Interview with the Syrian chef Mohammad Orfali

The Aleppian chef talks about his experience and Syrian cuisine's future

Picture Courtesy | Mohammad Orfali is a Syrian Chef, Head of Culinary Discovery Networks and FATAFEAT TV

 

Syrian cuisine, tradition & contemporary challenges

That Syrian food has centuries of history and is known for its tradition might not be such big news, but how so little is known about it worldwide? Since more Syrians abroad have started to approach it as a business, Syrian food has gained more attention. However, the way how to present it still seems to be taking baby steps. Surprisingly, some answers might be on adding modernity where there was only tradition.

Thinking about changing any aspect of a cuisine that has been working in the same way for so long (and that the majority of Syrians like this way) might be a long road though. How to do it? We talked to Mohammad Orfali, the Aleppian chef who is an expert in this matter.

Orfali, who is well-known for his show Our Arab Cuisine (Matbakhna Al Arabi), not only is an authority when it’s about Aleppian cuisine, but he also is a curious chef seeking for what comes next. In his opinion, technology and traditional food preparation can walk aside, and modern cuisine doesn’t stick only to modern techniques though; it goes back to the old ones if it suits better the cooking process.

ALEP: You tried different cuisines and it took you a while to come back to your roots. I liked when you mentioned "Leave foreign cuisine to their natives"*. How was your self-discovery process as a cook and on your identity?

ORFALI: Growing up in Aleppo and living in the midst of a great ancient city has to leave its mark on you.  When I returned to Aleppo after few years abroad, I was once walking near the restaurant of Mr. Abu Abdo Al Fawal and having a contemplation moment when I saw great potential in our cuisine and heritage, so I asked myself "Why don't I focus on my roots and go back to the cuisine of Aleppo? And leave foreign cuisines to their own natives!"

After focusing on Aleppian cuisine even further, I realized that it is no less important than any other foreign cuisine. My ambition and passion to know and understand more about the techniques used in Aleppian cuisine grew like never before.

Picture Courtesy

 

Picture Courtesy

ALEP: Syrian cuisine is a sacred thing for Syrians - "You shall not change it", they would say. Do you agree?

ORFALI: As Arabs, we have a limited outlook of our cuisine, especially within recent history. We consider Arab cuisine as a traditional cuisine, one we shouldn't change or develop dramatically. We eat chickpeas only as hummus with tahini and nothing else.

Modern or contemporary cuisine is about development though, it is not a rebellion against what came before it. Modern cuisine wouldn't even be possible without understanding the fundamental bases and classic techniques of traditional cuisine.

ALEP: Although Syrian cuisine is antique and famous in Arab countries, it seems not very known elsewhere. How do you call attention to it?

ORFALI: It is true that Aleppo is quite famous in the Levant, Middle East and Turkey and remains mostly unknown to the rest of the world.  Unfortunately, many people wrongfully describe Aleppian cuisine as fatty and hot dishes loaded with spices. I believe I ought to educate people about the real Aleppian cuisine in a distinctive way.  So I try to think and act strategically. And that is at the core of my responsibility for presenting Aleppian cuisine to the world and developing it in a suitable way for our modern age.

ALEP: We have seen that Syrian food has become a business for many people resettling abroad; people who used to work in other fields and now are cooks. It’s a challenge and many are learning by doing. From your point of view, are there mistakes that these new restaurants make?

ORFALI: The problem is when we (as Syrians) start making our food abroad, we don’t focus on one category. Back in Syria we had specialised people who could succeed because they focused on one category and presented it in its best. For example, people who make sweets: they first developed themselves for years - aiming to be the best in Aleppian sweets. As well as kebab maker, shawarma maker etc…

Nowadays, Syrian restaurateurs have made a mistake when they tried to present all kinds of food in one restaurant, which makes the focus harder as two or even three categories lead to a low food quality. This will affect in a negative perspective.

