An unlikely journey: The Syrian who mastered Italian cuisine in Jordan

Cleos Italiano pizza
(Photos: Handouts from Bahaa Aldeen Katlish/ Cleos Italiano)
AMMAN — One might consider Jordan an unlikely place to spark a passion for Italian cuisine, but for Syrian Bahaa Aldeen Katlish, that is exactly what happened.اضافة اعلان

It was while living and working the Kingdom that the young man discovered the wonders of Italian food and mastered its techniques.

Katlish, 30, was born in Syria, and his first forays into the culinary world started at home, in the kitchen.

“In Syria, where I lived with my family, I was in charge of cooking,” Katlish told Jordan News. “They seemed to enjoy it."

At the time the conflict broke out, he was studying business administration, but civil war forced him to suspend his studies. Eventually, as the situation in Syria continued to escalate, the young man moved to Jordan in 2013.
“I appreciated the inventiveness of the Italian kitchen, especially because it is hygienic and nourishing on the level of daily living and health.”
It was here, in the Kingdom, that he entered the professional culinary world. “I had a strong desire to grow as a person and experience new things,” he explained. While his dream was to one day combine his interest in business with his passion for cooking, he knew that he had much to learn in terms of cooking technique.

Becoming a self-made chefSo, Katlish began a self-taught journey to become a professional chef. He started by doing the best he could, trying to hone and prove his abilities in the kitchen.

Along the way, Italian cuisine caught his eye.

“I appreciated the inventiveness of the Italian kitchen, especially because it is hygienic and nourishing on the level of daily living and health,” he said.

The young chef also noticed that Italian food shares much in common with Levantine cuisine, including Mediterranean ingredients and the preference for homemade dishes over fast food.

In 2015, Katlish received an offer to work in an Italian restaurant. He threw himself wholeheartedly into Italian preparations, finding additional avenues of learning outside his job through participating in events held by embassies, which brought in chefs from Europe.

Unleashing culinary creativityFinally, after years of experience in the restaurant, Katlish was able to realize his goal of combining his two passions.

Located in Amman, Cleos Italiano was a joint venture with another lover of Italian cuisine and culture, the chef said.

“It was there that I was able to unleash my creativity, combined with my administrative and practical capabilities,” Katlish explained.

Burrata, risotto, and tiramisuThrough food, the young chef said he feels connected with life and other people. It also opens doors for him to new opportunities.

“Cooking with love is my passion,” he said, and “Italian food is my favorite.”

In Italian cuisine, each dish conveys a “different atmosphere”. For instance, the chef said he loves to have bufala pizza on a chilly night, or experiment with different ingredients to create different moods.
Being a Syrian chef of Italian cuisine living in Jordan is not always easy…
His favorite tomato variety is the Italian San Marzano tomato, while fresh Italian cheeses such as burrata and bufala are go-to ingredients in his preparations.

While Italian food may bring to mind pizza and spaghetti, there are many lesser-known dishes, like risotto, that Katlish loves to prepare. That is not to mention treats like cannoli, gelato, and tiramisu.

‘The best food in the world’Being a Syrian chef of Italian cuisine living in Jordan is not always easy. Katlish has faced challenges and limitations due to his nationality — especially in obtaining a visa to travel to Italy to improve his skills and talents.

“There are many difficulties, but I try to overcome them with passion and my love for my career,” the chef said.

After ten years in the Kingdom, Katlish had the chance to visit his home city of Damascus.

“It was a warm feeling, meeting my mother, father, and brothers after being away for ten years,” he reflected.

“I made pizza and pasta for them at home and tasted my mother’s food again — which will always be best food in the world.”

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