Hungry for More: Interview with Chef Sara Aqel and Spencer Wadama of SLS Hotel Dubai

We recently had the chance to sit down with Chef Sara Aqel, one of the leading young talents on Dubai’s food scene. Sara is the 25-year-old chef de cuisine of Fi’lia, the first female-led restaurant in Dubai.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Sara Aqel. I am a Palestinian but I grew up in Amman, Jordan. I studied culinary arts and worked in the industry at a young age. I have worked with Chef Massimo Bottura and have also worked at Burj Al Arab, Four Seasons Hotel Amman and in Hong Kong. I recently opened Fi’lia in here in Dubai.

Can you shed some light on your role at Fi’lia and what you aim to bring to the table?

Fi’lia is a Mediterranean-Italian concept which is also the first female-led restaurant in the region. What I do in Fi’lia is create a menu that is inspired by everyone that I have worked with.

How was the experience of opening Fi’lia?

It was great! I believe that there are no good or bad openings, honestly. It’s always full of challenges, good times, and laughter which make the experience great. Moreover, I had all the support that I needed from the management and my team. I also fit into the place and the concept of Fi’lia very easily; it was meant to be.

How do you make your dishes special?

Mother nature is the true artist in my dishes. Most of our dishes in Fi’lia are extremely simple – you just need to get the right quality of the ingredients and put them all together. We are not changing the true art; we’re just framing it in a nice way.

It’s not about creating hundreds of textures and putting it on a plate, it’s about creating a relationship between the guest and the dish.

If one of our readers were to come here tomorrow to have dinner, what would you recommend?

The Feta Al Forno which is oven baked feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, sourdough toasted bread. For the pasta, the Spaghetti al Pomodoro, and Pappardelle Al Ragu with braised veal ossobuco, tomato, orange gremolata and pecorino. As for dessert, the Pavlova and the Fi’liamisu.

Is there any advice that you’d give to other aspiring chefs out there?

Always be hungry for more; there’s never a point where you’re done. Whatever accomplishment you do, don’t say “I’ve got here, I’m done”.

Also, don’t try to be the “next” thing. I think one of the reasons I’m here is because they saw my passion and trusted me. The world cannot resist authenticity.

Do you have a particular motto or saying that you live by?

Food is an expression of who we are.

During our visit to SLS Dubai, we also shared a conversation with the hotel’s general manager, Spencer Wadama.

Can you introduce yourself? Why did you leave Bahrain and come back to Dubai?

I am Spencer and I am the General Manager of SLS Dubai. I really enjoyed Bahrain but work pulled me back – that’s just kind of the way the hospitality world works.

What do you like about SLS Dubai?

SLS is very near and dear to my heart because it originated from California which is where I’m from. This is the first true lifestyle property that I’ve managed so far and I’ve never seen a concept quite like this before.

Dubai is a great destination but we wanted to create a place where people spend more time in the public areas than they will in a room. Of course, all the rooms are fantastic and massive but at the same time, we wanted to create a place where people will not have to go out to “venture”. SLS Dubai is a luxury playground in short.

Fi’lia has been really successful since its opening. How was the experience like when Sara and the team first opened it?

The experience was good. I think what made it a little bit easier was that we really brought Sara into the concept of how we want Fi’lia to feel like and we just let her run with it. We gave her the environment and the ability to do whatever she wanted to do.

Is there anything new coming up?

We have just started brunch in Fi’lia! Apart from this, we have Privilege which is a new night club. The club sits in the middle of the rooftop on Level 75 with two infinity pools.