a nice hollandaise or maybe some chopped boiled eggs. For mains I’d make a fish. Personally I like to use Asian flavours with seafood, so I’ll use herbs like lemongrass, chillies, lemon, ginger and lime leaves with a little olive oil. Wrap it and steam it and serve with steamed spinach on the side. For dessert, just buy my chocolate pudding – it’s sugar-free, gluten free and it’s really good. All in all, it’s a winning but light meal.
You have a massive expansion plan going on in Dubai, so we’re assuming that you like it here…
I love Dubai. I love the people, the vibe, the weather… it very much suits my way of thinking. It’s fast-paced and vibrant and full of opportunity.
Is it true that the Dubai royal family are fans?
Yes, they regularly come to eat at my place and it’s great. They are so nice, very approachable and friendly and they are huge fans of my desserts.
So what’s the secret behind your success?
Reinvention. It’s about taking something that works and reinventing it; not changing the core concept but just making it different with a few added touches. That’s what I do and I always pioneer the differences. Other people follow and copy my ideas, but by that time I’m on to the next thing.
What’s your motto in life?
Surround yourself with people that exude positive energy and live for today.
The food industry is known for being somewhat of a male-dominated industry - so what advice would you give women who want to break into the profession?
Work and think… like a man. I refuse to go with the flow and I don’t pay attention to those around me. I saw Nigella the other day flaunting herself with a lower than necessary top and quite frankly I was disgusted. I don’t need to do that. I am not a formally trained chef but I have passion and drive. If you combine those two elements, that’s all you need.
Silvena Rowe's Roast Pumpkin and Almond Soup with Almond and Cumin Dukkah
“Dukkah is an Egyptian spice and nut blend that has a fantastic crunchy texture. Here I’ve mixed the dukkah with olive oil so that it blends deliciously with this comforting autumnal soup,” says Silvena
FOR THE DUKKAH
50g whole almonds, toasted
1 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted
½ tbsp cumin seeds, toasted
¼ tbsp fennel seeds, toasted
6 tbsp olive oil
FOR THE SOUP
1kg pumpkin or squash, peeled, de-seeded and cubed
8 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
2 onions, quartered
6 garlic cloves
4 tbsp olive oil
800ml chicken stock
100g ground almonds
3 tbsp pomegranate seeds
1 Place all the ingredients for the dukkah in a food processor and blend until well combined. Transfer to a small bowl.
2 Preheat the oven to 180C.
3 Spread the pumpkin, sage, onions and whole garlic cloves on a roasting tray and drizzle with the olive oil.
4 Season to taste and cook in the oven for 30–35 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool a little.
5 Using a food processor, blend to a purée, adding a little of the chicken stock to ease the process.
6 Tip the pumpkin purée into a saucepan and add the rest of the stock. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring from time to time to ensure a smooth consistency.
7 Finally, add the ground almonds and combine well.
8 To serve, drizzle the soup with the almond dukkah and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds