JUMA Kitchen and the delight of Iraqi cuisine

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London (IraqiNews.com) – To be a cook is to be a storyteller. Food tells a story. This story is JUMA Cuisine.

Philip Juma, the culinary mastermind behind JUMA Kitchen, is on point. Something special happens in this kitchen, and as you approach an atmosphere rich in character and color, iconic dishes steeped in culture and history begin to overwhelm you. Just the sweet sizzle of fresh kubba, this legendary Iraqi dish, promises nirvana.

When you dine at JUMA Kitchen, it’s more than just a meal, it’s a multi-level sensory experience. The emphasis is on quality and authenticity, in a modern and relaxed setting celebrating Iraqi cuisine.

Born and raised in London, the son of an Iraqi immigrant and an Anglo-Irish mother, Juma felt his calling was to put Iraqi food on the map. His food is a labor of love – a connection to his roots and his ancestral land of Mesopotamia. The land where man first settled and began to plow its fertile soil domesticated the first species of wheat, barley, millet, chickpeas, as well as dates and pomegranates. It is here that the oldest cooking and cooking in the world was born. A cuisine that many others have come to learn and have been influenced by.

Its mission is simple yet powerful – to share its beloved Iraqi food with as many people as possible.

At a time when this cuisine was not so “trendy”, Juma felt a real urgency to share his love for Iraqi cuisine. “If you don’t know someone who is Iraqi, you’re probably never going to try this food,” Juma told Iraqi News.

A pioneer in many ways, he says, “I’m for the mainstream, breaking down barriers, chasing people who don’t know about cooking. I’m here to change the dialect, change the listening, interrupt – all through the food.

Philip Juma is all smiles in his JUMA kitchen in Borough Market.

With a background in economics and an early career in finance, it didn’t take long for Juma to realize his heart wasn’t in it. Instead, a deep sense of calling and absolute responsibility came to him to preserve, tell and bring to life the beauty and complexity of Iraqi cuisine for those who had never tasted it. “The complexity of the spices, the cooking technique, the intensity of the work – it was to be celebrated,” continues Juma. “I knew from the start that this kitchen is crazy (in a good way), a cut above the rest.”

In November 2013, Juma took a leap of faith and opened their first-ever pop-up with an Iraqi-inspired themed dinner. That’s when something inside him clicked; JUMA Kitchen was born and it sought to bring Iraqi food to the masses. He went on a journey, pop-ups and supper clubs, building his brand – a stage in his life and cooking where Juma was free to explore and try things. The JUMA brand began to flourish.

Its mission is simple yet powerful – to share its beloved Iraqi food with as many people as possible.

Juma looks back on the painful journey he endured in his early days: “For three years, all I did in London was pop-ups. It was so hard because you don’t really earn a lot and there’s so much work to do. The financial situation was difficult because I was not earning like in finance.

Many, including his family, tried to talk him out of it. They thought it was crazy to give up a stable income and take such a risk. But he’s glad he stuck to it and shares that Iraqi pride and celebration is always in the background of everything he does.

“I am self-taught to the end and proud. All I had was inspiration. No mentor, nothing,” adds Juma.

Juma shares his love for Iraqi cuisine with the world.

After mastering his craft, Juma was ready for Borough Market – one of the most historic and famous markets in the world in central London. To be in Borough Market is to be relevant.

“I cried on the phone when they told me I had to join them. It was such a moment. Borough was just perfect. I thought for the first time that there would be Iraqi representation,” he says. It was November 2019 and JUMA Kitchen was finally ready for its big debut.

Three months of trading then the pandemic hit. Juma describes this time as most tests.

At the height of the pandemic, Juma cooked an NHS ‘dish of the day’ every Friday where he cooked an Iraqi dinner. He was well received in the community. It was all for charity and this Friday ritual involved hundreds of meals cooked by Juma, packed, loaded and driven to London hospitals.

The popular Kubba Halab.

His signature dish is kubba – in all its delicious varieties.

Attention to detail is what makes Juma a master of his craft. “I probably tasted all the rices to find out which is the crispiest rice shell for this kubba halab. If we made potato, I probably tasted all potatoes. We do everything with a lot of passion, love and obsession.

“There was an Iraqi Jew, an Iraqi Muslim and an Iraqi Christian and they were all talking and I got chills just watching them interact.”

Just a few months ago, Juma embarked on a gastronomic journey to his beloved Iraq. Sharing his journey with the world on Instagram, Juma was blown away by the reaction from his followers: “It was so special how Iraqis responded to every story and photo.” Juma found that his posts kind of became that deep emotional trigger that would cause hundreds of posts to come flooding in. And although the trip was meant to be just for him, it became apparent that he was much bigger and deeper in purpose. “This trip was for the entire diaspora around the world,” says Juma.

Attention to detail, Juma creates his magic.

Her brand is growing globally, with pop-ups in Copenhagen and the United Arab Emirates, to name a few. Expansion is inevitable, though he admits his biggest struggle will be finding someone equally obsessed, complex and aligned with cooking.

Today, Juma stands as a proud Iraqi-Londonian sharing his story with the world. With a truly organic and diehard Instagram account that numbers in the tens of thousands and growing steadily, Juma’s accomplishments include appearances on Saturday Kitchen and Masterchef The Professionals (2021) on BBC1. He was also named a finalist for Best Street Food by the BBC Food & Farming Awards and invited by the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu cooking school to teach Iraqi cooking classes. He’s hosted over 100 sold-out dinner parties and hosted many high-end events, including the Financial Times.

“The highlight of my career was when I appeared on the BBC cooking show Saturday Kitchen Live; a show my dad and I used to watch together, and I was there. It was such a big moment for me. Just thinking about it gives me chills,” Juma recalls.

Transcending religious, racial and political divides, JUMA Kitchen is essentially a meeting point where community, love, culture and cuisine are celebrated. “There was an Iraqi Jew, an Iraqi Muslim and an Iraqi Christian and they were all talking and I got chills just watching them interact. And, that’s the point, Juma said. “No religion can stand in the way. JUMA is food. It is love.”

Philip Juma is putting Iraq on the culinary map, one kubba at a time.


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