Feteer Meshaltet, Fetir or Fateer is the Egyptian layered pastry meaning ‘cushion-like pie’ – the stuffing or the filling coming in the form of chicken and cheese, sausage and cheese, tomatoes and olives, cream and honey or traditionally the simple Kraft Cheese! Had as a sweet or a salty savoury, the making of Feteer is an art in itself – a dramatic, action packed act in an opera. The video shows Chef Takrori making Feteers in the recently opened Helio Lounge in Dubai Marina. He is an expert hailing from a family where 3 generations have engaged themselves making Feteer. These Feteers are a modern day, but a fine adaptation of the traditional Egyptian Feteers under the guidance of Celebrity chef Joe Barza, who is one of the top chefs in the Arab world and the creator of the menu of Helio – an Egyptian fusion menu with an international twist.
We watched in awe while Chef Takrori (above right) gave a classic performance while making these modern Feteers. Traditionally, Feteers are one of the most traditional dishes in Egypt – layered pastries with stuffing or filling. Served in bite size forms and a myriad of exquisite fillings, the Feteers, here, take the name Helios. There is an interesting mix of savoury Helios – minced beef with labna (also called Labneh or Greek yogurt, Süzme yogurt, yogurt cheese) in a crunchy mix of walnuts and pomegranate molasses; minced beef and Egyptian foul (fava beans) mildly spiced with garlic; chicken and spinach with cream sauce and cheese etc. And then there are some sweet Helios – the Choco – Halawa where the semi-dark chocolate is melted along with Halawa (what is Halawa?) and pistachio; caramel glazed apples with almonds and cinnamon; crushed almonds mixed with icing sugar; Khoshaf (Khoshaf is a dried fruit salad served at the end of most family meals in the Middle East) with an exotic mix of dried apricots, dates, prunes, figs and raisins, mixed with honey and cottage cheese; and finally, Coconut mixed with icing sugar. All Helios, whether savoury or sweet, are served with an interesting mix of dips that complement each filling. Of course, the menu has more than just Helios. The pictures below show the long rolls of Feteer before they went into the oven; after they came out of the oven; the traditional Halawa filling with Pistachio; and the Chocolate – Halawa filling.
Talking to Chef Joe Barza
Chef Joe Barza is a celebrity chef, well known television personality (co-host of the Middle Eastern version of the TV program Top Chef) and a culinary consultant. Our tête-à-tête revealed how interesting his career and his life has been (from being the personal bodyguard to the President of Lebanon to becoming the top Chef in the Arab world – a very interesting journey that you can read here), despite the hardships that he had to face in his early years. Because of time constraint, my blogger friend Debbie, of Coffee Cakes and Running, and I shared the Chef for the the interview. So some of our questions naturally seem to overlap and some the questions are hers.
You are originally from Lebanon. And your repertoire reflects your expertise in Lebanese cuisine and showcases Lebanese cuisine to the world. So how did the Egyptian fusion food happen? You see, if you love food and you have the technique and the imagination, then it is not difficult. I brainstormed with the owners many times and tried to understand what they have been visualizing. At night I scanned all these in my brains. And with 24 years of culinary experience, I created and conceptualized a menu that is exactly what the restauranteur had imagined. For me, Sugar is not just sugar. I respect the ingredient. For me – whether it is Japanese or Vietnamese, I respect the differences in each cuisine. Right now I’m working for a Vietnamese restaurant. For me, it’s all about passion. I did a lot of research as well. Lebanese Cuisine is vast – there are thousands of different dishes. But there’s not such a wide variety in Egyptian cuisine. I started looking at the backbone of traditional Egyptian cuisine – the Breads, the Rice, the Koshari (traditionally this is a rice-stuffed pigeon dish), the Tahmeya etc. and came up with a menu that is contemporary and modern, at the same time works around traditional Egyptian cuisine. A good presentation, a nice Salad, a bit of French fries and special dips – I think I tried to give the food it’s value.
Do you source the ingredients locally? Are they organically produced? No, they are not always organic. But yes, the ingredients are all sourced locally. There are very good markets with good products in Dubai. They are a bit expensive but the quality is amazing. A lot of world class restaurants have opened up here. I’ve run promotions all over the world and I’ve realised that to make any venture commercially viable, one has to work cleverly with whatever options are available to him, how to be flexible while at the same time understanding the local culture.
You have been showcasing Lebanese cuisine to the world. Do you think that it is very easy or it is is very difficult to showcase one’s regional cuisine? It is actually my pleasure to demonstrate my country’s cooking. I wouldn’t say that it is easy and I wouldn’t say that it is difficult. Once I was demonstrating Lebanese cuisine in Venezuela. There were 400 people – no one spoke in any common language, nor had any idea about Lebanese cuisine – Humous etc. But everybody loved what I served. You know the result.
