Paul Farag grew up in an Egyptian family, where food and culture played a significant role. His interest in food began when assisting his father in his continental deli, which led him to leave school early with the goal of pursuing a career in the food industry. Whilst working in restaurants for some extra cash during his high school days, he fell in love with the hospitality culture.
After completing his apprenticeship at TAFE, Farag was fortunate enough to have a great teacher who taught him all about the world of fine dining, leading him to become the chef that he is today.
Farag said that throughout his career he has had the privilege of working with world-class chefs, and said that it has shaped him into becoming the chef that he is today.
“Colin Fassnidge, with whom I worked in the early days of the Four in Hand, deserves special mention since he influenced my decision to go to Europe and learn how to cook. Additionally, I worked with Brent Savage in the Bentley Group and Josh Niland, who opened one of the most influential shops of our time, Fish Butchery.”
Farag is currently the executive chef at ESCA, and oversees Aalia and Nour restaurants. Aalia offers a contemporary take on Middle Eastern cuisine, and celebrates the diversity of the region. Farag said that rather than focusing on a particular, the restaurant embodies the Middle East with no borders.
“Our aim is to break away from the traditional ideas of what a Middle Eastern restaurant should be, and instead offer a refined menu that reflects the style of Sydney CBD dining while staying true to the culture and flavours of the region.”
The food style at Aalia is focused on keeping it clean and visually appealing, whilst also making the flavour of each dish a priority.
Farag noted that his inspiration for this cuisine came from discovering that the oldest cookbooks in the world are Middle Eastern, dating back to the 10th century.
“This revelation sparked something in me, as I wondered why these books are not more widely recognized, and why Italian and French cuisine often takes centre stage. These cookbooks have influenced the ingredients and flavour profiles that I associate with Middle Eastern cuisine, and I am determined to change people's perceptions of this incredible cuisine.”
The sorrel leaf with buffalo labneh and beetroot molasses is a dish Farag introduced, that was initially met with scepticism, but he was confident that it had the potential to start something new. Farag added that the style of cooking at Aalia is not revolutionary, but rather focused on reinventing familiar flavours in a way that makes them fresh and exciting.
Looking ahead, Farag sees challenges for the hospitality industry beyond the issues that have always overshadowed, but said that anyone wanting to pursue a career in hospitality should still stick with it.
“As a new employee, asking questions and actively seeking to absorb as much knowledge as possible is the best approach. After work, take time to research, study, and strive to improve upon your skills each day.”