by Janan Zaitoun
“Not everyone gets to see me like this,” said Deema Hajjawi in Arabic when her video camera on Skype turned on. She was wiping off her makeup. “But it’s okay. I’ve already warmed up to you,” she said after only two minutes of talking to me for the first time. Her humble and friendly nature during my interview with her was clear from the beginning.
Hajjawi, 36, is a well-known Jordanian Cooking Specialist in the Arab world. She is host and judge of Chef Wanted, similar to Food Network’s Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell. The show is currently being aired on Abu Dhabi TV. The show was shot in 5 star hotel restaurants in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In each episode, two contestants compete to impress a hotel restaurant chef. The winner has the opportunity to work at the restaurant with the chef.
In 2000, Hajjawi’s first TV appearance was on Dubai TV hosting a show called Cinema, Cinema. Later in 2003, Hajjawi appeared in a cooking show on Jordan TV as a host with other chefs. But in 2012, Hajjawi appeared on Roya TV, a Jordanian satellite channel, as the main cook. She cooks during the morning show’s cooking segment, three times a week.
Hajjawi is author of two cooking books: Tasty Temptations, 2009, and The Secret Ingredient, 2012. Both books consist of Arabian recipes in English. The books target English speaking Arabs, and foreigners living in Arab countries. She is currently working on her third book, this time in Arabic. It is due for publication in June 2014. Her books are sold online at: www.thejoshop.com.
Born and raised in Jordan, Hajjawi was raised by Palestinian parents from Nablus. Both her parents worked in Jordan TV. Her father, Bassam Hajjawi, a TV producer, was one of Dubai TV’s founders.
As a child, Hajjawi went to The Ahliyyah for Girls high school in Jordan. When she was 17 years old, Hajjawi’s parents sent her to stay with her aunt so she could attend Lucie Clayton finishing school in London. In 2000, Hajjawi graduated from Al-Ahliyya Amman University in Jordan. She majored in English literature.
Hajjawi met her husband through a friend and married Hassan Hamdan in 2000. Today, they have four daughters. Hajjawi encourages her daughters Nour, 12, Nadia, 10, Aya, 8, to be in the kitchen with her. Her youngest, Zain,is four years old.
“The first time I ever made anything was when I was in 6th grade,” said Hajjawi. “I made French toast.”
In 2000, the same year Hajjawi got married, Hajjawi’s husband and brother established a business, Flavours Catering, which was the first door to Hajjawi’s cooking career. She helped with the family business, and her passion for food blossomed. That same year, she published her first cooking book.
“We worked on the first book as a joke,” said Hajjawi switching between Arabic and English. “We never imagined that it would be a success. We only printed limited copies.”
Hajjawi’s husband took pictures of her dishes with his camera, and then they ate whatever she made afterwards. Her husband, a graphic designer, designed her first book. The first book’s success pushed Hajjawi to work on a second one.
“My favorite American chef is Martha Stewart,” said Hajjawi. “She’s consistent. I also like Barefoot Contessa’s Ina Garten, and Tyler Florence.”
In her light brown kitchen, Hajjawi enjoys combining recipes together and creating new dishes to add to her upcoming book, or to remake on TV. In one episode on Roya TV’s morning show Donya ya Donya, Hajjawi was showing the viewers how to make an Arabic sweet called Layali Lebnan, Lebanese Nights. She had introduced a new method of making it; adding eggs to thicken the creamy texture made of semolina and milk. More than one viewer called in to tell Hajjawi that they had never tried her way. They only added starch to thicken the texture. Hajjawi stressed the importance of adding warm milk to the eggs before adding it to the hot mixture. “A method called tampering,” she said.
“Try my way, and you’ll be glad you did,” she said to one of the callers.
During the fasting month of Ramadan, 2012, Mobile Channels Company (MCC Arabia) created an application for smart devices: “Ramadan is More Delicious with Deema Hajjawi”. Every day, subscribers received a recipe from Hajjawi for breaking their fast. In two weeks, there were 25,000 downloads of the application.
Last year, Hajjawi established Deema’s Cooking Club at her parents’ house in Jordan. She meets with her students once a week for three hours. In each class, they make entrées, main courses, appetizers, and sweets from different countries.
Towards the end of our Skype interview, I asked Hajjawi what she would serve if she had the opportunity to open her own restaurant at Harvard Square.
“Palestinian and Jordanian food, “said Hajjawi. “I’ll make them Mskhan (chicken with onions on stone oven bread), Magloobeh (Rice with chicken and cauliflower or eggplant), and Mansaf—the national dish of Jordan (yellow rice with lamb in a yogurt based broth).”
* To sign up with Deema’s Cooking Club in Um Othayna, contact Hajjawi via her e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Deema Hajjawi’s official page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deemahajjawipage