The Arab-Canadian connection extends far beyond Paul Anka and Narcy. As immigrants moved to the Great White North, they took their food with them, and some of the best Middle Eastern cuisine outside the region is now served in Canada.
Egyptian-Canadian chef Andrew Mitchell, who’s familiar to viewers across the region for his shows on Fatafeat TV, brings a taste of those flavours — think almonds and cherries paired with maple syrup — to the Emirates next week as part of a year-long celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary.
We caught up with him via email ahead of the event.
What’s Canadian food really? What are its most identifiable characteristics?
I think Canadian food comes from a mixture of different kitchens from around the world. In the early days a lot of the recipes were variations of traditional British and French cuisines, done the Canadian way with some of the more traditional ingredients being substituted with local ones. Until today there are many new variations of traditional recipes from every country of the world being reinvented in the local market to cater to the taste of people in Canada. With our diverse population this will always be happening. For the few popular Canadian dishes known internationally, I would say that it’s due to two possible characteristics. First, the unique or high quality ingredients that are known to be Canadian. Second would be that the dish was first invented and discovered in Canada.
What Canadian produce is available in the UAE and how does it compare with other established suppliers?
The Canadian products most common in the UAE are beef, veal, lamb and a variety of new seafood items from Atlantic Canada including live lobsters, sea scallops, mussels and oysters. I usually see Canadian products in high end establishments as our products are regarded as being high quality. Even though some of our products have been available in the market for many years, I see more and more of a selection of Canadian products popping up in new places.
Name three things for consumers to add to their basket at the supermarket.
There is much more than maple syrup, but I think you should always add a couple cans to the basket if you don’t have stock at home! The three Canadian products I would recommend are beef, lobster and oysters.
What are some of the most persistent myths you come across regarding Canadian food?
“That we don’t have our own food.” Anyone who has ever been to Canada would never say that. “That we put maple syrup on everything” I usually tell them, “We sure try!”
You’re a regular on Fatafeat. What’s the viewer question that most surprises you?
None of the viewers questions related to cuisine ever surprised me; I’ve already heard it all from friends over the years since I started as a chef. It’s usually the personal questions that some views tend to ask that kinda catch me off guard.
Where’s the common ground between Canadian and Middle Eastern food – how do the two come together?
There are a lot of Canadians with roots from the Middle East, I can remember eating falafel at a small Lebanese fast food chain in Canada since the Nineties. I think that Canadians generally like Middle Eastern cuisine and [there are] variations of traditional dishes all over Canada. Also Canadian chefs working around the Middle East have a chance to influence the connection between our food cultures.
You ran restaurants in Cairo – when are you opening one in Dubai?
Though I left Cairo in 2016, I still have a restaurant/bar at Somabay on the Red Sea in Egypt. I have spent a lot of time living between Dubai and other countries, on and off for the better part of a decade. I never seriously thought about opening in Dubai due to the fact that I enjoy being a guest and trying to keep up with all the new places constantly opening. I just enjoy being on the other side of the table in some places.
You consult with restaurants in your day job – what are the top two or three bits of advice you’d give anyone that wants to open a restaurant here?
Get experience in the food and beverage industry before considering it, most people have a completely different idea of how this business works than the reality of it. If you haven’t had a career in the industry then your expectations are probably not realistic. Like anything else you do, you must have a passion for food. People can tell if something was made with love, or just made to order. Study your project with actual offers and confirmed costs. False assumptions and under-budgeting are one of the biggest causes of failure for new concepts. Make sure your concept has something that makes it unique.