Founder of FIYA, Chef Hattem Mattar talks us through his bespoke culinary journey and his love for well-sourced ingredients.

What do the first 30 minutes of your day look like, your morning routine?

The first 30 minutes of my day in the winter are my dreams come true. Every day, I wake up, feed the animals, water the plants, pick what’s ripe, walk barefoot, take a deep breath, say a prayer and then get in the car to take my eldest daughter to school.

Chef Mattar Soneva

You’re the first Arab pitmaster and the king of barbecue – how did it all begin?

It’s a hunger (pun intended) that turned into a form of expression that turned into a calling. I was interested in a dish that didn’t exist in the UAE. I made it for myself and my friends. Now we make it for the world. To connect us to them and them to the region and our culture.

“More and more the journey has been how barbeque and live fire cuisine connect all cultures and how similar we are.”

Your journey started via a pop-up named after your family – tell us about your journey.

The journey has been the evolution of what we’re doing. From grilling in the backyard to cooking in front of the White House as the culinary ambassador of the UAE embassy. More and more the journey has been how barbeque and live fire cuisine connect all cultures and how similar we are. The heart of any house is the kitchen table. The heart of that table is our cuisine.

Where did you hone your cooking skills over the years?

I’m still honing my cooking skills as we speak. My mother is still my culinary idol and I don’t think there’s a better chef in the world. Any time I spend with her, I ask her about things she made for us kids and she’s always happy to show me the magic behind the curtain. We’ve travelled the world representing the UAE. Texas, Brazil, Australia, London, Egypt, Oman and even the Maldives. Kitchens, train stations, barbeques, neighbourhoods, farms, docks. Anywhere you can light a fire or put a pot. We’ve had the privilege and pleasure to cook and watch some of the best in the world doing it.

For the perfect outcome, food and fire need to work in alignment – what’s your trick to presenting the perfect barbeque?

The cool thing about barbeque is there is no trick. It’s not wizardry, but it is magic. Time, experience, traditional, creativity. The combination is endless. Cooking with fire is like a Rubik’s cube that has no wrong answers. The important thing is to know what is the end result you’re looking for and to be confident in the variables you’re working with to get them. Low and slow for brisket is pretty well known. Hot and fast for grilling is also pretty effective.

You’re the first GCC chef to join the prestigious Soneva Stars programme in the Maldives – talk us through your experience.

To be called to the list in and of itself was an experience. The team and the island are the perfect example of head-to-toe hospitality and professionalism. We got the freshest ingredients locally and made a menu that reflected the Arabian hospitality and simplicity of the cuisine we make. It was an honour to be included with other experts, craftsmen and creatives to be able to share our passion for barbeque with the guests on the island.

“The cool thing about barbeque is there is no trick. It’s not wizardry, but it is magic.”

You’ve launched FIYA – what inspired you to open this restaurant?

FIYA is about the power of the element to bring people together. It’s real cuisine, in front of your eyes. The intensity of the fires we build every day contrasted with the tranquility of our olive grove setting outside the city. It’s a collaboration between old friends and colleagues in the industry. Tamer El Khayat from Pinza is the first person I did a collaboration with when we started. We launched Mattar and Pinza two weeks apart in 2015. The opening of FIYA is miles further down the same road we started then. It still stands for the same things which is excellent ingredients, incredible service and happiness in everything we do.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

That’s a tough one. Personally and professionally I would have told my younger self to do it better. I already held and hold myself to a higher standard. In hindsight, I feel like my younger self could have squeezed out a bit more excellence. I don’t think I would have listened to myself anyway. Youth is wasted on the young.

You are a third culture kid – how has your background influenced your cooking techniques?

Ten thousand per cent. There isn’t anything that influences my cooking more. Deep roots and strong wings. In everything we do we are exemplifying where we are from with the polish and knowledge of where we’ve been. Arab spices, American techniques. Third Culture Barbeque.

This is The Summer Escape Issue – where do you plan on travelling to?

I’m cooking at a wedding in Spain for a couple I met while travelling through Brazil. It’s a year long promise that I kept when we hung out. After that and for the first time in seven years, I might actually decide to take some time off during the summer and not put on the apron or have my knives with me. I plan on trip to California through their national parks in the wild of the west. No people. No electricity. No problem.

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