Chef Sebastian Nohse is the director of culinary at JW Marriott Marquis Hotel in Dubai. (Photo: Paul Thuysbaert)
A self-confessed “desert fanatic” who loves dune driving and camping under the stars, chef Sebastian Nohse has spent eight years of a 20-year cooking career in Dubai. What he loves most about the city is that it’s a melting pot of cultures – and za’atar. The Arabic spice mix of thyme, sumac and sesame seeds is the chef’s favorite ingredient — and the thing he’ll miss most when it’s time to leave.
What’s the best part of your work?
Sourcing ingredients. I’ve developed relationships with local farms here, and we have some great organic farmers who grow incredible ingredients for us. All our heirloom tomatoes, baby carrots and beetroots are locally produced and organic. They are picked when they’re ripe from the fields, and the flavor is so powerful. Funny story: A new chef once sent the tomatoes back. He said they didn’t taste like tomatoes — they were too sweet!
What ingredients do you most enjoy using?
We’re using a lot of local lambs, local chickens and an incredible variety of locally caught fish that is available here in the markets. Seventy-five percent of our ingredients are still imported, and we have access to anything in the world from here. Our main source markets are Australia, India and the United States, with some items from Europe — especially France. But we’re really using a lot of local ingredients, including za’atar, which I love.
Where do you recommend people eat in Dubai?
I love to go to Dubai Marina for dinner. You can stroll the Marina Walk, and there are hundreds of places to eat, from Arabic restaurants to American comfort food and French, Mexican and Italian. Everything is at your fingertips, the beach is beautiful, and it’s just a great place to spend an evening with family and friends.
Any tips for people who might be lucky to dine in a local home?
Don’t shake an Emirati woman’s hand. That’s very offensive. Otherwise, Emiratis are very guest-friendly, very hospitable. They will make you feel at home and share their food with you. Another tip: Most of the food items are eaten with the hands. Only use your right hand. Never use your left hand! Otherwise, it’s a very easy and welcoming society.
Should people travel to Dubai during Ramadan?
Ramadan is one of the best times to visit because the spirit of the city is all about sharing, and the atmosphere is incredible. You can’t eat and drink food in public during the day, but now there are so many restaurants in malls and hotels that non-Muslims can go to, so you’re not really restricted as a tourist. And the food at iftar [the evening meal when Muslims end their daily fast] is incredible — what an amazing experience as a Westerner to be a part of this. For me, it’s one of the best times of the year to visit Dubai.
What’s the best edible souvenir to take home?
High-quality dates. If you go to any of the malls, you’ll find hundreds of shops selling them. I remember eating dates as a child in Germany, and it was a terrible experience. Then you come here and try 12 to 14 different types of dates, and they are prepared and handled properly and they all taste absolutely incredible. That’s a nice gift to take home, and let people try them as they should be.