Crush Of The Week

A chat with Em Sherif’s Executive Chef Yasmina Hayek

By  | 

Mouthful after mouthful, we have fallen in love with Em Sherif many times over. From Beirut to Doha, Dubai to London, the international Lebanese restaurant has imposed itself as one of the best (well, the best, in our humble opinion) around the world. Serving a cuisine like no others, Em Sherif is the story of Mireille Hayek, who wanted to make traditional Arabic recipes unique with her special touch and share the passion of good food with everyone around her.
Today we speak with her daughter, executive chef Yasmina Hayek, to dive into the Em Sherif universe and hear about her views on being a woman in this industry.

By Cynthia Jreige

Yasmina Hayek, Em Sherif’s executive chef

Hello Yasmina! To begin with, can you tell us a bit about you and where did your passion for gastronomy come from?

I grew up in a family in which hosting and gathering around a table was and still is essential. I’ve got three brothers, so together with my parents we were always a family of six at the dinner table, and we used to sit down together every lunchtime and every evening to an absolute feast. My mother used to love hosting themed dinner parties at home. She loved having everyone over for a big meal, and she always prepared everything herself from scratch. That was something I really admired growing up – and still do today. 
At the beginning I wanted to be a doctor, as I always loved Science. Then I realised that I needed to find another kind of lab to work in, a happier lab. That’s why I chose to be in the kitchen. It’s a place where you can express yourself, create, grow, research etc… I also love travelling, sharing, and meeting new people and I believe that food is the perfect vector.

You’re the executive chef of Em Sherif which first opened in Lebanon in 2011 and has since gone international; can you tell us about this journey and what have been some of the biggest challenges and biggest rewards to date?

I officially joined the family business a year ago, after an exciting path working with world renown chefs, a bachelors degree in culinary arts at Institut Paul Bocuse and a Masters in Food Design in Milano.
Opening Em Sherif in London was my first challenge and toughest challenge because it has 2 different entites. We opened our first Lebanese deli in the food hall, and the restaurant on the 2nd floor in Harrods. It consisted basically on managing 4 different teams : central kitchen, deli, restaurant, front of house.
Then we pursued with other openings in Bahrain, Monaco, Abu Dhabi and finally Qatar for the world cup which is pretty challenging.
Since it’s a family business, and we work in a very small committee, we learn from every opening and always improve the following.
The biggest challenges for us is adapting ourselves to new teams, and new markets. And the biggest rewards is seeing our product and efforts come to life and, of course, our customers’ satisfaction.

Fattet Fatayer- Zaatar stuffed pastries, yoghurt, tomato sauce

Em Sherif is a token of excellency in terms of Arabic cuisine around the world. While we don’t expect you to give us all your secrets, what do you think sets your offering aside from the many other Arabic restaurants ?

Consistency, perseverance and innovation while preserving our cuisine’s authenticity are keys to success. We are constantly striving for improvement and allowing our concept and techniques to evolve.

You’re a young Arab woman at the head of big teams – Have you suffered from any form of difficulties imposing yourself in an industry massively men-led?

Surprisingly enough, we are pretty lucky with our teams. Men in our kitchens are very respectful and gentle towards us. Since we are constantly educating our teams towards new techniques and introducing new items they are in admiration because what we do is credible, and genuine, and they are witness of the success.

A selection of Em Sherif’s desserts

You have recently opened Em Sherif Sea Cafe in Abu Dhabi – How do you select the cities you want to expand to and what can we expect from this specific new restaurant ?

Usually our clients approach us for a potential project, this is how it works. We also expand depending on the market needs and the potential of every city. Em Sherif Sea cafe in Abu Dhabi is a Lebanese Mediterranean seafood restaurant that pays a culinary homage to the earth and sea to create a refined fare prepared with the freshest and finest ingredients our region has to offer.

Your mother founded Em Sherif – Do you always agree on the big decisions?

I love working with my Mother, I believe we form a very powerful team. It’s great having her knowledge for the market, the Lebanese culinary techniques … mixed with my expertise in the field by introducing new culinary techniques, and design.

Delicacies and design meet at Em Sherif

What are your personal preferred 3 dishes from all your menu?

Lately, I’m obsessed with moghrabiyeh, it’s the Middle Eastern pasta. I loved playing around it and created a Seafood Moghrabiyeh at the Sea Cafe, which is a big hit.
Another creation that we did is a new take on Siyyadiyeh, which consists in a whole fish stuffed with Siyyadiyeh, meaning caramelized onion rice topped with crispy onion and aromatic herbs instead of the skin, a dish we specially conceived for our Monaco restaurant.
And finally, A Fattet Fatayer, which is a spinach filled pastry with yoghurt and tomato sauce. Although we are not used to have Fatayer with yoghurt, its an exceptional combination.

What can we wish Em Sherif for the future?

We are currently working on expanding the concept of the Lebanese Deli or Em Sherif Deli. It consists of a specialty store selling all the products made in Em Sherif, in the form of ready-to-go meals ,fresh sandwiches, a specialty coffee corner with our private label, and finally soft serves with seasonal and local flavors.

Discover more about the Em Sherif universe on their website right here!