Our Day in the Life series allows you to step into the shoes of a UAE resident to experience a typical 24 hours in their work and home life
Fifteen years ago, Hala Ayash spent her days in a Saudi boardroom.
However, after moving to Dubai and enrolling in culinary school, the mother of one took a leap of faith and entered a TV cooking show in a move that would change her life.
Today, she is a TV chef on MBC’s popular Morning Show and spends her days whipping up everything from Greek saganaki to towering black forest gateau in front of millions across the Arab world.
Here, The National follows Ms Ayash through a typical day behind the camera, juggling baking and bloopers with Andrea Bocelli.
7am: Gearing up for the day
“I start the day with an espresso shot, a workout and a shower, then it’s time to head to the studio,” says Ms Ayash, 40, who is originally from Syria. “We then have a morning meeting and then it’s time for hair and make-up and styling.
“When I arrived in Dubai, I worked as a personal trainer because I wanted to inspire women in the region to take control of their health and their lifestyle.
“Then, when I was 28, I decided to balance personal training with culinary school.”
In 2016, Ms Ayash was invited to take part in MBC’s Top Chef competition, finishing as first runner-up, yet her talent stood out to TV bosses, who hired her as a chef on the daily Morning Show. And the culinary scene in Dubai has captivated her ever since.
“Dubai is a really metropolitan city with people living here from all over the world,” she says. “Food takes you on a journey and forges connections – it’s about so much more than sustenance. We're lucky to have every cuisine imaginable here.”
Noon: Lights, camera, action
“At noon, we go on air for two hours, switching between different segments,” says Ms Ayash. “The show is live, so mistakes do sometimes happen.
“Whenever anything becomes challenging, I just try to be as honest as possible. It’s all about inspiring others and in real life things go wrong.
“One time I was making a black forest cake and it looked fantastic but when I was transferring it to the plate I smashed it completely.
“I tried to signal to the director and I saw her face change as she took in the scene but it was too late and the camera was already on me. I just laughed it off as a ‘creative cake’.”
Ms Ayash’s cooking varies from Asian to Mexican and other Latin-inspired dishes, but Mediterranean dishes hold a special place in her heart.
“When I was a child, my dad studied in Spain and he cooked dishes for us that were really interesting,” she says. “I lost him two years ago and these flavours always remind me of him.
“He was the person who introduced me to the passion of eating and everything that goes into a good meal.”
2pm: It’s a wrap
“I do intermittent fasting so after we’ve finished shooting I’ll have my first meal of the day, which is usually something simple like a salad or a sandwich,” says Ms Ayash.
“I also do professional restaurant consultation in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Oman and the rest of the day is usually taken up with meetings and working on new ideas.”
Ms Ayash has previously teamed up with companies including the UAE’s Kcal and Oman’s Mint & Coco restaurant, working on everything from concept creation and menu engineering to kitchen design and staff training.
“One of my favourite parts of my job is seeing concepts finally come together on the plate after lots of trial and error,” she says. “It’s a very creative process and it’s important to get it just right.”
8pm: Dinner time
“Usually on an evening I’ll get my recipe ideas for the next day’s show and my decision is often influenced by the music I listen to,” says Ms Ayash.
“I’m a big fan of everything from house to Andrea Bocelli and the energy of the music often comes through in the dishes.”
Often, Ms Ayash entertains guests at her home in Dubai’s Mudon, with a meal stretching out across the evening.
“My kitchen is open plan with a big cooking bar where I can have four to five people eating and drinking,” she says. “For me, eating slowly is really important, not just for digestion but to properly appreciate the food and enjoy the company you’re in.
“Celebrating life and having meaningful experiences is very important to me.”