Simon Chakour - Order Ready!

Hi, my name is Simon Chakour. I’m the head chef at Souk, a Mediterranean restaurant overlooking the Gateway of India and the Arabian Sea, located at the rooftop of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai and this… is my story.

I was the youngest among ten brothers and sisters, so I spent a lot of time with my mother. Mama made me her sous chef and she ran a tight ship. I did some chopping, spice grinding, grocery shopping for her while she made food for the whole family. I still remember the feeling of all of us gathering around the dinner table, having mama’s food together. Nothing I’ve made so far has ever compared to what mama used to make for us, it was special… very special.

Following my older brother’s footsteps, I enrolled in a culinary degree to become a professional chef in a nearby city, Aleppo. Over the summer, I got an internship at a restaurant in a hotel called Safir.

Being a newbie, I decided to impress one of the senior chefs. He was carving fruits for the display at the time. I took an apple and decided to replicate what he was doing. After I was done carving the apple to what I thought was perfection, I slid it to the senior chef to show him what I had done. He looked at it and examined it for 2 seconds. I was happy, I thought I had earned his respect. He then threw the apple in the dustbin and continued carving, without saying another word. Something was amiss. I was new but I knew I had done a fairly good job, so I immediately decided to give it another go. I carved one more apple and put it in front of him. He examined the apple, looked at me and said, “It’s the same as the previous one.” I respectfully said, “I don’t think there was anything wrong with the previous one.” He nodded and said I was right and kept the carved apple for display. “You were able to back yourself after one failure,” he said, “that’s all I was looking for.” From then on, he took me under his wing, and we bonded over the period of the internship.

I went off to Saudi Arabia after the internship. I had gotten a call from the general manager of a large hotel chain who knew one of my brothers and he wanted a Syrian chef. It was a long way from home, but my brother encouraged me to take it. The work began from the first day I reached there. If I had to summarize a chef’s life there, it was pressure, speed, efficiency, heat and non-stop work. It was one of the most challenging stages of my life. Working 20-hour shifts with 4 hours of sleep, on your feet and no breaks was considered a normal day. Cuts and burns were common, and fatigue was a friend. We cooked for banquets for 100’s of people at an event and there were 4-5 events happening on the same day at times. It was really a great experience, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

My two-year stint in Saudi Arabia came to an end when Taj Hotels decided to open a branch of Souk in Kolkata. I spent my first journey from the airport to the hotel with my eyes closed. I had never been to India before. I had never seen such brave driving and at every turn, I thought someone was going to crash into us. But I survived. I didn’t spend long in Kolkata and was called to Souk Mumbai to head both the restaurants.

I didn’t think I would be in India this long, but I have spent over 13 years and have fallen in love with the city. I get to display my culture, my countries, my food to all my guests and that’s what keeps me going every day. The view from the restaurant is intoxicating and the only thing I miss, is my family who could have enjoyed the view with me if it were not for COVID.

My son paints and had his first exhibition at the age of five a couple of months back. I am happy and proud of him… My wife and kids are in Syria now, and I hope to reunite with them soon. I know I will not make something as special as mama used to, but I wish to get that feeling back… that feeling of everyone gathering around the table, having my food while mama looks from above and smiles.

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