What is the signature dish or your favourite dish in the menu here? Isn’t the menu very vast? A lot of them actually. I like the Feteers – specially the stuffing of the Fateers because it is an achievement for me. I love the wraps as well. The menu is not vast at all. There are 50 to 60 dishes but people love more options. And we do have plans to add a few more dishes. How often do you think you would change the menu? I feel that one has to give any menu a chance. And you have to educate the diners as well. People have to have the culture of the food in their mind and they can then pass on the message. For me cooking is a pleasure – I have fed 21,000 people at the end of the day. So in one way, the entire process is industrial. And in another way, it is not industrial – you are in direct contact with people.
The Dubai diners want something new all the time and the dining culture is very different. How do you plan to cater to their wants? There are lots of tourists in Dubai. Also, there are lot of professionals working here who don’t want to cook at home. They want to go out and try different types of food. I am not sure how loyal the Dubai diners are. In Lebanon, I use to run a chain of international restaurants (The Chase, which had 9 outlets in Lebanon, and many around the world). There were diners who would come for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday for 10 years! I also had to make the same dish over and again – this is very difficult!
As a Consultant, you must be cooking less and thinking on strategies more nowadays? No, cooking for me is like sport. It is distressing. What do you cook at home? I don’t cook so much at home nowadays. But even two years back, I would take my son to the markets and come back and cook for the whole week. So, you cook at work? Yes, I have big kitchens in my company where I cook. What about cooking on TV shows? I was co-hosting Top Chef. Now I am helping with the preparation for a food program in a big format with MBC1 in the US. But I do not want to go on stage and cook – not because I feel that the people may not understand what I will cook but because even I don’t understand what I cook! (Here, we all burst out laughing) Either, I record each step that I’m cooking or I have assistants who write that down.
In what way do you maintain an ongoing involvement with a restaurant where you’ve lent your signature? All the way. It’s not as if I’ll create a menu and am only present during the restaurant launch. Even after months if there is a problem with the working of the menu, I’ll be there and I shall work on it. You see, there should be something more than the business. What’s the use if I create a menu and it doesn’t work? Where is my achievement then?
Some interesting projects that you are working on and if you’d like to share with us. I‘m doing another restaurant in Kuwait, a Vietnamese restaurant in Beirut. I’m also signing up with a premium magazine here to provide recipes. I have a large catering company in Beirut where I’m a consultant. But what about a restaurant which will have your own label? In my mind, I’m doing all that I am doing is because I’m not chained to a place – I’m not going to sit in the restaurant the whole day and follow a routine. Right now, I’m doing promotions in different hotels (Atlantis, Park Hayat etc), meeting people like you, cooking Egyptian, learning Vietnamese food, travelling the world – Jakarta, Australia, India… I’m living my dreams.
Well, a free spirited man there. Chain him down with a routine and he says – ‘I can die! Right now I sleep happy, I wake up happy.’
Helio Lounge (Middle Eastern)
Location: Mezzanine Floor, Trident Bayside Tower, Marina Walk, Dubai Marina
Tel: +971 4 432 9457; Email: email@example.com
For more info, you could visit their Website; Facebook Page; Twitter
Hallucination on Feteers is inevitable. My blogger friends have touched upon this subject with much love and obsession. Sarah in her blog, The Hedonista, declares Fateer, Feteer, Fetir – by any other name, it’s still quite orgasmic; Arva who writes on eating holes in Dubai in her blog I live in a Frying Pan, writes about her Feteer obsession in The National; Debbie writes on her Feteer experience in Helio Lounge. Before signing off, I have only one thing to say – when you bite into the crunchy pastry flakes of a Feteer which is piping hot, freshly out of the heaven and the the delicious filling oozes out, I can only think of what Sarah has defined Feteer to be. Orgasmic!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: The opinions stated here are my own and are absolutely independent. I hope you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals but please do not use any material from this post. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here. It does take lot of effort to capture a food experience in text and pictures. While it’s meant for you to enjoy them, I request you not to use them!
My other posts with Chef talks:
• Sanjeev Kapoor | Talking To The Chef Extraordinaire• Asha Bhosle | Cooking With Her & Sharing Her Chicken Keema Recipe!• Violet Oon | The Singaporean Food Guru & Her Recipe Of Chilli Crab!• Chef Abhijit Saha | Is There Heart And Soul In Molecular Gastronomy?• Chef Sanjay Bahl | Flavours And Flavours And Flavours of Patiala!