Flash-grilled: Imad Alarnab

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Chef Imad Alarnab on the importance of authenticity and learning how to cook from his mother

Related tags Imad Alarnab Chef Imad’s Syrian Kitchen London Syrian food

The chef founder of the recently relaunched Imad's Syrian Kitchen in London's Soho on the importance of authenticity, struggles with staffing, and learning how to cook from his mother.

Why restaurants?
Hospitality is the only thing I’ve known since 1999. I initially studied fashion so it wasn’t an obvious path for me. I always enjoyed cooking and once I fell into it more professionally, I knew it was the only thing I wanted to do.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career
It’s always challenging and you must always adapt yourself. Every day is different.

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your own)?
Dishoom. I love the way they are adapting Indian food to be accessible to everyone’s taste. The food is always consistent, and I love the atmosphere.

What motivates you?
My daughters and my wife. They are my motivation and the reason I always keep pushing through. Being apart for months has been the hardest thing I have done in my life.

What keeps you up at night
The thousands of projects I have in my mind!

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the hospitality business?
My mother. She taught me everything I know; how to cook and how to do it with love. Also, my operations manager Heidi Nam Knudsen has been with me since the opening of my first restaurant in 2021 and she’s taught me so much from her hospitality and business experience.

What time do you wake up?
When my daughter wakes up, usually around 7am.

Coffee or tea?
Syrian coffee.

How often do you check your email?
Not often enough (never).

How do you let off steam?
Walking in parks by myself.

Do you prefer a night on the tiles or a night on the sofa?
Night on the sofa.

What’s your signature dish to cook at home?
I would say my falafel or kabab Hindi. Or any recipes from my cookbook​!

Typical Sunday?
Camden market and grabbing some food at Jumah. Or I go to the Queen’s Bridge Farmers Market. I also love the Saturday car boots sales in Denham.

What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
Leaving Syria in the search of safety​.

Favourite holiday destination?
Spain, Ibiza. I also love Kerna in India, everything there is incredible including the food and people.

What boxset are you currently watching?
Mo​ on Netflix! It’s a series about a man trying to seek asylum for his Palestinian family in Texas.

What was your dream job growing up?
Working in fashion or being a pilot.

What's been your best business decision?
My pop-ups! Everything has to be improvised and you have to be super creative on all levels. I think more chefs should run a pop-up before opening their own restaurant so you can experiment and experience things on a smaller scale before going big. It also gives you the space to make and learn from mistakes.

And the worst?
When people copy other people’s ideas or concepts. It isn’t something I have done or would ever do, but I’ve seen it happen. Authenticity is so important to me and copying someone else's work erases any personality or consideration so there’s no space for you to be different or stand out.

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Be yourself and be authentic. Be different because although it might not be successful the first time, eventually things will work out. People love new things and new experiences! A restaurant should be like your home, so you should offer things exactly how you see it.

If you could change one thing about the hospitality industry today, what would it be?
Staffing is the biggest challenge right now. I would also change service charge being optional. I think service charges should be mandatory, not an option to remove. Staff should get paid for their service, not their performance. We are not robots.

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