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The Saudi Women at the Forefront of Fine Dining

The Ritz Carlton in Riyadh was one of the first hotels in Saudi Arabia to employ women in their kitchens.

Women have taken over the kitchens of the fine dining restaurants in the much visited establishment in the kingdom’s capital where they serve up not only international cuisines, but traditional Saudi Arabian delicacies and true Arabian hospitality.

Working across 3 of the Ritz Carlton’s restaurants, the chefs showcase their culinary techniques at Hong, which serves up modern and classic Chinese cuisine, Azzuro, where you can find fresh Italian dishes, and Al Orjouan, which is an all-day buffet.

With Vision 2030 aiming to employ more Saudi women in roles that were previously taken on by men, the famous hotel employed women in their kitchen for the first time in 2016 and now boasts a female staff of 15 with more on the way.

Al Orjouan Ritz Carlton Riyadh

Hotel manager Mohammed Marghalani said, “The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh is working in line with Saudi’s Vision 2030 in employing females in all departments of the hotel, culinary included. However, we haven’t recruited them simply because they are women but because they are competent and excel in what they do, and that has always been our vision: To have a dedicated team of professionals that work together.”

Of the female chefs currently working at the hotel is Al-Maha Al-Dossary, who is a Riyadh native and was a corporate banker by profession prior to realizing her culinary dreams. Taking a leap of faith and putting her passions to the test, she left for London to graduate from Le Cordon Bleu, a well known training establishment for aspiring chefs, “I studied there for three years. In the beginning, I was sure that I wanted to be a pastry chef, but then I studied cuisine and I found the hot kitchen engaging and active. Once I returned from my studies, I applied at the Ritz because it’s an excellent hub to improve yourself, since we have exposure and engagement.”

Ritz Carlton Riyadh Female Chefs

Al-Dossary is also a vegan – which means she doesn’t eat meat or dairy products, and is currently part of the Ritz Carlton Riyadh’s Voyager program, which is in place to prepare chefs to take on management positions within the establishment, “I began from the commissary, which receives food, and worked up to the Italian cuisine, going through all the stages of kitchen work and taking it step by step to learn the whole process.” In the future, Al-Maha hopes to open a chain of vegan restaurants.

Other female chefs like Al-Maha Al-Dossary include sushi chefs Habeeba Abdullah and Um Abdullah Al-Maliki. Habeeba Abdullah started cooking when she was just 11, and has early memories of cooking up a storm with her uncle, “he kissed my forehead after we had completed the feast, and I felt a sense of pride. His encouragement helped pave the path of my culinary love, and his support made me feel I will be something big someday.” She is now a member of the Saudi Chefs Association, which gave her the opportunity of training to be a sushi chef on a course in Jeddah. Habeeba said that the course allowed her to feel like she was truly in Japan as specialist Japanese chefs teach students to make sushi from scratch. Abdullah’s ambitions are to cook internationally, “I aspired from the beginning, from cooking at home to cooking worldwide. I now consider myself (as if I were) working in the royal palace, which is the start of my launch to worldwide.”

Ritz Carlton Riyadh Hong Restaurant

Chef Um Abdullah Al-Maliki, also a mother, takes a different approach and channels her passions in a more traditional way, “I cook with love. Cooking is my passion. I make breakfast in the morning for my kids. Then, after taking them to school, I cook at the hotel and come back once more to make a delicious meal for my family.” She said she never tires of being in a kitchen as she does what she loves, “how can you get bored with your passion? I consider myself lucky that I get to do what I love, with love. No day goes without me being in the kitchen, whether at home or in the hotel. It’s my element and one that I feel most happy in.” Also speaking of more challenging times, Al-Maliki said, “One of the most challenging dining seasons is during Ramadan. Buffets are served after sundown until the sun comes up. It is the busiest time of year for these chefs — but also the most enjoyable. The happiness we feel when the serving dishes come back to kitchen empty is indescribable.”

Ritz Carlton Riyadh

This Ramadan, the chefs served up over 25 roasted lambs per day for the duration of the holy month, alongside 180kg of rice. “Ramadan usually is a stressful time for us because of the workload, but I can honestly say that it is the most memorable,” Al-Maliki stated.

Furthermore, the Ritz-Carlton not only employ the most incredible chefs but also have a no waste policy – no food is thrown away since the hotel partnered with a charitable organization which helps to donate all spare food to the needy throughout the year.

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