Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi & Tomomi Tada
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hassan El Masry (Egypt)
Arabic cuisine chef/instructor
(He’s been in Japan since 2009)
The 9th interviewee of ”MET × Niki’s Kitchen” is Hassan El Masry, a man from Egypt.
He has been successful as an Arabic cuisine chef for 33 years all over the world. Arabic cuisine might be a little unfamiliar to Japan because of its location. Probably you are interested in his class and cuisine in Niki’s kitchen.
Surprisingly he used to be a belly dancer in Egypt! What we found through his cooking class was his hospitality and entertainment might be a foundation of his current cooking style.
My passion for cooking
Now I am consulting restaurants. With my experience as a chef for 33 years, I have been involved in all Arabic cuisine such as Egyptian, Saudi Arabian, Turkish, or Mediterranean food. So I look to restaurants which need to fix or improve their business.
I believe every person has some specialty. I love cooking and for me, cooking using my hands is my specialty.
When you go to a small restaurant, you probably expect that the dishes are cooked by chefs’ hands, like homemade cooking. They must be different from the ones from big restaurants made by machines or frozen or ready-made stuff. I think even the dishes are made by the chef’s hands, not made by seasonings or spices. The heart or passion for cooking can season them well.
I am an ”entertainer” in the kitchen
I love to entertain people. You might not be able to imagine, but I was a belly dancer when I was younger. I had been a dancer from when I was 14 to 22 years old. I think I have a kind of entertainer quality to me. Furthermore – let me explain later in detail – I had my own TV show when I was in Korea!
In the kitchen, I often make jokes and laugh. This is my teaching style in the classes. Even if the type of classes is different, my style is the same.
At Niki’s kitchen’s class, I usually make my students laugh by making jokes and chatting. For example, at today’s class, I said “I bought this wooden spatula just yesterday for this class!” even though it looked totally worn out as I have been using it for a long time.
Guess why they want to learn cooking at a class. I believe that people want to learn something new with fun and happiness. They expect to have a good time here so they spend their money, their time and a lot of work to come to my class. You can just buy cooking books or check the internet and learn how to cook anyway. I think the most important thing is what I provide them with both instructions and a great time as well.
There is a big difference between saying something straight “Do this, do that.” and saying something with a lot of pranks.
And usually I don’t write instructions on the menu, I write only ingredients. Because I think that they probably want to make it in their ways and the understanding might be different from others. And the equipment they have might be different. It’s better to have them write by themselves to understand more.
After 33 years experiences, I have learned that teaching with fun is very simple and an easy way to learn and understand deeply. That’s the reason why I am an entertainer.
A big career change
When I decided to change my career, I was 22 years old. I had been an Egyptian Arabic belly dancer and trainer.
One day my father who was a chef told me “I want somebody to care of our family. I’m getting old and I’m sick. Will you help me?” He wanted me to help run his restaurant. Then I forgot about belly dancing and I promised him that I would be a chef before he died.
After I got to become myself a chef, I went to the U.S, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and Korea to study and work. About 18 years ago, I won the competition and got a gold medal in England. I was a member of “International cooking team Egypt” at that time. There were 5 – 6 professional chefs on the team. We went to many countries in the name of Egypt. As I was a member and most of the time I worked for the Egyptian Embassy, I moved around the world.
How big this doner kebab is!
November 27, 2011
The encounter with Niki’s Kitchen
Where I lived in the longest was Korea, for 12 years. I worked at a university there which has special classes for cooking twice a month. Also as I mentioned before, I had a TV show which was a live broadcast for 15 minutes. I did it in Korean language because my Korean is pretty good actually, and because of my character. I think I was popular in Korea.
When I was in Korea, I met a Japanese woman who took my classes there. She is the one who invited me to Japan and introduced the Arabic restaurant in Tokyo. The owner of the restaurant hired me as a chef and I became a head chef afterwards.
At almost the same time, she also introduced me to Niki-san (Naoko Tanase, representative of Niki’s Kitchen). It felt that many people were interested in and wanted to learn Arabic food so I decided to take up that work. Since then I’ve been working for Niki’s kitchen’s class for two years now.
I love cooking and teaching. Teaching, making jokes, and having fun together – those all are necessary in my class.
Looking for a new start
Currently (Until December 2011) I’m working on creating a lunch menu at some Arabic restaurant in Tokyo. I set up a combo menu for lunch there. Before the menu wasn’t like the one we have now, I changed some of them and I taught those new Egyptian recipes to the chef how to cook.
And now I’m moving to Osaka for my next career. I’m going to consult any restaurants which are interested in Arabic food. I’m looking for an opportunity to improve the business in the Osaka area this time.
Besides, I promised Niki-san that I’m going to have the class of Niki’s kitchen in Osaka so that I can continue to entertain many people.
What is Niki’s Kitchen to you?
It gives me a great time and a life for me. Also a good opportunity to meet new people. It makes people happier and makes my life better.
His page on Niki’s Kicthen (Japanese)：Click!