UAE Famous: In talks with pitmaster Hattem Mattar
Meet the man in pursuit of meaty perfection…
[UAE Famous is a What’s On column focusing on people out there making the scene. They’re out there, shaping Dubai into what it is, creating the culture, food and life around us. We asked them what’s good in Dubai. We asked them what’s bad in Dubai. We asked them to tell us more, more, more about their wonderful selves…]
So The Mattar Farm – home of Dubai’s smoked brisket. How did all this happen?
[Laughs] The Mattar Farm saved me from a broken heart. I’d just got divorced and needed a new purpose. At the same time, I’m raising daughters here and I wanted to ensure they lived analogue lives. You know, dirt under their fingernails, morning chores, that stuff. Without that, you can become entitled. I wanted my children to have chores, to collect the eggs outside from the hen house, pick tomatoes for our breakfast, and not be frightened of animals.
And you grow your own produce?
Oh I have lots of stuff. I grow the freshest, sweetest tomatoes you’ll find in Dubai; I grow mint, basil, and jasmine. I have two goats [who’ll be donated to the Dubai labour force in the summer], a large pen of chickens for my morning shakshuka and much more. I love to grow what I eat, and I eat what I grow.
Tell us about the path to becoming the world’s first Arab Pitmaster…
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At first it was just about barbecuing kebabs for friends. It wasn’t until I went to Texas and had smoked brisket that everything changed. In 2014, I started learning how to do it on my own, but it was a ridiculous process. There was several hundred kilos of bad meat until I figured out how to make it. I would sleep next to The Sentinel (his original smoker), trying to figure out the vents, how much wood to use, and how much charcoal it needed. It’s an 18-hour process, I was getting disheartened, and I’d give up. But I was obsessed, so I’d try again until I finally got it.
How did The Mattar Farm take off?
I still can’t answer that question. My inner circle told their outer circle, who told their outer circle. After that it took a life of its own. I’d be at my oil and gas job and my phone would be ringing with people ordering brisket. Now our menu offers everything from wagyu brisket, smoked turkey, chicken, lamb leg, beef ribs and sausages.
What’s life like as the world’s first Arab Pitmaster?
Life is fantastic. We’re preaching the gospel of home cooked food to anyone that’ll hear us, and our followers are preaching it too, which is wonderful. We’re living in a time where food is the focus for the way people connect.
What annoys you about Dubai?
Dubai isn’t known for longevity. Everyone’s here to make a quick buck and then leave. And then everyone’s gripe is that it’s artificial, but we can make it real by putting in the time and effort.
And that’s you?
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Well, one of us has to start putting down roots here. There is nowhere else like Dubai. I can leave my door open, the girls can play outside past midnight and I could sleep without a worry. There’s no other place on the planet that’s like that. If they don’t force me out, I’m dying here…
Images: Tamer Gahed