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The Jordanian chef using food to concoct culinary art

Omar Sartawi
Chef and artist Omar Sartawi. (Photos: Handout from Omar Sartawi)
AMMAN — From jameed chocolate to face masks made of eggplant to a soup that mimics human tears, Jordanian chef Omar Sartawi has become internationally acclaimed for his extraordinary creations.اضافة اعلان

Sartawi, a Jordanian chef and food artist who has a degree in design and engineering, began his career working in construction in the Gulf. Afterwards, Sartawi returned home and established a design house in Jordan, while still pursuing a long-held passion for cooking and culinary arts.

After opening his first restaurant, Food Box Co. in Jabal Amman, which is an Italian-Asian fusion restaurant, Sartawi realized the restaurant didn’t quite feed his need for creativity and innovation in the kitchen. So, after studying food science and chemistry, he developed one of his most unique creations — jameed chocolate.

The chocolate is a hybrid dessert that combines the sourness of jameed with the sweetness of chocolate. Jameed is a dairy product made from salted and sun-dried goats’ milk. The traditional Jordanian ingredient is then shaped into a ball before being used to make Labneh, one of the main ingredients for mansaf.

Jameed has a very strong taste and aroma, making it an extremely complex material to work with. Sartawi told Jordan News: “I wanted to express my culture in a way that’d seem logical to a French person for example. Jameed on its own may seem like an alien ingredient to them, but mixing it with the delicacy of Swiss chocolate will make it taste more familiar.”

“Jameed is not an apologetic material, it’s a tough and strong ingredient — a pure creation of the Jordanian desert,” the chef explained. “I failed miserably in the beginning when I tried to hide its flavor, but when I took a step back and decided to embrace it, the results turned out amazing.”

Sartawi described the taste profile of jameed chocolate as a delightful journey that starts with the acidity and roughness of jameed, before the delicate sweetness of Swiss chocolate breaks through.

Sartawi was shocked by consumer enthusiasm for the unexpected combination. People from around the globe started ordering his dessert.

Chocolate isn’t the chef’s only innovative use of jameed. 

Taking advantage of his background as a designer, and his specialty in molecular gastronomy and food science, Sartawi was able to sculpt a replica of the two-headed Ain Ghazal statue using “jameed concrete” — a material that’s similar to concrete and stiffens with time.

The Ain Ghazal statues are reed and lime plaster sculptures that were found in Jordan, and dated to the Neolithic period. These statues were among the first large-scale representations of the human body.

“I wanted to expose my culture through food,” he said. “This edible replica got so much media exposure that it allowed people to get more familiar with Jordan as an important cultural inhabited land.”

Perhaps some of Sartawi’s most creative culinary creations are “My Beirut” and “Tears of Beirut.”

Sartawi laser-engraved the name “Beirut” onto a lamb’s heart, as a literal interpretation of the Arabic saying “Your name is written in my heart.” Alongside the heart is a broth that closely mimics the salinity and viscosity of human tears.

This dish was created in response to the tragic explosion in Beirut. Sartawi went on to raise funds for the city along with other international chefs. 

Recently, Sartawi created a material that is “almost identical to animal’s leather, as it can be torn, stretched, and shaped in every way, and is able to fool the sharpest of fashion critics” out of the skin of eggplants.

Sartawi is currently cooperating with designers from London, Dubai, and Bahrain to create furniture, bags, and facemasks using the “leather” material.

Sartawi encouraged young chefs and food artist to explore a career in this field, equipped with proper knowledge, experience, and an open mind.

“The biggest obstacle is one’s self. People should be familiar with constant failure, because at the end, it’ll all pay off.”

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