‘The thrill of cooking … is amazing’

Mariam AlMokayyad
An undated photo of Chef Mariam AlMokayyad. (Photo: Handout from Mariam AlMokayyad)
AMMAN — Palestinian-Jordanian Mariam AlMokayyad is a passionate dietician and public health counselor who also happens to be a great chef whose love for knowledge and determination inspires.اضافة اعلان

AlMokayyad grew up in a small town in Saudi Arabia where there was not much to do, but school.

“I was very ‘nerdy’ and I always had high marks. Then I graduated and came here to study at Jordan University. I had to change my major to study nutrition, and I excelled. I graduated one of the top students of my class in 2010,” she said.

After graduation, Mokayyad struggled to find a job; she went back to Saudi Arabia where she ended up teaching 11 graders an elective nutrition course at her old high school.

“Teaching was a wonderful experience; part of it was about the fact that I actually went to the same school as a student myself, and the subjects taught were new and all about doing experiments and that is my favorite way to learn,” she said.

She later got accepted at the University of Bristol, in England, where she got her master’s degree.

“During that time, while attending lectures and seminars, I met Jordanian doctor Mohammad Khreiss and after I finished (studies). I went back to Jordan and ended up working with Dr. Khreiss,” she told Jordan News.

“Dr. Khreiss gave me full responsibility and that helped build up my confidence and gain a lot of experience,” AlMokayyad said.

Two years later, however, her job started to feel like a routine.

“I noticed that many people knew they needed to eat healthier, but they did not know how to do so because they were used to a certain way to cook. Some would complain about the healthier food options not being tasty, and that is why I thought it was important that I learn how to actually cook the food as well,” she said.

And that is when she signed up for a couple of afternoon baking classes at the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts.

“It was a different experience on a personal level. For the first time, I felt like I found myself, like I belonged. I wanted to become a chef,” she said.

(Photo: Handout from Mariam AlMokayyad)

AlMokayyad mentioned reactions when she told her family about her plans of pursuing a career as a chef, they “thought I was kidding at first. They told me that if I wanted to do it, I will have to pay for the academy myself, and for the first term I paid for it, but when my father saw how passionate and excited I was about it, he paid the full amount. He was always very supportive.”

“People think that this is a shift to a different path, but I actually think it is a build on. I have the knowledge and information needed from the nutritional side, and I will have the techniques needed to prepare a meal. It is a combination of both,” she said.

Currently, AlMokayyad is head of Nutrition and Kitchen Department at Alkindi Hospital.

“I was there from the beginning. We were a small team at first, and we worked together to come up with the recipes and standardize them. It was a big challenge, but so rewarding,” she said.

How does she come up with her unique recipes?

“I take ideas from others. I have the standard recipe, then I think of how I can make it healthier, and I experiment. It all comes with experimenting, because then you will know if it works or if it tastes horrible,” she said.

“I also love taking old recipes from our grandmothers and remaking them into a healthier and an easier-to-make version, maybe a modernized way. At times I make them exactly the same, just to keep them alive today. Traditional dishes are part of our culture, after all,” AlMokayyad said.

Working in this field is not without obstacles.

“Being a female in this field is a struggle on its own. Everyone has opinions about you, they do not look at your qualifications and experience, but rush to judge you. A comment I hear a lot is ‘it is because she is pretty she got the job’,” she told Jordan News.

Another problem is people not understanding what she is trying to do.

“Sometimes it can be tricky working with people who think that I am wasting time, for example by training the employees, but that is very important for me because in most cases, people who work in the kitchen are usually there because they were unfortunate with their education or their financial status, and I think it is very important to invest in these people and train them well. It really is worth it, especially when you see how grateful they are for you teaching them,” said AlMokayyad.

She was featured several times on television, where she talked about certain recipes or even did live cooking shows.

“The thrill of cooking on TV is amazing, and I absolutely love it. Hopefully some day I will have my own cooking show,” she said.

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