3 10, 2017

Chef Khaled Al Baker

2017-10-03T10:56:59+03:00Oct 3, 2017|7 Comments

Khaled Al Baker, or KB for short is the brand manager and head chef at Meem Cafe. He’s also a good friend of mine and I’ve been wanting to post about him and his transformation of Meem Cafe since I’ve been watching it happen from the very beginning. Just over a year ago, Khaled moved back to Kuwait after studying culinary arts at the Johnson & Wales University in Miami. He started looking for work and decided he wanted to join MMC Catering who had a bunch of popular restaurants including LeNotre, Meem Cafe, Over Jar and Three & Barista. When he applied, one of the tasks they gave him was to pass by Meem Cafe, try their food out and let them know what he thought of it. So he invited me along with a bunch of our other foodie friends (including Hind from PantryBee) and we passed by Meem Cafe and tried out as much food as we could. My overall impression wasn’t that positive with items on the menu that didn’t make sense to be there, and what was there wasn’t that great either. But Khaled was busy taking down notes, he saw a lot of potential and so he went back to MMC with his feedback and they hired him, giving him the task to revamp and upgrade the Meem Cafe menu.

Khaled wasn’t always a chef. He originally studied accounting and finance at the University of Central Florida and then worked 6 years as an accountant in the oil and gas industry. Things started to change right after his cousin opened up the upscale butcher shop Prime Cuts. They started grilling non-stop 5-6 times a week and Khaled would have his home cook put together the sides while he did all the grilling. But his cook kept making the same sides all the time which eventually got boring, so Khaled decided he’d also do the sides himself. He started reading up a lot and experimenting and the more and more he cooked the more and more he was loving it. So he started taking cooking lessons whenever he found any and he cooked for his friends whenever he could before he eventually decided to go back to university to study culinary arts.

Over the past year Khaled has been super busy reorganizing and reinventing the Meem Cafe menu. Because I keep popping over to Meem Cafe to see him whenever I can, the whole thing to me has felt like I’ve been watching a food reality show where the chef goes into a restaurant and just overhauls the menu. The first thing Khaled did was remove all the items that didn’t fit in with the theme of Middle Eastern comfort food. After refocusing the menu under the main theme, he started experimenting with modernizing Arabic classics while also fusing others with different cuisines. He loves cooking and he’s been generally just having fun trying to come up with new dishes like zaatar fries, Lebanese nachos, burrata mana’eesh and braised short ribs hummus. The end result is a lot of good food with a lot of unique flavors. Even his chef coat is infused with Arabic by being designed like a dishdasha while incorporating the shemagh pattern.

While sitting with Khaled and interviewing him for this post I realized where all this passion with Arabic food was stemming from. He thinks that as Arabs we’re losing the food marketing war with items like hummus and pita being considered Israeli and not Arab, while Greek yogurt becoming trendy but not labneh. He thinks that if we don’t start modernizing and refining Arabic cuisine, we’re going to eventually lose it all. I never thought about it in that way but now that I do I’ve started appreciating what his doing a lot more.

If you haven’t been to Meem Cafe for awhile now then I’d recommend you pass by and try it out again. They’ve got four locations, one at the Jaber Al-Ahmad Cultural Center, another in Hamra Tower, another in 360 Mall and the last one in The View in Salmiya. You can also follow Khaled on his instagram account @chefkb

16 05, 2017

Uncovering and Preserving Kuwait’s Urban History

2017-05-16T09:37:40+03:00May 16, 2017|1 Comment

Brownbook magazine shot a short interview with architect Zahra Ali Baba who reflects on her research, the practice of architectural conservation and the importance of history in the development of Kuwait. Its less than 4 minutes, is interesting to watch and nicely shot, so check it out above.

Thanks absolving-disorder

23 03, 2015

Interview: My Assthetic

2015-03-23T10:24:26+03:00Mar 23, 2015|27 Comments

Last month I posted about an image that was going viral of a butt naked man posing with the Kuwait City landscape in the background. I thought it was funny, a lot thought it was offensive and many were curious to how he didn’t get caught. So for this week I decided to interview @myassthetics and try and get some answers. Since he’s not in Kuwait I ended up doing the interview by email, here is it:

How long were you in kuwait for?
I was in Kuwait for about 4 days visiting a friend.

