A heavily pregnant Dalia Dogmoch Soubra bends to produce a batch of fresh lemon muffins from one of two ovens in her state-of-the-art kitchen and serves them up at her 16-seater dining table. Were it not for the modern gadgets and the absence of an apron, this could be an ad from the 1950s.
Yet despite appearances, Dogmoch Soubra – who juggles motherhood with running the bakery chain Kitsch Cupcakes and has now produced a cookbook – claims she is no superwoman. “I am a working mother and as much as it seems I multitask, I still need to manage my time better,” she says.
Nevertheless, it has taken her just six months – she might have been quicker had morning sickness not got the better of her – to come up with the soon-to-be-published Food, Love and Life from Dalia's Kitchen, a collection of 124 recipes reflecting her diverse upbringing.
Born in London to Syrian parents with Turkish ancestry, she was raised in Germany and France before moving to New York at the age of 19.
The 34-year-old, who taught herself to cook in America because she was homesick for her mother's recipes, has been sharing her favourite dishes on her blog (www.daliaskitchen.com) for the past three years.
She decided to collate them into a cookbook, which offers more than simply a collection of recipes.
It is her manual for life, hence the title, peppered with personal stories and tips for the home chef.
There are pointers on how to entertain, how to create simple, rustic decorations for your dining table and what every home cook cannot do without, from a hand mixer to a good quality set of kitchen knives.
“It is a personal cookbook because there are stories attached to each recipe,” says Dogmoch Soubra. “Food is much more than just food. It is about loving ingredients and sharing meals with loved ones.”
Dogmoch Soubra did not start her career in the kitchen, although one of her earliest memories is of being 5 years old and “my mother freaking out after finding me on a stool trying to make crepes on our gas stove”.
She studied international marketing at New York University before doing a masters in property and finance. “I started craving everything I missed from our home in Paris, of walking into a cafe and having a hearty goat’s cheese salad,” she says. “Little by little, I started cooking at home.”
Moving to Beirut, where her family had relocated, she joined the family property business in 2005 but the move made her miserable: “It did not work for me.”
So with her childhood friend Racil Chalhoub, she opened the Kitsch cafe a year later, to the chagrin of her father.
“He told me: ‘All this and now you are going to sell cakes?’” she recalls with a twinkle. “My parents had given up a lot to give us a better life but it was what I wanted to do. Of course, now he is ever so happy.”
In 2007, she moved to Dubai and opened a branch in Jumeirah Islands, followed by other outlets in Abu Dhabi and DIFC.
She started her blog as a way of sharing childhood recipes and memories of gorging on delicious quiches in French cafes or her mother’s Middle Eastern cuisine.
That cultural hotpot left her confused when she was younger: “It bothered me when I was a child.
“There were only a couple of Arab children in my school and children can be quite cruel to anyone who seems different. It was not easy, especially when my school lunch box would be oozing Middle Eastern flavours like chickpeas, garlic and pine nuts.”
At home, her identity crisis continued. “We were a traditional Syrian family who spoke German at home and were living in Paris while eating Arabic cuisine.”
As an adult, she has come to celebrate those differences, which are reflected in her dishes.
Traditional French roasted chicken is given a new twist with za’atar while ice cream is flavoured with pistachios and halaweh.
Her recipes have developed over time, some adapted from the multitude of cookbooks which fill her home in Jumeirah and others concocted as an experiment and thrashed out through a process of trial and error.
There are even a couple from her Lebanese investment banker husband Phiras Soubra. All the recipes in the book were tested by an independent chef in the US.
“Today, I embrace my identity crisis,” says Dogmoch Soubra. “I could not eat traditional Arabic cuisine all the time, nor do I want to eat French or Asian food every day. Many tastings and kilos later, I have figured out what works and what does not.”
Dubai, she says, is the first place she has really felt at home because “no one is really from here”.
Even with her daughter Joanna due in two weeks and a 17-month-old toddler Phares, Dogmoch Soubra is showing no signs of slowing down.
The book will go on sale in bookshops and on Amazon in July for Dh155, and a promotional tour as the ambassador for a French cookware brand follows in September.
Meanwhile, Dogmoch Soubra has been filling a cookery slot on the TV show Mashaheer (which airs on -Dubai TV) and filming an online cookery show for the website My -Dubai My City.
“I am not someone who does things by halves,” she says. “When I am pregnant, I go into overdrive.”
Cooking, she adds, is the ultimate therapy. “If I am having a bad day, I go into the kitchen. Food is my life.
“It has shaped who I am.”
Dalia’s top entertaining tips
1 Use fresh fruits or vegetables to decorate your table. Arrange lemons or clementines in a jar and cherry tomatoes or green apples in a bowl on your kitchen counter or dining table.
2 Make homemade lemonade rather than using shop-bought: boil one cup of white sugar with one cup of water, reduce by half and add four cups of cold water, one cup lemon juice, fresh mint or basil and ice cubes.
3 Place candles at the entrance of your home and in the centre of your table with some flowers or wrap silk ribbons around them.
4 A chalkboard menu is a simple yet pretty way to showcase the menu of the day, as well as a useful way to scribble notes and reminders.
5 When making cookies, freeze some of the dough in a cylinder wrapped in parchment – then whenever you need to entertain, cut a few slices and bake as usual.
[ @LifeNationalUAE ]
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