In a positive perspective, our cuisine has a long heritage but no one has ever heard of it because of the lack of branding knowledge. But now after Syrian war, people who have established their restaurant abroad (especially in Europe) succeed in attracting Europeans and making them love our cuisine.

ALEP: Industries are being transformed in different ways and in the food segment it is not different. How do you see the field in the upcoming years?

ORFALI: In fact, the food industry has changed a lot, and it keeps changing every day because the chefs’ mentality is in constant improvement.

Before, chefs used to focus only on the techniques and on the recipe that a delicious dish requires in order to be made. But today the chef is attentive to the idea that he needs to be fully aware of where the ingredients are coming from and how he can use his food sources wisely according to seasons in order to maintain sustainability in nature.

For example, when it comes to seafood dishes, chefs today are taking into consideration the types of fishes that are facing extinction, monitoring when such dishes are better served accordingly to specific seasons.

Thus, there are major improvements happening in the food industry today than a year ago. The industry witnessed a major shift from being the typical kitchen to becoming the avant-garde kitchen, which includes a lot of innovation, bold experiments and rejecting the norm along with emphasis on having the pleasant taste - not only the eye-catching dish look.

Today we see the food industry concentrating on the quality more than the quantity to show more of each ingredient's taste.

Photo Courtesy

ALEP: What are you working on now? What’s your next project?

ORFALI: We’re working on a new project called Orfali Bros. We are three brothers who have established a company for giving workshops and master classes on French sweets and pastry. To be clearer, I mean the French sweets that contain ingredients from Aleppian cuisine, such as cherry, Halawe, sesame and Tahini.

In this project we aim to show Aleppian sweets’ inspirations, how we transform batter into a very beautiful modern cake, and how we combine the pistachio and cherry to present different varieties of cakes. In conclusion, we are making modern pastry using ingredients from Aleppian cuisine.

The other project is the book Al Matbakh al Halabi, which refers to Aleppo Cuisine by Mohamed Orfali.

It aims to show how a transformation from the classical kitchen and the recipes that we inherited from our grandparents has occurred, and how the cuisine has changed since that time. We had approached sustainability in our cuisine in the past but everything has changed due agricultural and geographical aspects. So I am trying to let people know how our cuisine is seasonal and how we can change our thoughts without affecting the food's taste.

Alep: As a cook, you have worked in different countries, wrote a book and led a cuisine TV show. What’s the secret of success for you?

ORFALI: Actually, I don’t consider myself as a successful person, I still am on my way to success. But during my career I have delivered an interesting message about the Aleppian cuisine to people.

With insistence, ambition, responsibility, honesty, reading and researching and my passion for this career, I could be lead to where I am today, but I still am a learner.

*Orfali's website


What customers want (and don’t want) to see on their social media feed

Social media is a very dynamic place to establish a relationship with your customers and nowadays there is no way how to talk about building your brand without this type of interaction. However, there are some points to take in consideration before sharing anything. What you post on your feed will be directly related to your brand personality, thus a step in vain can be damaging lead it to an image that actually is not the goal You wouldn’t do something that is not according to how/ who you are, would you? It’s the same about your brand.

From funny to political posts, a very interesting survey conducted by Sproutsocial interviewed 1000 consumers and revealed some data about what customers want and don’t want to see on their social media feed. We reviewed some of them, so check them out with us:

Customers value honest, friendly and helpful posts

Right, we have passed the phase which we know that only selling posts don’t work, and saying that your product or service is “the most incredible one” most probably won’t help either – even if you think it is. According to the consumers surveyed, 86% care about brand honesty, followed by 83% regarding friendly posts and 76% about helpful posts. Consumers appreciate when brands answer their questions online, give feedback, join engaging conversation our talk about events.

Funny yes, snarky no

On the other hand, consumers consider there is a thin line between bringing funny and snarky posts. While 72% of them welcome sense of humour, only 33% like the unkind ones, which include making fun of competitors (33%), using slang (31%), talking politics (29%) and making fun of customers (12%).

