Culture
20 April 2022

Rewilding the Kitchen | Joori Wa Loomi by Moza AlMatrooshi

Nahla al-Tabbaa

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Rewilding the Kitchen is an online/offline project embracing what we call ‘rewilding’—ingredients and food become actors with agency, activating processes that unfold as the ingredients ‘intend.’ Joori Wa Loomi is the last of three recipes and conversations included in this project. The other artists who have presented recipes and worldviews are Namliyeh and Salma Serry.

An Introduction to Joori Wa Loomi by Moza Al Matrooshi:

After the lockdown had eased, I came across a rose kombucha recipe that required a plentiful amount of petals. At the time, I was also cultivating many plants. Although restrictions had started to shift, I still felt the need to cocoon and implement restorative practices more integrally within my day-to-day flow: I felt this might be a sign to strike a friendship with a Mohammadi rose bush. I was not dismayed when it did not produce as many petals as I needed; I took what it offered, and adapted the recipe. I felt that in my practice as a pastry chef at that moment, I found the joy of being able to work with this fickle and domesticated form of nature, and play a small role in elongating its short life. Although my rose bush is in repose currently due to the heat, I tend to it thankfully and enthusiastically, while thinking about the ways it will bloom when the time is right.


Ingredients:

For the kombucha (yields 2 litres):

200g rose petals (damask / mohammadi roses)

200ml kombucha liquid

240g sugar

1.5 ml water

1 SCOBY

For the cooler:

Dried lime (will be put as one slice in each glass)

Tonic water

Instructions:

  • First, the kombucha needs to be started and left to ferment for a period of two weeks prior to serving.
  • Dissolve the water and sugar and bring to a slow boil to make a simple syrup.
  • Once the sugar syrup is ready and cooled down completely, add the rose petals. The petals can infuse overnight, or be put through a food processor until they are very fine.
  • Sieve the remaining liquid and add it to the kombucha liquid and SCOBY in a sterilised container.
  • Leave the container open with a cloth tightly wrapped on top, and let the mixture sit at room temperature for five to seven days, while checking it daily.
  • Once the desired acidity of the rose mixture is reached, seal the container with its airtight lid and place in the fridge for two weeks.
  • Once the kombucha is ready to serve, depending on the size of the glass, pour a portion of 75% rose kombucha syrup and top it off with 25% tonic water, adding a slice of dried lime and some ice.

Moza Al Matrooshi and I continuously find ourselves intersecting and dancing in and out of one another’s practices. In fact, with all three Rewilding the Kitchen contributors, I luckily am able to share endless and reflective conversations, which have led to such tangible collaborations. I owe much of my personal development to them.

In this particular conversation, I intended to catch up with Moza about her time in pastry school, and how she experienced it from the lens of an artist. To me, an artist journeying into culinary school felt like a radical approach to expanding on a material practice. Kitchens and culinary schools mirror the brigade system, a traditional hierarchical structure that demands discipline, precision, and rigour. I was intrigued by an artist willingly integrating this structure into their lives.

I quickly learned how much I personally fetishized this process. My idea of a controlled, militant kitchen compounded with this notion of an alternative residency space turned out to be reductive compared to the generous information and insight Moza provided. Therefore, this article shifts away from that narrow lens. She is determined to dismantle tropes not only concerning her own identity, but also how food is labelled and spoken about, particularly in the art world.

Moza is a curious, sensitive, critical, and acutely aware storyteller. She has a way of pulling you in, holding your attention, and offering you a story packed with climaxes, humour, resolutions, and unresolved questions. As an activation for Rewilding the Kitchen, The Fictional Recipe is a writing workshop Moza offers to push the recipe format into another realm- something Moza is often doing. As an opening scene to our conversation, please read this post. I have broken down the rest of our conversation into scenes below:

You’ll Never Work in the Kitchen

We hear of racism and sexism associated with commercial kitchens, but I learnt from Moza’s experience that this clumsy, inappropriate environment—the tempers, the steaming, the flinging around of tools, the mockery—deeply infuses the culinary school teaching methodology. Moza refers to the military hierarchy, recalling the other determined, eager students seemingly scuttling about, trying to earn their position. Building ‘resilience’—a term that, lately, feels like a double edged sword- is celebrated in the kitchen.

Unsurprisingly, Moza’s challenge consisted of proving the assumption that, as an Emirati woman, she was merely a hobbyist in the programme, with no intention of actually stepping into a kitchen. Her second challenge was being forced to default to the role of spokesperson for Emirati food history, coercing peers to stop seeing Dubai as a contemporary incubator, devoid of history and culture, but diverse enough to be an ideal place to teach the culinary arts. She resented being forced to be nationalistic, to teach obvious lessons—racism and dismissing diversity should not persist in educational environments.

Finding Nafas

In the culinary school kitchen, Moza managed to find her ‘nafas,’ the Arabic word for spirit, or breath. In cooking, ‘nafas’ is the intangible, alchemical, divine energy that elevates mere cooking to an exquisite outcome. Moza found magic in the complex layering of pastries to produce delicate masterpieces, holding space in this system for her own experience and integrity to flow. Coming from a culture that eyeballs measurements, baking cakes from boxed cake mixes, and subscribing to the convenience of canned milk—practices discounted at culinary school—Moza found these processes to hold more ‘nafas.’ As a contribution and celebration of her graduation, she endeavoured to make her family’s favourite dessert on the sufra, the family dining table, a custard, encompassing all her new knowledge, making the custard entirely from scratch. When given the choice, her family preferred the pre-fab custard they have been eating since the beginning of time. Moza made peace with that choice, and peace with the ready-made reinstating its place in popular favourites.


Never Meet Your Heroes

Embracing popular favourites and contested themes around Emirati food, Moza attended a talk by one of her favourite authors in Middle Eastern cookbook writing. From the high on arrival, she experienced a huge low when the author candidly said that Emirati food needs to be elevated. Elevation, this author suggested, might come from combining your food with foie gras: the French dish would elevate the Emirate one. Heartbroken and once again assuming an educator role, Moza raised her hand, claiming: Emirati food is already a hybrid of foods and cultures, combining aromatic and elegant ingredients; surely, we can quantify its success not by the number of restaurants serving these dishes in haute cuisine formats, but by the fact that these dishes are daily practices in the home.

The Best Honey in the World

In her Hayy Jameel commissioned work, There is An Edible Gold, Moza dedicated time to researching and shadowing beekeepers in the UAE. Within the beekeeping system, and the production of ‘local’ honey, Moza discovered that the bees producing honey came, somewhat ironically, from Europe (although the UAE is on its way to breeding an Emirati bee). She also found that labelling honey from a particular country flattened the nuances behind the honey distinction: flora, climate, altitude—all of which could not be read through national boundaries.

In The Fictional Recipe, Moza’s in-person activation of Rewilding the Kitchen in the form of writing workshop, participants developed texts challenging the status of the recipe as a functional, instructional document, transporting it instead to a level of sensitive literature. Weaving together many of Moza’s deconstructions of culinary practices with those of care and nourishment, the recipes expanded into a manifesto, fiction, diaristic writing, and more, finding a 'nafas’ belonging solely to the author. Participants of the workshop had the opportunity to taste Moza’s Joori Wa Loomi, a contribution she described as being her; her experiences and thoughts over the last few weeks melting and fermenting into a fragrant cooler.

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