“You know, I really don’t like the ‘question and answer’ format of interviews,” hospitality consultant, gastronomist and traveler Talal Al Rashed says as he guides us through the tunnel-like vortex of the indoor pool at the Four Seasons Kuwait at Burj Alshaya.
Embracing bazaar’s “get to know you” method of interviewing, we venture throughout the opulent hotel under Talal’s patronage, where he has access to all amenities and secret passageways as a guest and consultant.
He tangents enthusiastically as we stroll, about the hotel’s beauty in comparison to others around the region, [“it’s one of my favorite Four Seasons properties in the world!”] his opinion on people embracing and respecting their own paths in life, and the book he’s been reading: The Art of the Good Life: Clear Thinking for Business and a Better Life, by Rolf Dobelli.
“I feel connected to it because it ties into my ideology of life: keeping things simple, humble and straight to the point without comparing yourself to anyone else, and living in the moment. That’s what will guarantee you the Good Life.”
As the co-founder and managing director of the creative agency The Contourage, Talal knows all about the good life. It’s no coincidence that his explorative nature landed him notoriety in the social media sphere, different regional publications, and a spot on Arab News’ “The 5 offbeat Arab travel bloggers you need to follow.”
“As a teenager, I was always invested in trying out new restaurants. I’d try everything – especially if it was a concept or involved an ingredient that wasn’t usually found locally, or that we weren’t used to.” This enthusiasm for trying new things ushered Talal towards different opportunities. Starting off with a degree in accounting from Kuwait University, Talal coasted with the pragmatic life he had planned for himself in accordance to his educational background.
“Though I always felt drawn towards the hospitality industry, I couldn’t imagine stemming away from my degree- despite the fact that my job at the time saw my potential in public relations.” Not because he didn’t want to delve deeper, but because, as he put it, he “didn’t think it was a possibility at the time”, due to the lack of growth in hospitality careers around Kuwait during the mid-2000s.
As Kuwait was, however, catching up quickly for loss time in the hospitality world, Talal was using his personable demeanor, zest for life, and knack for making experiences come alive to continue tasting the gastronomical pleasures of food and travel while working in real estate development in Toronto. “I was constantly driving around in the snow towards little cities and towns outside of where I was living, all to try new and authentic cuisines I’d heard of.” With this, it was made clear to him that he had an undeniable interest in the restaurant world, and carefully decided to utilize his passion, making moves towards turning his love of food and hospitality into a career.
“I was throwing everything away – my degree, my career in finance, investment and real estate, my accounting background, my savings – but I had to give it a shot. I couldn’t ignore it anymore.” This mindset took him to Switzerland, where he enrolled in the Glion Institute of Higher Education and obtained a degree in hospitality management, while focusing on restaurant culture.
This then took him on a journey towards a month-long internship at the Fairmont Montreux Palace in Switzerland, then onto Bodrum, Turkey, where he spent four months interning at the luxury Kempinski Barbaros Bay resort. And so, the trip back to the region adjusted his focus towards restaurants, and while temporarily settling back into Real Estate, Talal reaffirmed his passion for the hospitality field by gaining a job as a waiter at the prestigious Gaucho steakhouse in DIFC.
“Working as a waiter was such a humbling and rewarding job for me. People think it’s low-end, but in actuality, you need to have a lot of power to be a waiter. You’re responsible for other people’s happiness and enjoyment and with the right attitude, you can affect their whole experience.”
What he also loved about the position was the amount of people he met and personal connections he made, on top of giving the public a fun and fresh look on the service industry with his applauded flair. This didn’t go unrecognized by Gaucho’s owners, and Talal was granted a slew of promotions to follow: a one-year contract, a position as receptionist, graduating to guest relations manager, and eventually acquiring media and clients for the restaurant as a PR rep.
Coupled with high praises received by friends and family following his impressive Instagram account, coaxing him to make it public for all to enjoy his adventures, the precedent was set for him to manage The Countourage PR and Events Creative Agency. But to this day, he insists, that he had “no clue that people could even create a brand out of social media. The thought had never even occurred to me.”
Hardly a social media hub project, The Contourage, (a portmanteau of “contour” – definition – and “entourage” – the support of the crowd,) sums it all up and allows Talal to expose his savoir-faire by working with regional clients. On top of that, The Contourage’s umbrella also makes efforts to bring people from different walks of life together through organized dinners – what Talal considers to be his greatest extravagance – and takes their dining experiences to the next level.
“At these dinners, I don’t want to seat a bunch of people in the same field together. Why should I have media dinners where only media people can meet? I think it’s more impactful to congregate an eclectic range of backgrounds and professions.” It’s all about effectiveness, but not in a way that benefits him, but the people. “I want us to change the way we look at travel, food and different indulgences of life – the beautiful things. Eat mindfully, live in underrated luxury, and go against the grain of comfort.” Either way, Talal will always tell us what’s worth it – he has the know-how.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL QUESTIONNAIRE
What do you most value in your friends?
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A table of truly nice people having a warm conversation while eating delicious food made with love.
What is your greatest fear?
Losing compassion for others.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
An intolerance to fake people (it makes my life harder.)
Which living person do you most admire?
Anyone doing something significant or dedicating their lives for saving or protecting our environment, animals, plants and cultures around the world (Mother Earth).
What is your greatest extravagance?
Dining out and throwing dinners.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Amazing hahaha” – but I mean it each time I say it.
What is it that you most dislike?
Needlessly loud people, noise, over compliments, and manipulation.
Which talent would you most like to have?
Pianist, or Russian dancing.
If you could have any job, what would it be?
What I am doing now: hospitality consultancy, food critique and travel and events expert.
What would you consider your greatest achievement?
Having an international experience and a global mind set.
What is your most treasured possession?
The many languages I speak.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Sociability, refined-taste and approachability.
Where would you most like to live?
Where there is abundance of pure, fresh water; great seasonal ingredients and genuine, happy people.
What are your favorite words to live by?
If you want something badly, let it go. If it comes back to you, it is yours – if it doesn’t, then it was never yours to begin with.