What’s cooking in the local culinary scene?

Owner of school-cum-bistro Zaigham Haque talks about bringing the concept to Lahore from Dubai

Mehek Saeed September 10, 2015
Haque explains that Scafa is essentially a vocational training institute and also offers consulting services for designing menus. PHOTOS: PUBLICITY


Located beside the mammoth EFU building on Jail Road is the latest addition to Lahore’s culinary art and dining scene. The School of Culinary and Finishing Arts (Scafa) originates from Dubai and has established itself there in the three years it has been operational. Opening its doors to Lahore on July 5 this year, Scafa offers culinary courses to people from all walks of life. Primarily a culinary school, the location turns into a restaurant of the same name by night. While the bistro-cum-culinary school model is new to Pakistan, it seems to be a welcome addition to the local culinary scene. The Express Tribune talks to Scafa’s Dubai-based owner Zaigham Haque about what’s cooking, as his school-restaurant stands tall in the heart of Pakistan.

“The dining experience is a prelude to the teaching programme that we offer called the pro-finishing programme, where students learn about international fine-dining and kitchen operations,” says Haque. He explains how Scafa is essentially a vocational training institute, so their aim is to offer professional-level culinary courses to people, who want to become chefs or have culinary entrepreneurial aspiration. “Besides this, we have courses for enthusiasts and extend ourselves for consulting services for menu designing,” he adds.

Of the culinary school, which is Scafa’s primary project, Haque shares, “I know it is early and we will get more cost-efficient as our strength grows but currently, the cost of ingredients for us [for our students] is 50 per cent more than that of other culinary schools in Pakistan.” Scafa offers courses that come with a hefty price tag, which could make it challenging for many to take them up.

“One of the notions I’m eager to dispel is that we are a cooking school aimed at the elite. That’s a reaction people have to our fee structure, particularly in the local market,” explains Haque. “It is an expensive programme, but that is because it is a programme [that meets international standards]. The curriculum in Lahore is the same as the one in Dubai and students are interchangeable.”

As the school turns into a restaurant by night, Chef Christobal Ruiz from Chile takes the reigns and prepares gourmet delicacies along with the institute’s students, for whom this is a chance to get hands-on experience. The two slots, one beginning at 8:00pm and the other at 10:00pm, are currently open for dinner for a maximum of 12 people. Greeted by Ruiz himself upon entering, the guests are explained at length how the meals were put together.

As one sits at the table, which is sans linen or any fancy crockery and cutlery, it becomes clear that the experience is about the food alone. The gastronomic journey began with a welcome drink garnished with curry leaves, chilli and ginger, which set the mood for a wholesome feast. This was followed by an appetiser called sopaipilla with pebre emulsion drizzled with a sauce. The second course comprised a trio of soups in shot glasses – a pea and mint foam soup, a roasted onion and cauliflower ‘cappuccino’, and a roasted carrots and cardamom soup. All three were smooth and rich in flavour but the carrot soup was a winner.

Chocolate mousse on pate sable with orange chilli jellies

The white barracuda fish in butter and lemon glaze with braised lentils and saffron cream followed by ribs with romesco sauce and smoked baby potatoes were an eclectic treat. For dessert, Ruiz had made a palatable Hojarasca, a Chilean cake made from yolk dough with manjar, walnut sauce and Swiss meringue. The last course of the night was chocolate mousse on pate sable with orange chilli jellies made of agar-agar. These offerings cost Rs2,000 per head. Farahnaz Haque, who is Zaigham’s sister and looks after the Lahore leg of Scafa, shared their hopes of beginning lunch services in the near future.

With an underwhelming exterior, a strikingly kempt kitchen and exquisite plating, the small space is packed with talent and skill. Ruiz shared that initially, all their products were sourced from Dubai but then they changed their menu to one with products they can procure locally. Additionally, the set seven-course menu is changed every month.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th,  2015.

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