While working in London in the field of marketing and e-commerce might be a dream-come-true for many, Saudi national Nadeen Aujan had her sights set on a different path. “I realized I needed a change,” she explained, “So I enroled in a couple of cooking classes at a school near home.” Through the classes, Nadeen found her calling behind a metaphorical wok. Expanding her studies from a few courses to a full-on diploma, she graduated from the UK’s Leiths School of Food and Wine and never looked back. Currently a freelance chef, Nadeen finds herself between London and the GCC cooking for the masses. We managed to track down the nomad chef for a quick chat to find out more about her go-to meals and her most recent visit to Kuwait.
What’s your first memory in the kitchen?
My early memories in the kitchen as a child always revolved around the women in my family. My grandmother, mom and aunts, all buzzing around in the kitchen, each contributing their own components to the feast.
What’s your favorite cuisine – to cook and to eat?
I don’t really have a favorite – I seem to jump from one cuisine/style to the next. Right now I’m into cross-pollinating cuisines. Bringing an Arabic dish, for example, and marrying it with an Italian or Mexican recipe.
Tell us about your favorite dish to make in the kitchen and why.
These days I seem to be getting into salt baked fish. It’s a fun and healthy way to eat fish, something the whole family can enjoy, especially kids. It’s like breaking into a piñata.
What are some of the challenges you face in the kitchen?
Being a freelance chef, I tend to work in different kitchens all the time. And a lot of the time, things go missing or appliances just decide they don’t want to work anymore, so you really have to be quick on your feet and be ready for anything.
Do you find your cooking style and tastes differ when you’re in different countries or cities?
It’s always nice to find inspiration at a new destination, immerse yourself in their traditional dishes and create an offshoot based on their cuisine. I tend to follow the locals and see where they eat, or check out the markets and street food. It really gives you a sense of their culture.
Who is your favorite crowd to cook for?
Definitely people who come in with an open mind and fun-filled attitude.
What inspires you in the kitchen?
I find inspiration in different places, or in new ingredients, or even in reinterpreting existing recipes in ways that gives them a new dimension.
What is your most memorable experience to date as a chef?
I think introducing some of my favorite Khaleeji dishes to a mostly English crowd was quite memorable. I was part of the annual Nour Festival in London where they were doing a Contemporary Gulf Cuisine segment. I made Machboos Arancini using rice dough stuffed with chicken, hasho (stuffing) and daqoos (sauce), bread crumbed with hakookah (crispy rice). I also took the traditional Saudi dish Saleeg and turned it into small bites of risotto with duck breast and crackling.
Tell us about your most recent experience in Kuwait’s Green Caravan Film Festival and the inspiration behind the dishes you created.
I’m a big fan of the Green Caravan Film Festival and so when they approached me to do the catering for the closing night I was very excited. They asked me to do vegetarian/vegan food and that’s where the falafel nachos and churros came from – everyone loves falafel. What made it even more special was collaborating with local vendors like Sadeer Farms and Urban Creamery, which really completed the night for me.
Can we get a sneak peek into what you’re planning next?
There is always something in the pipeline, so keep an eye on @Crushed_Cardamom.
Will you be coming back to Kuwait any time soon?
I always come back to Kuwait!