The right balance on playing cool

Everything shall have balance. Although ¾ of the consumers appreciate humour on social media, only 36% will purchase from funny brands. So what would be the solution? Not sharing funny posts at all to not risk? Of course not; it is a matter of bringing it in the right proportion and keeping the content fresh and relevant, otherwise it can just be annoying and cause people to unfollow you – 51% of consumers said they would unfollow the brand and 23% said that they would never buy from it again. So, limits – as everything in life.

How to stimulate consumers' purchase?

No one likes to be ignored. Period. So why would you do it with your customers? Just don’t, even if they leave a negative feedback on the feed: 26% replied they don’t like it and 27% will mark your content as spam or block it, and you don’t want this. However, you can resolve it with a simple attitude and see the power of communication: being responsive corresponds to 48% of consumers to purchase, followed by 46% when offering promotions. Thus, you guarantee at least near half of consumers' purchase.

 

 

And you? What do you think? Share your thoughts with us on Instagram or Facebook!


If a package could ever speak: 5 examples of creative packaging

Don’t judge a book by its cover”: have you ever heard that? It is true that we can find some great treasures hidden in the most unthinkable places, but when we are talking about marketing, we bet that companies wouldn’t let appearance pass as less important.

Packages do speak; they are the “promoters” of a product, the ones who give the first impression to consumers. Think about how easy or hard is to hold a package, its shape, its size, its weight, what is written on it, etc. A good design package can be a decision-maker for consumers who might prefer to pay more if they think there is value on it. We live in times of constant evolution and a package evolves according to the social and demographic changes as well. Below we listed 5 examples of creative design packaging:

1) Beautiful to decorate

The packaging industry in Japan has taken the country to a global recognition due the concept of how technology impacts designs. Some of them are so beautiful that even after a product is consumed you would feel sorry for throwing the package away. This reality inspired in 2016 the exhibition Too pretty to throw away.

Source: Japan Museum SieboldHuis

 

2) Interaction with the product

There are a lot of ways to be creative in packaging, and playing with the product is one of them. This raspberry’s package is a great example of simplicity and fun all together. The designers also intended to make something appealing to children, so it was a good choice.

Source: Trend Hunter

3) Taking advantage of the package’s shape

How great is when the own container gives everything a brand needs! The nice thing about this bottle design is how it plays with the drink’s name, Spine, therefore it couldn’t be more suitable. The perfect identity is created.

Source: The Dieline

4) Thinking outside the box

Forget about the traditional cardboard shoe boxes. Scholz & Friends idealized a new concept for Nike’s sales winner, Nike Air. The new package is made of plastic and works as a cushion. Plus it is innovative and suits the product’s name while sticking to the main purpose of a package, which is to protect the product.

Source: Hypebeast

 

5) Feel it, touch it

The interesting thing about mixing and exploring new concepts is how it can activate different senses. This bedding package took the same method used for sealing food aiming to emphasize the aesthetic quality of the product.

Source: Trend Hunter

What is Franchise and when it’s the time to turn your business into one

What is Franchise and when it’s the time to turn your business into one

If you have a business or are thinking about opening one, most probably you have had many questions, some about building your own brand or choosing an existing one - and if expanding it or not in the case of an already established one. In this blog post we aim to give you some basic insights on franchising and on what you should take in consideration before opening one.

Source: Shutterstock

According to IFA (International Franchise Association),

Franchising is simply a method for expanding a business and distributing goods and services through a licensing relationship.  In franchising, franchisors (a person or company that grants the license to a third party for the conducting of a business under their marks) not only specify the products and services that will be offered by the franchisees (a person or company who is granted the license to do business under the trademark and trade name by the franchisor), but also provide them with an operating system, brand and support. 

