My UAE: Mussabeh Al Kaabi and an army of recipes

Mussabeh Al Kaabi doesn’t remember the exact moment when he decided he was going to be a chef, but he does remember food dominating his childhood growing up in Hatta in the UAE.

Mussabeh Al Kaabi developed his passion for cooking when he was a boy. Reem Mohammed / The National
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Mussabeh Al Kaabi doesn’t remember the exact moment when he decided he was going to be a chef, but he does remember food dominating his childhood growing up in Hatta in the UAE.

“I used to observe my mum’s super skills when she prepared mouthwatering meals for us,” says Al Kaabi. “I used to cook with my sisters when we had spare time. They would ask me to chop the veggies, clean the dishes, and help them cook.”

As with many successful chefs, Al Kaabi’s desire to cook was something he’s always had. “The passion for cooking developed when I was little,” he says.

He also grew up surrounded by mountains and farms, which had a profound effect on him and how he viewed food. “I used to accompany my father to the farm and learn the beauty of farming. On weekends, I would go out with friends for camping and cook with them. I would be the one responsible for meals and taking care of expenses. Then it was back to the farms to help my dad. I loved it.”

Al Kaabi, who was raised with four brothers and eight sisters, is married with a seven-year-old son. He started his adult life in 1990 as a soldier in the army. He even had the opportunity to train in other countries. But after he took off his army uniform, Al Kaabi followed his heart into the culinary world. That decision has paid off. Al Kaabi is now making his mark on the UAE’s food scene as the executive oriental chef at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray in Dubai. He works at one of the most recognised hotels in Dubai, which has 10 restaurants, cafes and lounges.

“I’ve trained in different places and I’ve learnt so much from each of them,” says Al Kaabi. “Cooking is an art. When you mix spices, it’s an art, and that art is what makes a mouthwatering dish.”

As the hotel’s executive oriental chef, Al Kaabi has his hands in many pots. He says: “I oversee all kitchen staff and am responsible for scheduling and performance. I have to ensure that the food is of high quality and motivate my colleagues to develop their culinary skills. I manage inventory and ensure the kitchen operates according to safety and sanitation standards. I assist in menu planning and the creation of new dishes.”

He also assumes the role of executive chef, overseeing every aspect of every restaurant in the hotel, in the executive chef’s absence.

Al Kaabi’s job is not one for the easily rattled. Yet he is eager for more responsibility. His dream, he says, is to be a group culinary director or hotel manager somewhere in the world. “I want to present the UAE around the world and share Emirati cuisine around the world.”

What is your favourite cuisine?

Indian is my favourite because of the spices and colour.

What five ingredients are always in your kitchen?

Garlic, onion, dry lemon, turmeric and chilli

What is the one dish that your friends and family most often request that you cook for them?

Machboos is the dish that I’m constantly chased after to cook for my family and friends. They won’t leave home until they eat my machboos.

Where will we find you on your day off?

Running out of the busy city to the mountains.

Besides restaurants in your own hotel, what is your favourite restaurant right now in Dubai and why?

I have to admit I love Al Nafoorah (at Jumeirah Emirates Towers). It’s a signature Lebanese Restaurant. I love everything on the menu and especially the grills.

What is your favourite restaurant for takeout in Dubai when you order delivery?

Noodle House Restaurant in the Gloria Hotel.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing for a career?

I’d be in the army with my friends and I’d love to be there as well.

What is something that would surprise people about you?

I may come across as an individual with a strict attitude but in reality I’m a very simple and humble man.

Do you have a hidden talent?

Fishing is my hidden talent.

What is your favourite movie?

The Fast and The Furious is my all-time favourite movie. It makes me want to ramble along and pretend I'm part of the movie.