Monal on making Sharjah the ultimate foodie destination

Estimated read time 6 min read

Monal Malhotra is the head of F&B Operations at Sharjah Investment and Development Authority. JONATHAN YBERA/EXPAT MEDIA

Monal Malhotra has spent the last 30 years creating culinary adventures for UAE residents. His new goal? To help Sharjah become the ultimate foodie destination in the emirates.

As head of F&B Operations at Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), it is Monal’s job to develop world-class food and beverage concepts that will not only elevate the food scene in Sharjah, but also showcase the emirate’s rich history and culture.

Creating culinary experiences comes naturally to Monal, who says he relishes a job that is tied to his first love: cooking.

During his early days as a chef in Dubai, Monal cooked for many celebrities and A-listers. “My favourite was Michael Schumacher,” he says. The F1 legend was in Dubai for 30 days to prepare for the Formula One season and was on a strict diet.

“He could not even afford to put on half a kilo. His weight had to be constant so I studied his diet plan a month early, making sure I cooked to the right calorie. He had a cheat day, but six days a week he ate only what I cooked for him,” Monal recalls. “When he left the hotel, he wrote a very nice thank you note on a plate. It said: ‘Thank you, Chef Monal. I loved eating the food you cooked for me. Michael Schumacher.’ I treasure that plate at home, even now,” he shares.

Monal was only 29 when he first arrived in the UAE in 1993 after working in some of the toughest kitchens in India, including The Oberoi. After a stint in Abu Dhabi, he moved to Dubai and worked in Jumeirah Beach Hotel where he spent 15 years of his career.

He became one of the proteges of Dubai’s hospitality icon and pioneer Abdin Nasralla, who saw talent and drive in the young Indian chef. A great mentor, Nasralla helped open doors for Monal, who never wasted any opportunity given to him to expand his skills. After becoming the executive chef of Bab Al Shams, Monal trained in managing the resort and became Deputy General Manager.

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen

It was a change of management at Bab Al Shams that pushed Monal towards opening his own restaurant business, and along with it, learning the “hardest lesson” in life.

“When you focus on the positive, then it will be a positive experience for you,” he said. Opening his own business wasn’t a piece of cake, and Monal was pushed to his limit, doing the job of two to three people in his startup. Even his wife helped with accounting and food packing.

That expression “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” probably applies to other people, but not Monal. Instead of throwing in the towel, he embraced the challenges as a learning experience on how to grow a business from scratch.

He would later be drafted by his mentor and join Nasralla’s new team in Meraas, developing restaurant concepts for the Dubai-based master developer that is part of government-owned conglomerate Dubai Holding.

Now with Shurooq, Monal develops unique F&B concepts aimed at making Sharjah the destination for foodies. “The team and I developed a portfolio of restaurants and cafes, staring with a single establishment and currently boasting an impressive total of 11,” he shares.

The secret is to be “consistently innovative,” the food and hospitality expert tells Expat Media. We are at Nomani, one of the restaurants managed by Shurooq and developed along with Singaporean chef-owner Reif Othman. Nomani is a Japanese and Korean fusion restaurant, a hidden gem in Sharjah’s heritage district called the Heart of Sharjah.

Shurooq’s restaurants focus on sustainability, from ingredients to location. Nomani, for example, is situated in Chedi Al Bait, a 5-star luxury hotel with the distinct DNA of Sharjah’s historic buildings. The Emirati hotel is managed by GHM Hotels and is designed to provide guests with a unique and unrivalled experience.

For the love of food

“Cooking was always a passion. I used to watch my mom cook,” Monal says, “I was studying Science in college but somewhere down the line I wanted a different path.” The young Monal bought cookbooks and read about popular chefs to get inspired. He eventually found his spot in the toughest kitchens in India, starting with The Oberoi.

“My first job was at The Oberoi in Mumbai, which is known for perfection. Whatever got served to the guest had to be nothing short of amazing,” he says. “I was a nervous wreck on my first day, but I sharpened my cooking skills there with the help of some amazing mentors,” he says. This made it easier for him to work in 5-star kitchens at resorts in Dubai, including the luxury Bab Al Shams Desert Resort where he curated menus for many high-profile guests and sheikhs.

Nowadays, you will only see Monal whipping up his kitchen masterpieces when he is at home. “My son is my biggest fan. He loves my cooking,” he says. His best dish? “Probably all my dishes because I keep on innovating,” he says with a guffaw.

Though Monal is now focused on business development and thinking of the next big F&B concept to launch in Sharjah, he still takes time to mentor peers. His biggest achievement is mentoring young chefs who have gone on to become executive chefs of five-star hotel chains in the United States and Australia. “Making an impact on people’s life. That’s the biggest takeaway from my career,” he says.

He remembers the lessons from his own mentor, Nasralla. “He taught me to never settle for second best,” Monal says. “He used to always quote Sheikh Mohammed: ‘In the quest for excellence, there is no finish line.’”

“Celebrate that you have achieved something, but move on to make it even better,” Monal muses. ICA/Expat Media

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