Food Artist Omar Sartawi || On Creativity, Passion and Opportunity
Internationally acclaimed food artist Omar Sartawi offers us a glimpse into his world of food; a fusion of science and art, creativity and discipline, personal quests and fruitful collaborations. Sartawi uses food as a language, creating a unique narrative; one that tells a story of curiosity, precision, science-backed knowledge and passion. The Jordanian native is renowned for his deconstruction of tastes, textures and appearances that blur the lines between design, art and cooking. A unique ambassador for our region’s cuisine, Sartawi’s take on traditional dishes is anything but conventional. Sartawi bends our reality, creating an alternative universe of sorts where things can be different. Liquid hummus or transparent zaatar manakeesh anyone?
In his latest body of work, that starts at Amman Design Week 2016, Sartawi offers us an alternative paradigm, posing what if questions that he then eloquently translates to mind-bending solutions. In our exclusive interview with the creative, Chef Omar walks us through his journey so far. The work itself; as always, is a Google click away, the when, what and how. His aubergine skin masks, ‘Bite of the Universe’, and contributions to prestigious publications such as the Craving Palestine cookbook, are all well documented. What I wanted to know was the why, what compelled him to delve into this unknown, his experiences along the way, and the emotions and beliefs that it unearthed.
Sartawi’s interest in food is deep, but gastronomy seems to hold a special place. His inquisitive nature always facinated with the methods of preparation just as much as the final outcome. Since childhood Chef Omar has been drawn to the craft of food, his local butcher providing an introduction to the dexterity of cutting, the skills needed to prefect the trade; this is what attracts him most, the mastery. His desire to connect with masters of their respective trades is what, in my opinion has allowed him to grow and flourish.Omar is a believer in abundance, there is enough to go round for everyone, and on the contrary when we connect there is a synergy which elevates and multiplies. These connections have also afforded him opportunities, an example of which was his introduction to Amman Design Week 2016 through Sahel Hiyari and Abeer Seikaly , two people he credits with mentorship and support. When he was asked to create a unique pass-around menu for the opening of Amman Design Week, there was very little in the form of guidance in the world of Middle Eastern cuisine. Sharing his frustrations with Abeer, her response was firm, “go out and do it yourself then.” Those seven words changed the trajectory of Omar’s path, forcing him to push, literally giving birth to new ideas and concepts. His description of those three months were anything but joyful, they were painful and frightening. The process of unlearning in order to invent is a tumultuous one, filled with doubts, fear and a lot of noise. But he was prepared,There are no coincidences in life, if you trust your intuition enough and risk the unknown, things will eventually unfold in intriguing ways. For almost 2 years Omar was on a personal journey that lead him to learn everything he could about the preparation of food. He approached the best in the field and learned from them, took online courses, immersing himself in the processes of preparation; to what end, he had no idea, he just knew he had to do it. This is what he believes is ‘al yaqeen’, an Arabic term signifying the surrender to one’s maker. So when the opportunity to create was afforded to him in 2016, he was armored with the knowledge and skills that helped facilitate his process. That is what I refer to as the holy trinity of success; passion, skills and opportunity.So the question begs itself, where do you start when given a mammoth task? Well according to Sartawi, with a brilliant question, a skill taught to him by Abeer Seikaly. When you pose the right question, you are slowly but surely building an identity, the answer to which unfolds further questions and again fruitful answers. So what did he ask himself that fateful day in 2016?
Can I make Jammed exotic to a Jordanian and familiar to a French person?
After forays in the worlds of falafel and turmus (lupins) the answer become abundantly clear, mansaf. Thus was born Jameed Chocolate: a gourmet, artisanal chocolate created using Jordanian dried bedouin yogurt. When you are curious, you know what you love, but realize that to expand upon it you need to collaborate. Extending his hand to some of the very best master crafts-persons in their fields, Omar went on to create gastronomical works of art unlike any other.One of the most is the edible replica of the historic Ayn Ghazal sculpture; the oldest sculpture known to man. Made of jameed concrete, a material concocted by Omar himself, the piece was originally exhibited in the main gallery of Amman Design Week 2019. Giving credit where credit is due, Omar attributes its ultimate success to the support and endorsement of Amman Design Week director Rana Beiruti and curator Noura Al Sayeh.
Another highly acclaimed work, was Sartawi’s collaboration with Naqsh Collective titled ‘Mother’, which sees his molecular gastronomy skills first hand, with the create of a transparent and tattooed olive, to celebrate the launch of Naqsh’s ‘Jhazeh Ya Shams’ tableware line.
If you’ve ever wondered about the universe, then perhaps Sartawi’s ‘Bite of the Universe’ is one for you. Formulated using scientific-based knowledge from NASA’s research on the topic, Omar creaeted a papery texture meant to mimic the taste, smell and look of the Milky Way. The dessert, a part of the sensorial dinner experience ‘Banquet of Hoshena’ by Nadine Beshir, has travelled the world, from Nashville, London, Kuwait, Stockholm, to Rotterdam, Germany and Switzerland, and currently at Marriott, Riyadh and Kempinski, Dubai.The latest collaboration is with esteemed architect and furniture designer Karim Sawalha. The Duck a l’Orange is a collectible side table that incorporates Sawalha’s pristine vision for design, and Sartawi’s latest innovative creation, orange leather. The result of which is an ode to sustainable luxury and functional product design. The leather is a beautiful marriage of old-world preservation methods and cutting edge scientific processes that sees a sustainable leather comparable to traditional leather in almost every way. A limited edition collection, more than a handful of tables have already found their places at prestigious homes and establishments around the world.
Mark your calendars this November in Dubai; Sartawi in collaboration with Nadine Beshir once again, will treat you to a unique dining experience named, “Seven”. The 0art-inspired concept will have Sartawi prepare 7 different interpretations of famous artists’ works.So what next for this master of ingenuity? We’re putting our money on current affairs. Omar creates from a place of love and discovery, not money. His desire is to make you rethink your reality and in the process empower you to make a difference, even if just for a few minutes.Through Sartawi’s creations we are reminded of our common humanity as we all squeal in delight at his latest creation. In every language in the world, that squeal sounds the same, a reminder that we are more alike than we would like to admit. A recognition of our power as a collective to affect positive change.
A quick scan through his multitude of projects and you see a familiar theme; betterment. Whether he is piquing your interest with his latest concoction, or having you bite into a papery texture meant to mimic the taste, smell and look of the Milky Way, he is taking you beyond, beyond your expectations, your reality and into life’s endless possibilities.Food Artist Omar Sartawi has been featured in many International media outlets such as CNN, BBC, Sky News and MBC to name a few, in addition to great design and lifestyle publications such as Harpers Bazaar, Architectural Digest and ID magazine.