Meet Nader Al Aisari, the Omani celebrity chef behind the country's fine-dining trend

Oman’s food scene is blossoming, in part thanks to the country’s wealth of natural ingredients, from fish to spices, and in part because of Nader al Aisari, a passionate Omani chef upping the country’s restaurant game.Saturday, 2 November 2019

By Oman Ministry of Tourism
Muscat, Oman’s capital, sits on the Gulf of Oman and is backed by mountains and desert.
Muscat, Oman’s capital, sits on the Gulf of Oman and is backed by mountains and desert.
photo by Getty
Nader al Aisari, the exuberant chef behind Muscat’s acclaimed restaurant Tanzanite.
Nader al Aisari, the exuberant chef behind Muscat’s acclaimed restaurant Tanzanite.
photo by Nemorin

“It all started right here,” says Nader al Aisari, the exuberant chef behind Muscat’s acclaimed restaurant Tanzanite, gesturing around at his kitchen’s brightly tiled walls.

Nader is talking about his own culinary journey, one that began with him rising before dawn to cook pastries, and ended with him starring on local cooking program Top Chef. He could equally mean the blossoming of Oman’s restaurant scene, however, and the country’s booming fine dining trend — something Nader can certainly take some credit for.

His enthusiasm for Omani ingredients and his gregarious, likeable nature have made him an ambassador for the country’s cooking, both through social media and on TV channels like Vice Arabia. “My ‘comfort zone’ used to be the dance floor,” he says grinning, “now it’s the kitchen. Cooking in my passion”

It all began when Nader was a business student in Malaysia. “I used to call my family in Oman for recipes,” he explains, miming holding a phone under one ear and stirring frantically with the other, “I missed the cooking of my childhood.” Nader kept cooking on his return to Oman, rising at 5am to make pastries, sandwiches, and eventually entire lunchboxes to sell to colleagues in his office. When an opportunity arose for him to apprentice under Lucas Maes, a Michelin-starred chef in Tenerife, he jumped at the chance, leading to his securing a government loan to open his first restaurant.

“I still remember when I told my dad I wanted to be a chef. He was like, what? Of all the things in the world, you want to be a chef?” Nader laughs. “When I started out, it was unusual for men to cook. But there’s been a drastic change. Now men cook, husbands cook – being a chef is trendy now. It also used to be far more private. Now people stand up proudly and say, ‘‘I’m a chef from Oman, this is Omani cuisine. It’s our time to shine.”
 

Omani spices play a key role in the county's cuisine and can be found is local souks.
Omani spices play a key role in the county's cuisine and can be found is local souks.
photo by Getty

Part of that, Nader explains, has come from embracing the country’s wealth of natural resources, which include sensational seafood and an abundance of spices. “There’s also the way we cook,” he continues. “Meat we cook underground, for example, and then there’s the way we use our spices and dry our fish — it’s unique. Fish is huge in Oman: we have around 2,000miles of coastline, and a lot of fishermen.”

The country’s traditional dishes, from Quros (mini pancake) and musanif (chicken dumplings) to and Kabuli (a rice dish), all reflect the diverse influences on Omani culture. “We have Iran here, Yemen at the bottom, the United Arab Emirates here, Saudi, and India,” Nader explains, drawing a map in the air. “And as a people, we are known to be travellers. Wherever we go, we bring something back, so we have influences from Africa, Asia… Omani food is a cocktail. It’s very colourful, very flavourful, and very fresh. We like quantity, too. It’s nothing like European fine dining where you get a big plate and a tiny portion, Omani people want what they pay for.”

This could make pushing the fine dining scene challenging, but it’s something Nader is happy to embrace. “Sometimes I ask myself: have I made the right choice of career?” He admits. “But then I speak to a customer and they say, I tried your food, it was epic. Cooking is addictive, it’s like a drug: you get the basics right and then you experiment, you try to make everything perfect. There’s no such thing as perfection, but I strive for it every day — that’s why it’s my passion.”

Essentials

Nader al Aisari's restaurant Tanzanite restaurant is located in Oman's capital, Muscat.

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