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Despite winning culinary contest, this female Omani chef says journey is just beginning


By Al Anood Al Wahaibi

After joining one of Oman’s biggest culinary competitions and coming out as one of the big winners in the pasta-cooking category, Chef Sara al Hashar was truly surprised, as her main motivation for taking part was to gain more experience.

But winning the accolade just inspired her more to believe that the career shift she took was worth it. While becoming a chef is not a traditional career for Omani women, she’s determined to make her personal mark in an industry heavily dominated by men.

Sara graduated from university with a bachelor’s degree in business management, but cooking is something she’s always loved, and it wasn’t until she completed her business degree that her true passion came to the surface.

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Exploring various career options in 2017 and 2018, she realised that cooking brought her immense joy and fulfilment. Inspired by her mother’s unwavering support to pursue her dreams, she decided to save up and enrol in Le Cordon Bleu, a popular culinary school in London originally founded in Paris that now has several culinary courses worldwide and has produced remarkable chefs such as Dione Lucas, Julia Child, Mary Berry, Gaston Acurio, Lanshu Chen, Virgilio Martinez, and Ming Tsai.

“I didn’t start my career in Oman; I started in London, so my influence, cooking style, and approach come greatly from what I experienced in my school and some places I briefly worked at in London during my studies and also from trying different foods in restaurants or markets, but I’ve always tried to link our traditional food and ingredients to what I saw in London,” she shared.

She added, “London has the biggest cultural food hub in the world in my opinion as it has food from many different parts of the world, whether it’s high-end Michelin-starred or street food. I’ve always gotten my inspiration from there and am trying to link it to our cooking styles and flavours in Oman.”

While London and Oman may be worlds apart not only in location but also in culture, Sara managed to find a common ground for both, and she loved that she was able to safely use both backgrounds to her advantage. In fact, one of her first jobs in London was working part-time for Roti King — a Malaysian Tamil street food restaurant that she used to frequent because missing Oman, it was a great place to get her favourite daal and roti which is the Malaysian way of saying paratha.

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“I managed to impress the general manager with my skills, and even though they were hiring for full-time roti chefs with years of experience, I was so surprised that they created a part-time job for me, which allowed me the 20-hour work aligning with my visa,” she shared.

Beyond cooking, Sara said she loves creating unique experiences and is always looking for amazing opportunities to collaborate not just with chefs but also with artists who can help her shape better storytelling through her food.

“In Oman, I loved having the opportunity to work with Zawraq Collective for a pop-up event they called Yuzu Fable. The series revolved around whether food can be an art. It was such an incredible experience because I created and implemented the whole menu revolving around the produce of a local organic farm called “yuzu agriculture” founded by three incredible brothers who are very passionate about growing incredible organic produce,” she said.

“Working with the Zawraq team, the artists, and the yuzu brothers gave me such a huge boost of confidence and passion to continue the journey,” she added.

Recently winning the gold medal in a culinary competition organised by HORECA, a renowned hospitality and food service exhibition in the Middle East, Sara said, “There were a series of complications with my applications, but after ironing out the details, I was just glad to be there for the experience. To my surprise, I received the gold medal for the fresh pasta competition. Once I knew that I’d won, one of the chef judges came to me and gave me great feedback about my food, saying it was one of the most unique pasta dishes submitted in the competition that day.”

Despite her recent win, Sara still thinks that her journey as a chef has just begun.

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“I’m still at the beginning of my journey, learning different styles and techniques. But there are things that I know I will be pursuing for sure; for instance, I always focus on sustainable cooking. I also follow the slow food movement and work ethically. There’s so much I don’t know about various types of cooking styles and techniques that I want to learn from all around the world and eventually find my own value in the industry that I can share with the world,” she shared.

Sara finds inspiration in numerous culinary figures, including Yotam Ottolenghi, Nik Sharma, Bill Granger, Dina Makki, Asma Khan, and Musa Dagdivren to name a few.

“I believe in what I do because I know that there’s a higher purpose in my journey as a chef, and yes, there are always bumps along the way, but I always try to remind myself why I started this journey,” she said.

“I’m a very stubborn person, and when I want something, I go and do it no matter what anyone says. For those who want to pursue a career in cooking, make sure you actually want to be in the culinary industry. It’s tough, and you have to be hardworking and resilient. It’s fun when you want to go through that, but I’ve seen people come and go, and I’ve seen the market in Oman always changing, so you have to believe in what you do to be able to put your mark in the industry,” she said.

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