We sit down with the founder of the Egyptian Chefs Association to find out more about his experience ahead of him taking over the Cairo Capital Club kitchen next week with a very special menu.
On Wednesday, February 11th, 2015, Cairo Capital Club is opening its doors once more to Cairo’s food enthusiasts who are looking for the best flavours the city has to offer. In the spectacular setting of the Cairo Capital Club’s 18th floor, surrounded by city lights and moonshine, renowned Chef Markus Iten has been asked to create his best menu for the visitors of the second event in the Food Fusion series that gives chefs the chance to prepare what they think comes closest to a taste explosion. We met up with Chef Iten to find out what he plans for the special night and what experience has done for him as he became one of the best chefs in the country.
Born in Switzerland, Chef Iten traveled the world to explore tastes. After sobering experiences in Mauritius where half of the kitchen stuff would be missing at all times due to high consumption of the sugar cane spirits, he arrived in Cairo 23 years ago. Initially having a dream of making Egypt a country that values the Art of Cooking, he expected his dream not to come true within his lifetime. The governments of the past did not appreciate culinary expression. Yet, next week, Cairo Capital Club is featuring Chef Iten in a night entitled The Art of Cooking. And indeed, Chef Iten feels like his dream has actually become true already. Now he is hoping for people to share the fruits of his labour.
Four years ago, Chef Iten says, he achieved his visions for Egypt. He founded the culinary training centre at the Egyptian Chefs Association to give young people the chance to experience a proper education in the culinary arts was doing splendidly with Egyptian students of his traveling the world to become proper chefs with a bright future. This did a lot of service to the country, as there was now an address for culinary training. Having talent, Chef Iten says, will never be enough for someone to make a living cooking. Discipline and “practice, practice, practice,” are his very own principles for success. These young chefs are learning from the best and now have the chance to become as great as Chef Iten himself. In fact, two of his most promising students will be part of his team on Wednesday, cooking for the gourmands of Cairo.
Chef Itens’ achievements are not limited to claiming responsibility for the rising relevance of culinary art in Egypt. He is the Assistant Continental Director of the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS) for the Middle East and Africa region, being one of the biggest names in the culinary sector in all of the region. His house in Fayoum invites guests to come relax and learn from the master himself. Very clearly, the skill as well as the passion for the culinary arts is Chef Iten's whole life, and the opportunity to enchant people at Cairo Capital Club on Wednesday is one of very few challenges Markus Iten still hasn’t explored. While he is looking forward to the experience of presenting one of his favourite menus in the beautiful setting in Garden City, guests are looking forward to getting the extraordinary chance to experience his food first hand.
Going into the experience, Chef Iten is showing true European organisation skill as he views Wednesday, 8pm as only the time of the performance. But every performance takes preparation. “I will spend about 18 hours in the kitchen before the first item is even cooked,” he tells us. Making sure the kitchen is “ready for showtime,” is part of why Iten is so successful. Since his early days as a chef, he says, lots has changed. “It used to be all about the reputation,” he says, recalling the beginning of his career. Nowadays, chefs spend most of their time in meetings and on cost calculations. Chef Iten himself believes that skills of productivity are important now more than ever. “I don’t like wasting food so most of my menus are planned to produce the smallest amount of garbage.” Cairo Capital Club’s kitchen will be the stage for a well-prepared and efficient meal.
And Chef Iten knows that kitchen very well as he was the one who designed it. “The reason I decided to do the Cairo Capital Club was that I knew what could be done in that kitchen,” Iten says. Too many places focus on the front presentation of a restaurant and forget that a well-sized kitchen with proper equipment is essential in producing a fantastic dish. Up to 45% percent of the place should be dedicated to the kitchen, Iten thinks. “If there’s a 100% in the back, there will be 100% in the front,” he explains. At Cairo Capital Club, the kitchen is almost as big as the front of the restaurant, making sure Chef Iten and his team have the resources to make sure only the best dishes leave the kitchen.
Asking him why he chose the menu he is presenting on Wednesday, Iten simply says “because I like it.” In fact, he likes that it uses little salt, works with the original flavours of the produce and is overall very light without compromising on taste. In his eyes, salt, garlic and spices can become the primary taste of a dish, however, he wants “carrots to taste like carrots.” His strategy for the night is to work with the flavours that are developing in the pans and pots to convince visitors of his excellence. On the night, few people will know his story, his experience and the many celebrities he has previously cooked for. “That night, I will have to deliver, and what I have done the rest of my life will have no relevance unless I don’t screw up,” Iten says.
Chicken with Wild Mushroom Velouté, White Broad Bean Cappuccino and Beef Tacos with Wasabi Mayo are just a glimpse of what is to be expected when Chef Markus Iten gets cooking. Together with his highly-trained team, Iten is convinced the event will be challenging but rewarding as the opportunity to create an excellent meal in the stunning setting of Cairo Capital Club doesn’t happen very often. Our mouths were certainly watering after our meeting with the skilled chef, and we are counting down the days until we are feasting on his food while watching the stars over Cairo at Cairo Capital Club again.
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