Spanish Culinary Ideas for Oman
The Ministry of Commerce and Industry of Oman and ICEX Spain Trade and Investment have concluded a program for professionals from the former to visit this country for a cross-cultural and business exchange focused on the restaurant and hospitality industries
Fifteen professionals from Oman, representing different aspects of the restaurant industry – including chefs and restaurant/cafe owners – recently spent a week in Spain as part of an international training and exchange program organized by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of Oman in collaboration with ICEX Spain Trade and Investment, with the purpose of helping to improve the efficiency of Omani Entrepreneurs in the restaurant sector by introducing them to new models of business management for their restaurants and cafes.
This initiative sought to create possible employment opportunities and international partnerships, while promoting the exchange of information and experiences on a global level, and give the Omani entrepreneurs a first-hand look at the various success stories of Spanish businesses in this industry.
The trip, which took place in early April, consisted of a whirlwind week of plans that took the delegation of Omanis from Madrid to Valladolid for a variety of activities that included visits to a wide-range of Spanish food companies, such as Lizarran and Chocolates Valor; tours of some of the country’s most successful service and retail businesses, including Mallorca pastry shops and El Corte Inglés Gourmet Experience; and talks about the Spanish restaurant business in some of Spain’s most traditional and Avant-garde restaurants – and at the hand of some of this country’s most lauded chefs, including Ramon Freixa, Mario Sandoval and Miguel Ángel de la Cruz, among others.
Additionally, in Valladolid, the group was hosted by the International School of Culinary Arts Valladolid, an institution that organized a variety of activities including practical presentations on restaurant management topics such as fixing prices, how to buy, how to sell and point-of-sale software; round-table discussions with the heads of tourism and gastronomy for the city of Valladolid and the regional government, the president of the local restaurant association and two area chefs/restaurateurs; and a culinary exchange that fused Spanish and Omani cooking techniques.
I had the opportunity to spend some time with five of these Omani restaurateurs, to talk a little bit about their experiences on this unique cultural exchange. Though their observations and enthusiasm for this program could fill a book, some of the highlights are as follows.
On our first meeting, I accompanied Samar Abdullah Nasser Al Khusaibi, Khalid Salim Ismail Al-Suwaid and Ghada Saoud Salim Al Harthi around the international trade fair Salón de Gourmets in Madrid, which was being held that same week in Madrid. These three restaurateurs from the Omani capital of Muscat pointed out some of their favorite Spanish products which included cheeses such as Manchego, Idiazabal and Torta de Casar, olives and spices like saffron and pimentón (Spanish type of paprika).
Later in the week, Nader Mohamed Khalaf al Aisari, a gregarious chef who did a stint in a restaurant in Tenerife (Canary Islands), remarked that he had been impressed by the emphasis on food presentation that he had experienced in Spanish restaurants and the high level of creativity in dishes. In his words, “(food) creativity is the best in Spain”.
Saif Masoud Abdullah Al Shahi, whose family has a (more than) fifty-year-old traditional restaurant in Sohar, remarked that he was hoping to introduce smaller portions or tapas sized dishes into his restaurant in an effort to reflect Western dining styles and thus appeal more to tourists.
Restaurant Business in Spain
For Ghada, one of the most interesting aspects of the trip was the chance to sit down with government and restaurant industry representatives and discuss business practices at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Valladolid. “We wanted to know the challenges that businesses face here in dealing with their Municipalities, so that we can go back to Oman and share what we’ve learned”. She also pointed out the emphasis in Spain on “cooperation, collaboration and consistency on the part of the government in creating high quality partnerships with businesses.”
For his part, Khalid kept his eye open for potential purveyors for his restaurant, some of which he learned about during presentations made in Valladolid by non-alcoholic winemakers and halal meat producers. “The quality and prices of halal wagyu beef here are very competitive in comparison with what I buy in Japan, and therefore I might bring my business here.”
Additionally, Khalid, Saif and Nader were on the lookout for different machinery that would make their kitchens more efficient and thereby help increase sales.
Spanish Restaurants and Chefs
Ramón Freixa, Mario Sandoval, Miguel Ángel de la Cruz, Martin Quiroga and others; all left an indelible mark on the Omani delegation thanks to their obvious passion for what they do and their warmth and welcoming spirit with this international group. Miguel Ángel de la Cruz, of La Botica de Matapozuelos, took the group for a walk in the woods to point out the flowers, wild mushrooms and plants that he uses in his botanical cuisine, followed by a talk about his business concept and this culinary movement.
For his part, Ramon Freixa of Restaurante Ramón Freixa served a fish dish that kept (dubious fish-eater) Samar talking about it all week, and gave Nader advice on the best type of equipment needed to cover all of his culinary needs for creating avant-garde cuisine.
Mario Sandoval of Restaurante Coque showed the group the different aspects of his business, including a tour of his kitchens and the catering area. He also went so far as to invite the Omanis back this summer to spend two-weeks training in his restaurant, which wowed the group on all levels ranging from food to decor.
The iconic tapas restaurants, Los Zagales and Villa Paramesa, that the group visited in Valladolid, also left their mark on this delegation, providing inspiration in terms of the variety, creativity and the stunning presentation of these small but often intricate dishes.
Memories from Spain
After spending a week in another country, meeting new people and learning about new things, the group couldn’t have spoken more highly about the experience – particularly the warmth, and the professional dedication of everyone that they came in contact with. And while they learned an incredible amount during this weeklong experience, they also had a few things of their own to teach.
As a chef, one of Nader’s favorite moments was undoubtedly getting the chance to cook at the culinary school in Valladolid. Armed with a packet of spicy chilies from Oman, he and another Omani chef taught the Institute’s Spanish chefs how to make a typical Omani dish called Quabooli and how to eat it with their hands. Then, in a true fusion of cultures, the Spaniards helped transform it into a tapa.
As Khalid so beautifully pointed out, “This is an opportunity to bridge cultures. Spain and Oman usually export gas and oil. This is about learning from one another and exchanging experiences.”
Inspiration, motivation, innovation, efficiency, creativity, culture and an ongoing symbiotic relationship between restaurant owners and chefs from these two countries in what is obviously only the beginning of a wonderful relationship.
Fifteen professionals from Oman, representing different aspects of the restaurant industry – including chefs and restaurant/cafe owners – recently spent a week in Spain as part of an international training and exchange program organized by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of Oman in collaboration with ICEX Spain Trade and Investment, with the purpose of helping to improve the efficiency of Omani Entrepreneurs in the restaurant sector by introducing them to new models of business management for their restaurants and cafes