Emirati-born Sahar Parham Al Awadhi has gone against the grain during her career. Although she started out in marketing, it wasn’t long before she discovered her calling for the gastronomic arts. Passionate about desserts that showcase her heritage, she became the first female Emirati chef to work at the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel and is now making history as the inaugural winnner of the Middle East & North Africa’s Best Pastry Chef Award, sponsored by Valrhona.
After joining Dubai’s Burj Al Arab in 2016 in a junior role, Al Awadhi quickly rose through the ranks. In 2019, she was appointed Head Pastry Chef, leading a team of 34 bakers in a demanding kitchen that functions 24 hours a day. Her culinary career has been short but star-studded, featuring stints in many auspicious kitchens, such as Le Saint Georges in Paris and La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie in Dubai, where she worked under her mentor, chef Izu Ani.
Not only does Al Awadhi create beautiful pastries, but she also considers the stories and origins of her desserts. Her food philosophy is built on cultural resonance and nostalgia for the flavours of her upbringing. One of her favourite dishes is the Egyptian Umm Ali, a baked bread pudding made with milk, rose water, pistachio, coconut and raisins, which brings back memories of family weddings and celebrations.
Her desserts also channel her passion for sustainability, biodiversity and food security, as many of her creations are inspired by local ingredients from producers in the UAE. One such dish is ‘Made in the UAE’, showcasing homemade sea-salted and citrus-spiced caramel, local dates poached in Earl Grey and gianduja spread.
As one of the few female pastry chefs in the UAE, Al Awadhi has often spoken out about her work and her love of the high-pressure gastronomic industry. Having left the Burj Al Arab in 2021, she now teaches a popular pastry module at a college in Dubai and is keen to pass on her own learnings to the new generations. As she encourages people to join the industry and follow in her footsteps, she is becoming a role model for pastry chefs all over the world.
Read about Sahar Parham Al Awadhi in the interview and watch the video:
The MENA’s Best Pastry Chef Award aims to recognise and reward talent and excellence in the fields of desserts and pastry. The accolade is voted for by over 200 independent restaurant industry experts and well-travelled gourmets from across the region.