My Dubai Expo: Lebanese chef offers lifeline to staff fleeing Beirut's troubles

Ruby El-Chaer says many of the staff working at Baron had no choice but leave their home country

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Dotted around Expo 2020 Dubai are restaurants hand-picked by the organisers to show the best of international cuisine.

One occupying a prime position next to Al Wasl Plaza is Baron, a local star from the Beirut culinary scene serving fusion food heavily influenced by the region.

Ruby El-Chaer, 28, from Lebanon, is the general manager, a former head chef running her first restaurant.

She joined the team in mid-August, and got straight to work with only six weeks to go before Expo 2020's October 1 opening date.

"Hiring everyone, deciding on all the branding and all the uniforms, setting up the menu, figuring out Expo's policies. It was all organised at pretty short notice," said Ms El-Chaer, who previously worked as head chef for the Dubai restaurant Kismet.

Baron's profile and popularity soared after the eatery was voted as one of the 50 Best Discovery Restaurants for the Middle East.

The neighbourhood restaurant is known for its sharing plates and unexpected sauces, plus the signature whole roasted head of cauliflower in spiced butter, yoghurt tahini tartare, walnuts and pomegranate.

The Expo pop-up shares many of the same principles – the food is a fusion of flavours, and the staff are a real melting pot as well.

"Oh, you cannot imagine what a mix. We have staff from Kyrgyzstan, we have Lebanese, we have Brazilian, we have Moroccan," said Ms El-Chaer, who has lived in Dubai for three years.

"Communication is on fire. We're trying to get everyone involved with the same level of communication and it is going to take a while.

"The only challenge is that we are only open for a short time, so we have to be cracking on all the time."

Many of the staff working at Baron had to flee Beirut after they lost their jobs in the Lebanese financial crisis, and the restaurant opening at Expo was a lifeline for them and their families.

Once the world fair finishes on March 31, they will still have six months left on their visas to find new jobs in the UAE.

In the interim, Ms El-Chaer is determined to try everything Expo has to offer.

"I recommend Al Wasl Plaza, and if you walk around you will see Jubilee Park, which is a very nice concept," she said.

"And what shook my mind was the sushi counter at the Japanese pavilion, which was pretty yummy, pretty affordable, and really busy all the time."

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Updated: October 31st 2021, 4:18 PM