The hectic roster of my flights and the recent Jordan trip to grow The Recipe Book interfered with my attempt to meet a friend and a creative cookie designer. Shortly after my return from Amman, I managed to set a meeting over a cup of tea at t-Lounge in Dubai’s Ibn Battuta Mall. I enjoyed a refreshing cinnamon and peach iced tea and a long conversation with Wafa’ about culinary school days, catching up on life and speaking about her recent cookie venture. I was delighted with Wafa’s generous gift; beautifully designed cookies specially made for this occasion, with chef-related designs and the logo of Taste of Jordan. The star of the gift was the paint-your-own Adha cookie. A carefully hand-drawn sheep on a base of white fondant with food coloring of the three basic colors. A brush and a drop of water, and you paint a cookie of your own taste!
I remember the passion that Wafa’ has for baking and pastries. She was one of the most dedicated students back at The Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and a top performer of her class. After two years of working at Marwan Bisharat & Co (an international design center based in Amman), Wafa’ enrolled at the Academy in 2012. A brave and an unusual detour from the architecture degree she was granted from University of Jordan. “It was not as welcomed by some members of my family, to turn my back to the engineering degree for the sake of a culinary diploma,” says Wafa’. After submitting her application, Wafa’ was invited to an interview with the culinary director of the Academy, an essential scanning process of the applicant’s personality and passion. With her successful two hands-on internships at Grand Hyatt Amman and Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, various assignments, long hours of studying, theoretical and practical exams, Wafa’ earned the culinary diploma in December 2014.
Her creative cookie designs are inspired by her architecture background. The continuous research and online education is part of her ongoing development. “It was challenging. Jordan has little resources, suppliers and a niche market. I used to ship ingredients, cutters and various items I needed from abroad,” explains Wafa’. Now, based in Dubai, Wafa’ is exposed to better options and various quality ingredients and equipment that she can choose from in addition to UAE’s facilitated shipping policies allows Wafa’ to source many of her much needed ingredients and equipment from abroad in a short and reliable process. “It is a competitive market. Dubai’s growing demand for high quality tailor-made cake and cookies push the limits of one’s imagination to create unique designs,” she explains. While paying attention to the quality of her cookies, Wafa’ invests her time and effort in wrapping and packaging her cookies. “I source some of my boxes from the United States for their simple designs and easy assembly. The individual cookies are packed individually and ribbons are tied by hand for every piece,” Wafa’ adds.
Ahead of a time, Wafa’ would arrange meetings with her clients to discuss the occasion they need the cookies for. “The client is involved in the designing process of their own order. I offer them more than one design to choose from. Understanding the client’s request and detailed research helps in visualizing the initial sketches of the designs. The final designs are then shared with the client and their consent is essential to proceed with their customized order,” explains Wafa’. It takes three days for an order to be ready for delivery. Baking the cookies and applying the royal icing or the sugar fondant is just the start. “To get a good quality drawing and cookie design, you have to let the royal icing or the fondant to dry. The next step is to draw/apply the pattern (design) and allow it to dry. Coloring in the final stage. It is usually hand painted depending on the customer’s order, design and pattern.” Wafa’ admits that it might take up to half a day to pack an order, depending on its size and the customer’s personalized requests.
The dedication and the passion in what Wafa’ does is reflected in every element of her designs. The process is a non-stop learning curve according to the passionate cookie designer. “I am always on the look out for new ideas. I keep myself updated with the works of cookie and cake designers around the world. Social media such as Pinterest and Instagram are powerful tools for learning and sharing experiences. YouTube tutorials and online courses are yet another tool that I use to develop my skills and keep myself ahead to turn a basic product into a unique masterpiece,” she adds.
* All Pictures courtesy of Wafa’ Saleh