W hat began as a passion project to remodel an outdoor space into a purpose-built kitchen has morphed into a platform for ‘curated social food experiences’. Say hello to Cucina del Sul.
Its founders, Ola Jaroudi and Tarek Sultani, started a food business together more than 20 years ago and after a fruitful but exhausting experience, vowed never to do it again. Four children, an events business and a pandemic later, the pair found themselves organising qualifier competitions for an international food event and giving people a culinary experience of a lifetime in the desert.
Ola says of their first venture in 2000, “We said we would never dive into the world of food again. I then had an event company for 10 years; then the lockdown happened and I had to shut it down.” She adds, “So what did we end up doing? Well, Covid brought out everyone’s inner foodie and they started cooking.”
Tarek Sultani and Ola Jaroudi love hosting people over food
Cucina del Sul has worked to bring the foodie community together
Tarek, a full-time management consultant, started spending evenings and late nights cooking in their kitchen. He says, while laughing, “I would burn and sear and destroy the kitchen after it had been cleaned. So she decided to kick me out of the kitchen.”
Not to be deterred, he set his sights on their garden. A large part of their outdoor space was unused at the time and it soon became the focal point to build a purpose-built outdoor kitchen. What was meant to be a ‘little project’ ended up being a 5.5m by 3.5m beast, with equipment that chefs and foodies would drool over – a Weber station, a Kamado, a paella station, a pizza oven, a rotisserie, a fridge and a griddle.
The kitchen was christened Cucina del Sul, or ‘Kitchen of Sul’ after Tarek’s family name. Sharing their cooking experiments on Instagram brought some interest from family and friends, but it wasn’t until a friend brought over a famous food blogger from Lebanon, @nogarlicnoonions, that things really kicked off. Tarek says the evening ended up being a convivial affair with a group of chefs, foodies and entrepreneurs, and says, “It was magic, with people coming together over food, cooking together and tasting. We decided then, you know what, let’s do another one of these.”
They hosted barbecue pitmasters in Dubai for a cook-off, local food influencers and chefs for themed dinners – all to bring the local foodie community together. After Covid-related restrictions started easing up in 2021 and word of Cucina del Sul started to spread, the pair decided to amp things up with ‘Fire, Food & Friends’.
Ola says, “We decided to take chefs, who had visited us in our home, out to the desert. We hosted three desert events: the first one in January 2022 had space for 150 people and we sold out in 5 hours. Three weeks later, we did another in February and increased capacity to 250 people.”
Tarek continues, “We then did our last desert event in March – with 350 people.
“All this – and even the initial Cucina events – really represent what Ola and I have always done very naturally, which is hosting over food.”
The desert events will continue in the winter
The pair will expand their repertoire of events
Another feather in the Cucina del Sul cap was hosting the regional qualifiers for the World Food Championship’s Burger category. As a result of that, Sultan Chatila from underground dining experience Tanos at 8 is heading to Dallas, Texas in November 2022 to compete in the finals.
What’s next for the intrepid duo? They confirm they will be making a return to the desert, as well as working with the World Food Championship to host qualifying events for other categories. Ola and Tarek also reveal there are a few surprises in the works that will be unveiled in due course. Tarek adds, “We’re also having conversations with executive chefs to look at what we can do to provide creative platforms for them to play around with.”
Ola says, “This is a passion project. We have always been foodies and everything that we do now is what we have really done all our lives.” Tarek agrees and says, “It’s taken on a life of its own, which is amazing because it’s true to our personality. It’s been quite magical.”