What did you think of the country?
I thought the country was really cool! What stood out most to me was the restaurant scene in Kuwait, there were some really trendy spots with really delicious food and drinks. My favorite was probably this spot called Almakan, but I also went out to farm a bit outside the city and had a really nice farm to table meal. We also saw some very cool art while we were there and I was surprised to see how prevalent the kind of underground street culture was there. Lastly the people were incredibly nice and hospitable in Kuwait, very interesting to talk to and all in all a very intellectual and worldly group of people (at least the ones I interacted with).

Where did you stay?
I stayed with a friend I had met outside of Kuwait and his family.

You’ve got a project in which you go around the world taking photos of your backside naked in front of different monuments, whats that all about?
Ya it all started kind of by accident. I was in South Africa and had just been swimming in a lake with some friends, and as we were changing back my friend took a picture on the dock because “the contrast of my pale ass and the red sunset was too funny”. The picture turned out to be a great one and people thought it was hilarious so it kind of stuck with me. The next picture was about a year later in Iceland, and I had to take my pants off to wade through some water to a waterfall, which reminded me of the other picture so i stripped down and took another one. This one got an even better response from everyone I showed it to. The third one came about a year after that on a little island in the British Virgin Islands that was just sand and 1 single palm tree. After that picture it became a thing and now I actually look for places to take them. In the last year and a half I’ve taken well over a hundred of them.

That was the origin of it but now I think of it kind of like a project or even a social test, and I’ve gotten some really interesting responses out of it. Some people think it is brilliant, others think I am an idiot, some think its really artistic and some even think its a weird sexual fantasy of mine (I can assure you that it is not haha). I just think that its fascinating how you take a picture of a beautiful landscape with a person in it and everyone focuses entirely on the landscape as if the person isn’t there, but as soon as that person is naked they become the sole focus of the image no matter how small or inconsequential they are to the picture. My favorite pictures of mine are the ones where you barely even see me because you really see how people’s perception of the picture changes when they realize there is a naked person in it. Call it whatever you want, I just enjoy the challenge of finding new ways to push the boundaries and keep people’s interest along a theme that could be quick to lose its appeal.

What made you choose Kuwait?
Kuwait was particularly appealing because it adds a whole new daring aspect to the picture. In most places if people saw you they would laugh or even if you got caught it would just be a stern warning or maybe a fine. In Kuwait the stakes are raised so again you have this picture of the skyline which people would have no interest in if I were clothed, and now because my ass is in it it’s practically gone viral.

Did anyone see you while taking the photos?
Aside from the person who took them, no. I want people to enjoy the pictures if they seek them out or are shown them, but I understand that this may be offensive to some people and I respect that. I would never want a kid to come walking around the corner and see me naked and be scarred. Obviously you can never be 100% sure but I scouted out the spot a bit first to make sure nobody would come by and I’ve gotten very quick at getting undressed and dressed again haha.

What time of day was it?
It was right in the middle of the afternoon, probably 1 or 2 PM. Definitely not the easiest time to pull it off but maybe we got lucky by hiding in plain sight.

Were you scared you would get caught?
I guess I was a little nervous because I know they take it a lot more serious in Kuwait than other places (that’s probably an understatement), but I tried to make sure I could get away with it and had a little bit of safety in being a foreigner. I’m actually somewhat shocked that I haven’t gotten caught yet but Kuwait certainly would not be the best place to start!

Were you aware of the law in Kuwait regarding public indecency?
No honestly I still have no idea what it is. I’m glad I didn’t have to find out the hard way.

Planning on visiting any neighboring countries soon? Saudi maybe?
So I actually have a picture in Saudi (well 2 but the other was in the hotel pool so it doesn’t really count), wearing only a shemagh and you can see the Kingdom Tower in it. I’ve showed it to some of my Saudi friends and they think it is hilarious but believe it or not I don’t think I quite have the guts to post it publicly at the moment. I honestly didn’t expect the Kuwait pictures to get as much of a response as they did and I’d be a bit nervous about what that could mean in Saudi.


@myassthetics doesn’t have any nudity if you’re interested in checking it since all the nudity has been blurred. I don’t have an interview lined up for next week yet so if you have anyone in mind let me know.

17 03, 2015

Interview: Simon and Adrian Nelbom of Mr Karak

2015-03-18T00:06:13+03:00Mar 17, 2015|35 Comments


I’m not a big fan of interviews but I do like stories especially interesting ones. This is why I’m going to try and post one interview a week with someone I think has a story worth sharing. For my first interview I met up with two intriguing brothers, Simon and Adrian Nelbom who make and sell karak tea under their self created brand, Mr karak. I first met them at one of the Secret Garden brunches so when they proposed we meet up there for the interview I thought it was very appropriate.