Even before getting deeper into the topic, it is important to underline that the business success also relies on administration and on having a well-established budget. It seems obvious to say that, but a lot of people fail in the beginning of the business because they rely on the franchise itself, thinking that the brand will do the big work. So, before taking this step, it is highly recommended to talk with other franchisees about their cost, earnings and the support they get. Basically, do a lot of research.

Money

Source: Pexels

After that, think about how much you are willing to invest. In a franchise you will have extra costs and a high investment at the beginning (it’s when you should pay the franchise fee, a single payment only for the entry). So, if you are looking for fast initial income, forget it. Making money will always involve spending money - and franchisees know that. Have this in mind.

You will also have to pay royalties. This means that every month you will have to pay a percentage of your gross income. This varies, but it is something you will have to commit with. Up to the royalties you will also have to pay for marketing fees. This one can be tricky, since it depends on the franchise you are opening. Is it a very well-established brand or is it a new one? Go on the every detail of their marketing plan.

 

 Support

Source: Pexels

Now, a franchise is a good option for some reasons related to support, especially on technology, marketing and training because your franchisor usually really cares about keeping the same standards. For the technology you can benefit a lot from it since it has been used every day for years and it is most expected to be up to date. And the marketing plans plus the brand’s name can really help to boost your business quickly when done correctly. And remember: you are paying for having this, so make use of it and get in touch with your franchisor if you need anything; most of them have a good communication system and will make you visits to best support you.

 

Rules

Source: Pixabay

As you might imagine, franchises work for some specific reasons too, and rules are one of them. If you are thinking about acquiring an existing brand, answer yourself if you are willing to follow their rules; they exist for a reason and a good one - why do you think that a McDonalds’ burger tastes the same in the USA and in Egypt? But with rules comes less freedom. Be prepared to have to purchase products directly from your franchisor or authorized suppliers and having limited creativity/ flexibility due strict contracts.

Final thoughts

A franchise is a business, so if that’s what you want after reading the information above, so it is for you. But if you are an entrepreneur, maybe this type of business won’t best meet your needs. In both cases, be ready to develop a business plan. Last but not least, ask yourself how much of your time you are willing to invest on it, because you will have to be very present; having your own business will consume a good part of your time and you will most probably forget what weekends and holidays mean sometimes. As someone wisely said once, the real boss actually is the one who works the most!

 


Social enterprise: another type of organization

Social enterprise: another type of organization

Meet The Orenda Tribe, the enterprise that’s changing children’s reality through art

The Orenda Tribe | Photo courtesy of Zaid Souqi

In a world where competition and profit are always on the top of discussions for many business corporations, another type of organization is gaining space and is being considered the fourth sector split - after the already existing ones (government, profit and non-profit).

We are talking about social enterprise, which mixes philanthropic and cooperative meanings and can be found in different categories. A social enterprise organization will look for generating sales of goods or providing services, but having social impact as its primary goal. Therefore, it is different from a company which has indirect involvement with social causes – in this case it is a consequence and not a cause for their business whereas, in a social enterprise, the collective and community will be part of their mission and vision.

Although the idea is not necessarily new, some factors have allowed the concept finding fertile soil nowadays. Internet is one of them, which has definitely a huge impact on how we communicate with others and respond to situations; internet is responsible for giving a total new meaning to social interaction.

A second impact is higher unemployment rates, especially among young people. A survey conducted in 2013 by the RBS group in the UK - announced in 2016 as one of the three best countries for social enterprises (just behind the US and Canada) -, was already giving some data about what could be expected for the next years. For example, in the report it was observed that young people among the economically active population was more enthusiast to start a social enterprise (54% compared to 36% of the general population). Five years after, some turned the plan into reality and the 2017 State of Social Enterprise Report confirmed this, as “25% of social enterprises are under 3 years old, three times the proportion of start-ups compared to SMEs (8%). Almost four in ten social enterprises are five years old or less, showing that the start-up wave continues.” And this can be seen in other not so obvious places. In the MENA region, for example, there are some good initiatives changing the landscape and creating opportunities, such as The Orenda Tribe, which’s empowering children through art.

