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Moustafa Elakel of Elakel Catering: “Get organized”

Get organized — organization in the kitchen crucial to any success — be it serving a 5-course meal, or cooking up chicken wings, we use system that called mise-en-place, or, literally, “put in place.” It’s a French phrase that means to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking, that is nothing worst than an unorganized kitchen. […]

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Get organized — organization in the kitchen crucial to any success — be it serving a 5-course meal, or cooking up chicken wings, we use system that called mise-en-place, or, literally, “put in place.” It’s a French phrase that means to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking, that is nothing worst than an unorganized kitchen.


As part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Moustafa Elakel of Elakel Catering.

Flavors and food were always of interest to him. But it was how those things brought friends and family together to celebrate not only special occasions but everyday life — that means the most.

Moustafa believes that one must always cook and serve with soul, creativity, and love. He feels that it has been a blessing that he have been able to pursue a career that creates a product that brings people together.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?

Through food, we tell stories of who we are. Food brings us together in the spirit of generosity and love, and I believe one must always cook and serve with soul, creativity, and love. It has been a blessing that I have been able to pursue a career that creates a product that brings people together. I was born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt, I grew up influenced by a long line of home cooks, including my mother and grandmother. I have especially fond memories of cooking alongside a family in my childhood. Egyptian cooking holds a dear place in my heart I remember my mother every Friday preparing lahma bil ajeen in the morning and she send us to bake it at our local bakery as kids it was the most amazing smell that we couldn’t wait to take the baked lahma bil ajeen back home and we start eating in our way back home, those memories inspired me to become a chef.

Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?

I get asked this question a lot I don’t have a specific type of food that I focus on, I love to explore new dishes and new idea to create an unforgettable dish, however, my favorite dish to cook is Om Ali (The Mother of Ali) Legend has it that Om Ali is named after Sultan Ezz El-Din Aybak’s wife, back in the 13th century. She made it for a victory celebration and distributed it among the people of the land. Her name stuck to this tasty dish ever since. This recipe has a special place in our family history and heritage, as my mom used to make it for Ramadan the recipes were passed down from my grandmother to my mother and it has been in our family for a generation, of course, the recipe change from family to a family. Looking back and how my mom used to teach us the history behind it and how to make it and how her mom passed it down through our family. I have kept our tradition and keeps make Om Ali for dinner and passed it to my kids, I have modernized it a little but kept the original ingredients and passed our family traditions to my kids as it brings a memory of love and joy.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

I remember a few years ago we are booked for dinner service and everyone is trying to get the prep/station set up before service and one of the items was in the prep list was a 20 qt Pomodoro sauce is was made and kept in the cooler, and during services, asking one of the team to grab more Pomodoro sauce from the cooler but someone stack all the 25 qt Cambro in the top of each other too high before you know it all the sauce was in the floor in the cooler walls it took us almost two hours to clean the cooler. lesson learned don’t stack all Cambro too high.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?

My hard time I faced it was limited knowledge of English, I have arrived in the USA at the age of twenty-four, never imagining I would one day be embraced as one of the great chefs. Landing in the USA in 1998 with nothing more than a small suitcase and a love of food, I found my very first job as a kitchen prep in Ohio at ‘Yours Truly’ restaurant. Four years later I Intent on developing my skill and evolving into a strong chef and leader I graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Miami, I was fortunate enough to start working at the luxury hotel working with grates chefs learned classical French techniques, thus forming the beginnings of my own style of cooking, marrying the French technique with the Egyptian philosophy of using natural, seasonal flavors.

Now at Elakel Catering, we use natural seasonal flavors, we enhanced by classic French technique a culturally significant inspiring menu showcasing a most magnificent production of a crafted partnership with the farmers, fishermen, breeders, and providores from across East Coast our cooking is not overly technical and tricky — it’s robust and direct — and always of the highest quality.

In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?

Cooking from the memory to create the best dish, I grew up influenced by a long line of home cooks, including my mother and grandmother. I have especially fond memories of cooking alongside a family in my childhood. bringing those memories into each dish as the best food starts with a harmony of two elements, the high-quality seasonal produce, and using natural seasonal flavors, enhanced by classic French technique “We used high-quality cookware and high-quality ingredients when we testing the recipes, and I recommend you to do the same because lower-grade pots and pans can burn the food or cook it unevenly and using low-quality food will affect the flavor of the dish.

Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?

Personally, my favorite dish is the chicken and potato Bram, when we were kids we used to fight with my sister over the caramelized potato.

Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?

Creativity is a process Write your ideas down, play, explore, and more importantly, recognize that creativity is a process that can be continuously developed and expanded. When we creating a dish it has the perfect balance of flavors and textures which make it a complete sensational experience.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?

Yes, I’m working on my first cookbook a culinary journey through Egypt, as I had been searching for authentic a truly Egyptian food from the heart since I moved to the USA. My food has always been a reflection of my childhood, my present & my future. In this book, I will be offering my interpretation of modern Egyptian cooking. I also working on a few intranational menus for our catering such as Italian, Persian, Greek, Israeli menus.

What advice would you give to other chefs or restauranteurs to thrive and avoid burnout?

I believe in building a great team that you can rely on every day and gives you peace of mind! Emphasize efficiency Always be prepared for the worst.

Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.

Stay calm — I remember I worked with a chefs that rarely will through pan at you during service. Getting flustered during service will only affect the quality of the food and your team.

Be Efficient — you need to back up from your to-do list and first determine your priorities and goals. Where are there unnecessary tasks that you can streamline or get rid of altogether? Think about your day-to-day tasks and work collectively with your team

Get organized — organization in the kitchen crucial to any success — be it serving a 5-course meal, or cooking up chicken wings, we use system that called mise-en-place, or, literally, “put in place.” It’s a French phrase that means to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking, that is nothing worst than an unorganized kitchen.

Patient — you may create the perfect recipes and you give them to your team toexecute it but it doesn’t turn out as you were hoping for you need to learn to be very patient

Hiring The Right Team — Skills can always be taught — and even the most seasoned professionals are learning new things every day. Tougher to instill in your team is character. Hiring people who show up every day on time with an enthusiasm to grow will be an asset to your business no matter what their skill-set is.

What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?

We do have a lot of great dishes that people keep asking for Such as Coquilles St Jacques, Burrata salad with prosciutto di parma, truffle Saba, pear Mostarda, crusty country bread, but one of my favorites dish that guests coming back for is Colorado Lamb Chops Harissa Beurre Noisette Mashed Potatoes. Tzatziki, as it has a lot of a childhood memory

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would start an Egyptian culinary movement that makes it easy for people to know What is Typical Egyptian Food is, what Traditional Egyptian Cuisine and Egyptian Tea Culture.

Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!


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