Two Danish brothers in Kuwait making Indian karak tea? I needed to know how, what and why.

A year and a half ago Adrian had just finished his studies in Copenhagen and Simon was working in a very famous organic bakery. They were both in periods of their lives where they didn’t know what they wanted to do. After a bit of contemplation they both decided to come to Kuwait since they had relatives from here. One of their families’ closest friends of 50+ years was a Danish woman married to a Kuwaiti. During the interview they kept referring to them as relatives and understandably so because of the close family ties.

When I think of Danish drinks, I think of Carlsberg or Tuborg beer and definitely not karak which is why I wanted to know how all this came about.

When Adrian and Simon came to Kuwait their relatives introduced karak to them. Simon had traveled to India back in 2012 and he had chai all the time while there. He didn’t know what it was but he was having it wherever he went. So when his relatives introduced and explained karak to him he loved the idea of milk with tea since they didn’t have it in Denmark. Karak was also relatively new to Kuwait. It was popular in places like Bahrain and Qatar but it was still picking up here in Kuwait. When Simon was working at the bakery in Denmark they used to have the best milk and the best coffee, so he decided to take it upon himself as a challenge to try and make the best karak he possibly could.

They started researching the local market and realized majority of the people were using either long life milk or canned milk. The idea of using canned milk, which had a 1-year shelf life didn’t make any sense to Simon. He told me milk should come from a cow and you drink it, that’s how it’s supposed to be. Milk is not supposed to last a year sitting on a shelf. That’s gross. He then continued telling me that was the first thing they decided, no long life milk. Fresh milk is available in Kuwait so they started using it.


With that as a starting point they continued the same principle across all the ingredients, they wanted to create an all fresh and natural karak. They kept experimenting with different fresh ingredients and even started importing ones they couldn’t find like Cinnamomum verum. The fact that they were both Danish made things difficult since they don’t drink and eat a lot of Cardamom so they started adding other ingredients. Finally after lots of tasting sessions with their Kuwaiti relatives, they finally ended up with karak that everybody liked. Once they were ready they signed up for Qout Market and launched their brand. That was back in March of last year.

Other than just using the right products, Adrian and Simon both spend a lot of time educating their customers on the benefits of their ingredients. For example the most popular cinnamon used is cassia (Chinese cinnamon) which when you look up you’ll realize has health risks. The real cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka and is called Cinnamomum verum. Not many people know this (I didn’t) which is why Qout Market was a special launch place and still is a great venue for them. The people who visit them at Qout are always interested to listen and learn about their products. Later on they got another seal of approval when they finally became part of the Secret Garden family. To become part of this family meant getting an approval from the culinary genius and shakshooka and Secret Garden mastermind Mimi. They’re now regulars there as well albeit without their Mr Karak brand due to strict Secret Garden rules.

The brothers now serve a variety of different karaks including “The Original” and “The Masala”. The first consists of ginger, saffron and cardamom while the second consists of cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and mint leaves. They also have a nondairy version which was another story of experimentation as well since the first thing that comes to mind is using soya milk. But soya milk isn’t that great for you which is why they tried using the much healthier almond milk. But when they started boiling the almond milk, they were ending up with texture they didn’t like so they kept looking for another alternative. After a bit of a search they found organic coconut milk which ended up working really well especially with all the spices. So those are the three main kinds of karaks they have but they then came up with two more. They were getting ready for the April Qout Market last year and the weather was fairly warm so they wondered if people would want to drink hot tea out in the sun. They started brainstorming ideas and they came up with karak shake using vanilla ice cream (I personally tried it at the last Qout and loved it). But what about the people who were counting calories? They decided to make another cold karak using crushed ice. So their menu now is composed of five types of karak drinks.


Other than karak the guys also serve chapatti. Again they use all natural ingredients to try and make it as healthy a chapatti as possible and even try to use healthy spreads (no Nutella or Kraft Cheese).

One thing both Adrian and Simon wanted to make clear through out the interview is none of their success would have been possible without their amazing team who have mostly been with them since day 1. They also hinted that they’re currently looking for a place to set up a permanent shop but haven’t found a good location yet.

Sitting with the brothers it was very clear that they’re extremely passionate about their karak. In fact the interview was around an hour long but I tried to share as much as possible here without making this post so long that no one would want to read it. I highly recommend you try their karak (especially the shake) and I also recommend having a chat with the two since they’ve got so much more to share. If you’re interested, they’ll be taking part in the Street Fest market this coming weekend and hopefully if they get approved they’ll be at Qout Market next month. Here’s a link to their instagram account @mrkarak