For the past 16 years during Ramadan, Radie El Hek shifts her work space from the kitchens at the JW Marriott Hotel Dubai into the centre of the busy The Market Place Iftar buffet, where she is preparing freshly baked Arabic bread on a domed metal griddle, known as Saj.
Born in Baalbek, Lebanon, Radie learned how to make bread at home from her mother. In 2001, she saw a vacancy for a bread maker position at the JW Marriott Hotel Dubai, took a chance, and went to the hiring event that took place in Lebanon. Although she had no professional experience or training as a baker, the hotel team was impressed with her warm and friendly personality. Radie came to Dubai and started making bread for the hotel’s Arabic restaurant.
Radie quickly learned all the important skills of working in a hotel kitchen, moving on to work in the main kitchen where she is not only baking, but is also taking care of all Arabic food prepared at the hotel. Her most famous dishes are the cold mezzeh like vine leaves, fattoush and tabbouleh, and her specialty is adding new flavours to classics, for example creating beetroot or carrot hummus. Radie, who speaks Arabic and only a little English, did not let the language barrier stop her from connecting with colleagues and guests. Around the hotel, she is known as “Mama” and she enjoys passing on her baking and cooking skills to other Chefs. Even guests comment that they feel at home when they are visiting her at her live cooking station to pick up bread to go with her home-style cooked Arabic dishes.
Fast forward to today, Radie is busy preparing for Iftar with the culinary team of the hotel. The chefs include Radie in the preparation of the menus and for this year’s buffet; she has recommended Muhammara Manakish – an Arabic flat bread with a roasted red pepper and walnut dip. To work during Ramadan is an exciting time for her, ‘I am very happy to share the special Iftar time with guests at the restaurant, they are like family to me’, said Radie. “Mama” breaks her fast only after she has prepared all the breads and served to guests personally, she also already started fasting one month prior to Ramadan and will end her fast at the official end of Ramadan.