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The Saudi Culinary Academy founder’s secret ingredient is a love of food and the memories it creates

ALKHOBAR: Rania Moualla always has a lot to do but luckily she likes to share. When clients enter her office, she warmly welcomes them with a hot cup of coffee and a selection of tempting homemade snacks.

Moualla likes to make sure everyone is fed and watered before any conversation or activity. With her nurturing nature, passion for philanthropy and business acumen, the mother-of-three not only manages to perfectly juggle multiple tasks at once, but regularly checks and stirs all the pots, adding her own special ingredients. in everything she does.

Fueled by an insatiable appetite for learning and a keen interest in feeding minds as well as stomachs, Moualla founded ZADK, the Saudi Culinary Academy, in Alkhobar in 2019.

Prince Saud bin Nayef is its honorary chairman, and its board members include prominent figures in the food industry with a connection to the city in one way or another, either because they- themselves or their relatives live or have lived there.

The first nonprofit culinary academy to offer a Saudi-centric curriculum, ZADK — whose name is derived from the Arabic word “zad,” which alludes to Arab generosity — combines a revolutionary concept with a humble mission. And in just three years, it has established itself as an important part of the culinary industry in the Middle East and North Africa.

For example, it has partnered with the Academy of Culinary Arts of Switzerland, considered one of the best schools of its kind in the world, for one of its courses. In addition to this Saudi-Swiss Diploma in Culinary Arts, ZADK also offers a Saudi Diploma in Culinary Arts and a Culinary Arts program with specialties in Saudi cuisine, European cuisine or pastry.

The first batch of 18 ZADK students graduated this year. As part of their studies, they curated a collection of recipes, in English and Arabic, for a graduation cookbook.

“Our best memories are always about food,” Moualla told Arab News. “When we share a meal with someone we love, it creates memories and we are who we are now because of those memories.”

She said it was important to her that the academy was located in Alkhobar, a town she arrived in as an 18-year-old bride 40 years ago, and where she raised her children. It is also a place that she believes has great potential in the culinary sector.

“I see Eastern Province developing as a hub with many restaurants opened by our students, with fine Saudi cuisine – and not just in Eastern Province; all around the Kingdom,” she added.

Moualla said about half of the academy’s students come from Eastern Province. But regardless of their points of origin, each is bound to tap into their family pantry and choose a dish that they feel best represents them.

They then work with trained chefs to hone their cooking methods, using professional techniques and tools, but care is taken to ensure they don’t lose the uniqueness and history of their family dishes, or the memories they hold. they evoke in students. Moualla said she wanted students to think that each plate tells a story.

“The graduation project for our future chefs is to create a cookbook that reflects their culture,” she said.

“Each of the students will go to their mother, their grandmother – anyone in the family – and look for a very authentic recipe, cook it with that person and bring it to the academy.

“Each of these students contributed a recipe and we produced a book and this book will contain the recipe for generations to come. What we love to do is document our cooking in a very organic way and make them proud of their work.

Moualla ultimately aims to have shelves filled with hundreds of recipes that every student who has attended the academy has played an active role in curating. It’s a real labor of love.

She comes across as a mother figure as she wanders around ZADK’s kitchen, taking note of every detail. She asks about an order of butter and pays attention to how each hand reaches for each jar.

When she enters the room, the trainee chefs continue what they are doing but they also watch her out of the corner of their eye. She never disrupts their work or disturbs them while they are going; she just glances over, nods, and moves on.

All around the place she added her own little touches. The spaces are decorated with trinkets that remind you of a beautiful and happy home.

Moualla said it was important for her to take this trip with the support of her friends, whom she calls family. Through simple recipes that use local ingredients, she strives to prepare delicious and nutritious meals that put an innovative spin on dishes with Middle Eastern roots.

She’s also breaking records along the way – literally. In 2021, the academy won a Guinness World Record for the largest cupcake mosaic, which measured 150 square meters and recreated the design of the Saudi national flag. The framed certificate for achievement is proudly displayed at ZADK headquarters.

“As Saudis, as Arabs, we always associate good times around food and that’s where the idea came from” for the academy, Moualla said. “We want our students to give this good time to their families and then to their clients in the future when they start their careers.”

Always the gracious host, insisted on giving the last word to someone else, head chef Tareq Abunameh.

“I joined ZADK a year ago because I believe in its mission and vision,” he said. “A good education starts with passion and here at ZADK we have the best students in the world.”

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