The Orenda Tribe: social responsibility to build a better future

Kids drawing at The Orenda Tribe | Photo courtesy of Zaid Souqi

In 2015, Zaid Souqi was in South Africa serving at an NGO which helps orphans & vulnerable children in rural communities. Around the same time, he was finishing his MBA and was introduced to social entrepreneurship’ ideas. Both would be the core basis for The Orenda Tribe - and only nine months passed from its conceptualization until its launch in the market. Their product? A T-shirt, but one with an interesting concept behind.

The Orenda Tribe’s projects include Art Education, Art Therapy and School Beautification in partnership with communities, and it is the art created by children in refugee camps and deprived communities that stamps the shirts. The idea serves different purposes: linking people from advantaged and disadvantaged parts of the world while raising awareness about those children and their community realities, plus allowing art related activities in those places - since part of the generated revenue is reverted to the projects. But why Art? According to Zaid, “We realised that art is a great tool to break barriers between different communities, therefore we added that aspect to our mission. Today our mission is to both empower children and break barriers between communities through art”. Not less important is talking about their environmental responsibility, as the shirts are 100% organic cotton and packaged with recycled materials.

Naturally, as a new business and as a social enterprise, they still face a lot of challenges, such as learning about design and fashion; there is a constant learning and taking customer’s feedback is important. Offering a top quality and fashionable product is crucial and directly correlated to what represents their cause: “We also have customers from more than 18 different nationalities. I guess this is the beauty of art. Art is a universal language that doesn't know age, country or social group. Everyone speaks art”, adds Zaid. Simultaneously followed by their customers, come the children’s impact: until now 1,796 children have been beneficiated through 17 projects in 6 different communities.

Zaid Souqi | Photo courtesy
Kids wearing The Orenda Tribe's shirts | Photo courtesy of Zaid Souqi

 

The Orenda Tribe's shirts | Photo courtesy of Zaid Souqi

 

Participation at E4SC

The Orenda Tribe’s philosophy is not a lonely echo and its voice has started to produce some good initiatives. Imagine receiving an exclusive and intensive week training and having the opportunity to exchange experience with entrepreneurs from around the world? This plus a 12 months mentoring is what the E4SC (Entrepreneurs for Social Change), which took place in Turin in November 2017, offered to twenty-five young entrepreneurs aged from 18 to 35 years old. The project, funded by Fondazione CRT, received more than 500 applications from 26 countries in the Euro-Mediterranean region, and the 25 entrepreneurs selected came from 17 countries. The Orenda Tribe had the opportunity to be selected, as Alep Studio.

The aim was to support the social changes these young professionals want to achieve by focusing on “sharing an in-depth experience with their peers, presenting their projects to potential investors, become role-models for future entrepreneurs”, according to Massimo Lapucci, Secretary General of Fondazione CRT. It definitely is an opportunity for those who have been bold until here and are continuously seeking for how to take the next step. “Being around like-minded people and in a program created by two huge institutions who believe in the power of social entrepreneurship is such an empowering experience that fuelled me to put more effort into The Orenda Tribe and hopefully have a bigger impact” concluded Zaid.

Why to invest in a social entrepreneurship project?

In 2012, Time magazine had already written that companies can no long afford to ignore their social responsibility:

“Ten years ago, for instance, only about a dozen Fortune 500 companies issued a CSR (corporate social responsibility) or sustainability report. Now the majority does. More than 8,000 businesses around the world have signed the UN Global Compact pledging to show good global citizenship in the areas of human rights, labor standards and environmental protection. The next generation of business leaders is even more likely to prioritize CSR.”

This only confirms what we already know: the world is in constant change and humanity keeps in its cycle of creating problems, finding solutions, creating new problems, finding new solutions. Social entrepreneurship is a reality and a consequence of what we have caused: overpopulation, wars, climate change, poverty, lack of resources etc. All these reasons are a call for taking action and those who can see the bigger picture have already started it.

