Tala Bashmi is the driving force behind Fusions by Tala at The Gulf Hotel Bahrain Convention & Spa. We spoke to her about representing Bahrain on the global culinary scene.
OHLALA – What is your first memory of food that was beyond just enjoying it or disliking it but had a deeper meaning of understanding it? How old were you when you realised you wanted to follow this career path?
Tala Bashmi – I was 17 when I realised I wanted to follow this career path. However, I didn’t completely commit until I was 23/24 years old. My memories of food are linked with comfort. I realised at a young age that food is enjoyed and shared over all different occasions, whether happy or sad. It’s something that bonds and binds people from all walks of life together.
OHLALA – You’ve trained at Cesar Ritz Colleges in Switzerland and were exposed to a variety of international cuisines. How important is it to you to create dishes that reflect your Middle Eastern culture? How do your roots influence your cooking style?
Tala Bashmi – It is very important for me to represent a region that I see as under-represented on a global scale, especially in terms of fine dining or elevated cuisine. I think we come from a rich culture and heritage in terms of food, ingredients and spices, so sharing that with the world is beautiful. I grew up eating dishes from many cuisines and what is important to me is to cook with Nafs (an Arabic word that means with your own touch) or with your soul, as we would say in English, and make it taste good first and foremost. I cook food I like to eat and enjoy eating myself and I try to share that with my guests.
OHLALA – You mentioned that you are on the path of developing a Middle Eastern food renaissance. What do you mean by that? What exactly do you intend to achieve?
Tala Bashmi – Our cuisine has always been viewed as comfort food and perfect for sharing. What I try to do is to revisit dishes I’ve grown up with and add my trained touch in terms of technique and style while maintaining their true essence. I aim to share my story, our flavours and ingredients in an open exchange of culture and cuisine with the world.
OHLALA – Food can bring back childhood memories and a profound feeling of comfort. What is the dish that takes you to a happy place? Do you offer it in your restaurant?
Tala Bashmi – There’s a dish called Chebba that we would get from my grandmother every Friday – a prawn dumpling cooked in a tamarind sauce. It’s unique and distinctly Bahraini, one of those dishes that transports me to memories of my grandmother from the moment it hits my tongue. This dish is currently part of my eight-course tasting menu, where I guide my guests through my culinary experience.
OHLALA – Food also has the power to create new experiences and memories. How do you balance elements of innovation and tradition in your creations? How do you innovate without losing sight of your roots? Is there a formula that you follow or is it pure instinct?
Tala Bashmi – There are several formulas. Some dishes I keep very true to their core and change very little, like my Chebba dish. While in others, I try to completely reinterpret, study the origins and see how I can reshape that dish while preserving its soul and flavour.
OHLALA – How important are the ingredients in your creations? What spices would you carry to a desert island?
Tala Bashmi – Ingredients are key to what I do at the restaurant. I make frequent visits to the farmers’ market to ensure I utilise the best seasonal ingredients this island has to offer. And to a desert island, I would take salt, coriander seed, bay leaves and black limes.
OHLALA – You have been recognised in the region with the Middle East & North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards. In Bahrain, you have proved yourself with Fusions by Tala, a reference in high-end cuisine. What else do you want to conquer?
Tala Bashmi – It would be beautiful if we were able to take Fusions by Tala to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (which is actually composed of 100 restaurants), to showcase what we do among some of the most mentally nourishing restaurants that exist right now on a world platform.
OHLALA – As a Bahraini, what do you like most about the kingdom?
Tala Bashmi – The generosity and kindness of the people in Bahrain are unmatched. I think it is one of the island’s greatest characteristics, along with our rich culture, heritage and history.