In just a few years, Opa has become a major player in Tel Aviv’s fine dining scene and opened people’s eyes to the possibilities of the plant kingdom in gastronomy. Innovation is very much a way of living and working at this restaurant, which means there is no glass ceiling on where chef Berger can go.
The region’s Best Female Chef 2023 is Salam Dakkak, who at her Dubai restaurant Bait Maryam, creates community around authentic and comforting food. The Palestinian chef has travelled widely, from Jordan, to Saudi Arabia and the US, and today uses her culinary skills, together with her daughter, Nada Darraj, to welcome people from around the world to break bread. Bait Maryam operates as a community hub, training the unemployed, raising funds for the needy and above all bringing people together across religious and ethnic divides to nourish them with good food.
Dakkak takes inspiration from her childhood in creating dishes that keep expats and locals coming back to dine regularly. The galayat, a dish of tomatoes, onions and peppers, is ever popular, as is kibbeh bel laban – bulgur wheat and spiced minced meat served with garlic yoghurt.
The chef employs her considerable culinary knowledge and skill in elevating her signature dish fattet musakhan, with chicken, sumac and onions topped with crispy shards of Arabic bread.
The Icon Award was given to Anissa Helou, the prolific Lebanese writer who is educating the world on Middle Eastern cuisine and cultures. Helou’s first cookbook, Lebanese Cuisine, was written as a way to preserve her mother’s recipes. She was also aware the vast Lebanese diaspora, who had fled the country's devastating civil war, had no real point of reference for their own culinary culture. Its publication and success opened up an avenue of self-expression and research into the myriad of Middle Eastern cultures and food ways. The 70-year-old food writer is now a multiple award-winner with nine books to her name and is as enthusiastic as ever.