Investors and customers are getting more involved with companies, not limiting themselves only by a shareholder or purchaser role; they want to be part of a community and are aware of the social and environment impacts that companies are making or not. Likewise, this type of organization has some new business advantages compared to the other three, as bigger impacts will be linked to bigger financial gains.

Candidates looking for jobs are following the same thought of investors and customers; money is not everything anymore and working in an environment where they can add value and feel their work has impact make social organizations the perfect fit. In the long scale, they will be the ones able to retain the best talents and stimulate diversity. Continuing what the last Social Enterprise Survey in the UK showed, “social enterprises also had more inclusive and diverse leadership with 40% of social enterprises led by women; 31% reporting Black Asian Minority Ethnic directors and 40% having a director with a disability. Meanwhile, 41% of social enterprises created jobs in the past 12 months, compared to 22% of SMEs, and 59% of social enterprises employ at least one person who is disadvantaged in the labour market”.

What this new type of company has been showing is that their involvement with the future is in every single part of their values, thinking about impacting now and in the next years: workers, customers, society, the planet. Although Zaid reminds us that there still is a lot of stigma and that many people still don’t understand the concept behind it and automatically relates it to non-profit, he’s optimist about the potential and the impact they can make: “For a social enterprise to be sustainable and succeed, other businesses have to treat it as a business. (…) ORENDA means a mystical force present in all people that empowers them to affect the world, or to effect change in their own lives. We all have one. Find your ORENDA and start making change”.

Want to know more about the Orenda Tribe? Follow them on Instagram The Orenda Tribe or access their website: www.theorendatribe.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Alep, Aleppo, Halab: the story we want to tell

It is when we are challenged that we have the opportunity to grow the most. Think about some successful stories. They might have different approaches, take more or less time to reach a goal, face small or big problems, but all of them have a point in common: positivity. If you fall, you stand up. If someone tells you no, you insist on looking for yes. If a door closes, you open a window. Therefore, it is with the same positive spirit that we aim to tell a different story of the place that inspired our brand’s name and its people.

No doubt the war that transformed the Syrian landscape is something that we all would like to avoid; however once it is a reality it is up to us to write a new chapter now. After all, expertise and culture are things that can’t be destroyed. And that’s what many Syrians who resettled in other countries have brought, within the will to rebuild their businesses. We know the quality of Syrian products and artefacts, such as F&B and Textile & Garments, and that’s why we strongly believe that they can compete in the international market. Our job is to make it possible by giving them the necessary tools to adapt to the new environment.

Kids playing in front of collapsed buildings. Source: Instagram Aleppo to the world | Credits: @muhammad.bazerkan

It is a challenge focusing on the positive aspects of a culture when the world is talking about what the war has done to a whole country; however it is a matter of someone start to remind everybody about its particular features then. We consider part of our responsibility having a social engagement with the Syrian community and we want to spread the same spirit around all our projects, to our clients all over the world. The advantages of beginning as a start-up and with such passion is that we adapt fast and have attention to the tinniest details, something that many big companies have lost or find difficult to follow up with due projects’ size they take or even because of inflexible terms & conditions. At Alep we work as co-creators and collaborators because we don’t want to just deliver a service; we want to get involved in every aspect of our client’s ambitions.

The story we want to tell is the representation of thousands of voices which had to endure tough experiences, but are not defined by them. Strong, creative and independent voices, that’s what they are. And next time someone asks “What about Aleppo?” may the answer be related to its rich heritage and beauty, definitely represented by our work and values.

Tourath House | Source: Instagram Aleppo to the world | Credits: Daniel Demeter

 

Source: Instagram Aleppo to the world | Credits: @abdo_hajj_ahmad.photography

 

Source: Instagram Aleppo to the world | Credits: @legongsorcier

* Opening image source: Instagram Aleppo to the world | Credits: @catherineward22