I was not the luckiest trying to set up a meeting with this aspiring Jordanian female chef. It has been busy for both of us and Ramadan came along to turn our schedules upside down with late Iftar times, lack of sleep and more family commitments during the week. It was not until several times that we eventually managed to meet on a cool Ramadan night at Kava, one of the chef’s favorite working spaces in Amman. It has been a while since I met Sereen Al-Kurdi, a former colleague and a friend of mine. It was pleasant meeting her after that long period, this time, to talk about her culinary journey that she started eight years ago as a student at the first Swiss-affiliated culinary school in Amman.
“I remember the day I applied to the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts very well. I was the first student to be interviewed by the Academy’s director and he did not believe that a blond, blue-eyed girl would want to start her career in the demanding culinary industry” says Sereen. “It was unusual for females to work in hotels’ or restaurants’ kitchens in Jordan. My first internship at Grand Hyatt Hotel Amman was a life changing experience for me. I had to go through the good and the bad proving to myself as well as for everyone else that a female chef is able to handle the workload and the pressure in the kitchen. They believed that I will quit and go back home, but they were wrong!”
With determination and hard work, Sereen graduated among the first batch from the Academy in 2010 with distinction, an achievement allowed her to join Kendall Collage in Chicago to pursue a Bachelor degree in culinary arts. The one-year program was an eye-opening experience for Sereen. “Moving to Chicago was a huge step in my life. Being on my own, away from my family and friends and out of my comfort zone was a challenge; I had to adapt to a new lifestyle, a new system and different way of living.” Reminded of that period, Sereen admits that it’s those times that have sharpened her personality and added much to her interpersonal and professional skills. “I realized that I was given the chance to grow with the support and guidance of the mentors that I have encountered during my time at Kendall,” adds Sereen. Overwhelmed with studying and working at the events department at Kendall, she was able to graduate with a Bachelor Degree of 3.95 GPA in one hand, and a one-year optional practical training (OPT) at Aquavit – New York’s two Michelin Nordic restaurant in the other.
The exposure to different cultures and communities, variety of products and ingredients and the experience at Aquavit had a huge influence on the young’s chef culinary approach. “It is amazing what you get to learn from the practical life of being a chef,” Sereen admits. “Books built the base the professional experience that I gained from the people I worked with. The demanding job and the long working hours taught me discipline, loyalty and attention to details, which is something you never learn from books. I was inspired by every person I worked with, especially chef Marcus Jernmark,” explains Sereen.
Back to Amman, Sereen was invited to work as a culinary instructor at the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts. Two years of transferring her knowledge to the future culinary ambassadors of the Academy, the chef decided to leave her position in 2015 to start a dream project of her own: Local Table Dinners. The project was initiated by a one-month Nordic promotion that Sereen has pulled at Crown Plaza Hotel Amman last April. “I was encouraged to take this idea further after the support I have witnessed from my sous chef Tarek Alameddine and all the local and foreigner guests who indulged on the Nordic dishes,” adds the chef.
A concept that incorporates sustainable farming and supports local communities using seasonal and locally produced ingredients. “A very challenging concept in Amman since the market has minimal understanding the concept of slow food culture that is still crawling its baby steps, especially when you need to know what is available on the market before hand to build your dishes on ,” she admits. A different menu served in an unexpected location around Jordan will add a special flavour and allows for a different feeling for each dinner. “It could be anywhere in and out of Amman thanks to generous donations from house owners, art galleries, open spaces and other supporting individuals supporting my mission. A dream wouldn’t have been possible without my family and friend’s support and community collaboration.”
*Pictures courtesy of chef Serren Al Kurdi