When a celebrity chef comes to town, what better way to showcase the country than a day trip around Bahrain? FACT took to the streets with culinary extraordinaire Wolfgang Puck, who was visiting his acclaimed restaurants at the five-star Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay…
If you’ve been keeping up to date with the social scene in Bahrain (and our instagram!) then you’ll know that last month was quite a special one. We started May with a wonderful visit from Celebrity Chef Wolfgang Puck (WP), who was in town to catch up with the team at his three restaurants – CUT, re Asian Cuisine and Blue Moon Lounge – located in the stunning Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay. Little did Chef WP know that FACT had arranged to give him a little taste of local life in Bahrain, with a day trip to visit some of the island’s best foodie and cultural hotspots; here’s all the fun from behind the scenes of our #WolfgangLovesBahrain tour.
8.30am – Morning Meet-Up
We meet Chef WP and his team at the hotel, where our rides are ready to whisk us away! From the get-go, he is on his A-game, even posing for numerous selfies before we set off (because, you know, one selfie just isn’t enough!).
9am – Central Market
We’re driving to the lively central market and Chef WP is all smiles, taking in the surroundings through the car window. Before we arrive at the bustling market, he tells us: “Bahrain is different. Everything is more liberal here and people are so nice and welcoming.” Out we hop for our first stop; the fish market. Chef WP and his team get stuck right in, coming face-to-face with more than just hammour, as the market offers them an insight into the many different species of fish found in the waters around Bahrain, as well as a look at local tradesmen and the art of getting a good deal! One memorable find has to be the baby shark, which fascinated Chef WP, too.
It was great to see a world-renowned chef sharing some of his tips, and picking up new knowledge, of different seafood from the local fish market! We then move out and onto the fresh fruit and vegetable stalls, where everything from exotic produce to locally-grown groceries is sold. We love that Chef WP and his team are very interested in the more unusual products and happy to try things as they go along! After all, discovering new ingredients and flavours is one of the best things about being a chef, right?!
9.45am – Spice Souq and Local Cafe Stop
A short drive down the road and we’re at the bottom end of Manama Souq, an area which is packed with spice shops selling a huge variety of powdery condiments to liven up your cooking. Chef WP mingles around the many pyramid mountains of different spices, casually smelling and tasting the ones that peak his interest. In the end, we get a bag of turmeric, red chilli powder, and garam masala – all of which Chef WP makes use of in his restaurants back at the Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay. Winner! It’s already hot outside, so we decide to take a pit stop at Kasab Restaurant. Its walls are covered in black and white pictures of Bahrain’s past. We show Chef WP what Bab Al Bahrain looked like in the early 1900s, as he waits for fresh bread and daal, which he savours with a cup of karak chai. He’s eager to meet and greet the locals and regulars at the café, and we take this opportunity to snap some more pictures (for social media, of course!)
11am – Farm and Herb Garden Visit
Garden Stop On our drive to a small farm in Budaiya, Chef WP shares his everyday life with us. Did you know that despite being one of the most sought-after and hard-working chefs in the world, he doesn’t like to make plans! On any given day, Chef WP likes to keep things spontaneous; his next family vacay is due soon, but he’s yet to decide on a destination! “Life is too planned already, with my busy work schedule, so when I’m at home, I like to take the day as it comes,” he says. We make two quick stops – the first, a small farm of mainly homegrown rocca leaves and baby date palm trees, and the second was a beautiful herb garden called Pomegranate Nursery, in Jannusan. Here, we introduced Chef WP and his team to Reyhan – the famous aromatic basil of Bahrain.
11.30am – Budaiya Port
One of our absolute favourite spots in Bahrain is Budaiya Port. It’s quiet, picturesque and it’s where we frequently visit for the best tom yum soup in town. Today, we’re here for something that’s more of a delicacy – baby shark! It’s finely chopped and mixed with spices, and Chef WP adds a squeeze
of lemon to it, before tucking in. His verdict – very good! The dhows docked in at the port make for a great backdrop for more photos, but IT’S HOT, so we’re back in the car and off to our next stop!
12noon – Al Jasra Handicrafts Centre
Handicrafts Centre We had to show Chef WP some of Bahrain’s traditional crafts and industries that have become a legacy for the country; the collection of workshops at Al Jasra were a perfect introduction. We stopped by the basket weaving, mat making, artisan, textiles, woodwork and pottery workshops, where Chef WP was able to get a first-hand look at each practice. Perhaps the most memorable part of the visit was when he picked up an Oud and, honestly, played it like a pro. Everyone in the room was impressed! It’s safe to say that apart from learning more about Bahrain’s rich heritage, Chef WP picked up a great new skill in playing the Oud.
It was on the way to our chosen lunch spot that we asked Chef WP what he’s loved most about Bahrain, so far. He says: “I like the markets a lot, we don’t have many in the US. I like that Bahrain is becoming self-sufficient with the many farms, for example. It keeps people working and they don’t have to rely on outside ingredients.” Spoken like a man who really appreciates quality, homegrown, products!
1pm – Lunch at Freej Bin Al Rashdan
Rashdan, Muharraq Where do you take a chef who has prepared the menu for the Oscars for more than 20 years now? (no pressure). You go local! We head to Muharraq and stop off at Freej Bin Rashdan where Chef WP and his team experience an authentic taste of Bahraini food and hospitality. From using rose water to clean their hands, to having a go at preparing khubz (bread) in a traditional clay oven, and trying a number of Bahraini breakfast and main course dishes, Chef WP and crew discuss flavours, ingredients and cooking methods around the dinner table. A couple of dishes that stood out for them included the Madhruba and the Khubz with Mehyawa (fermented fish sauce). So much so that after we sipped down our Gahwa (Arabic coffee), we made a quick pit stop at a local grocery store to pick up some Mehyawa, Khubz flour, Nakhy (chick peas) and Bajeela (parsley).
2.30pm – Return to Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay
Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay We’re back in the CUT restaurant kitchen, and it’s been a long, hot day so far. Yet, Chef WP, is still full of energy and, much to our delight, he decides to whip up some Bahraini-inspired dishes using some of the ingredients we’ve picked up along the way. First though, we gift Chef WP with his very own traditional ghutra and egal, and in no time he’s got it on! As for the cooking, Chef WP makes khubz from scratch and fills it with mehyawa and his own twist of baby tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. He then cooks Hawamer fish using the local spices and some veggies we picked up earlier. Taste test: CRAZY DELICIOUS!
4pm – #WolfgangLovesBahrain
After spending the best part of a day with Chef WP, what we loved most was seeing his enthusiasm and interest in learning and trying new things, and also sharing his foodie stories along the way (like,
showing us a picture of him just a week earlier where he was… wait for it… feeding risotto to Lady Gaga, literally!!!). A down-to-earth demeanor, a willingness to experience local culture, and an absolute genius at making great food, Chef WP is definitely worthy of being an honorary Bahraini! He even made a little joke after the tour, saying: “I feel like I could get offered a Bahraini passport after this.” And so, for showcasing the little treasures of local life in Bahrain, that’s a job well done!
GO: Visit CUT by Wolfgang Puck, re Asian Cuisine and Blue Moon Lounge at Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay. Call 1711 5000 for more information.