Leading Dubai’s Food Culture Movement

This is not your typical restaurant‭. ‬Here‭, ‬creativity is in the limelight‭. ‬INKED is a concept pop-up venue that focuses on unconventional dining experiences in Dubai‭, ‬UAE‭. ‬As one treads inside for a moment they probably won’t even realize that they are in a place that primarily serves food‭. ‬The main space has a large snaking table in the center surrounded with chairs and during the day a beam of direct sunlight floods the venue with light‭. ‬

Showcasing an industrial and rustic look‭, ‬even those who have visited the place frequently will be in for a surprise every time‭ ‬they visit‭. ‬This is largely because it’s not your regular neighborhood food joint‭, ‬but rather‭, ‬it is a place that can transform into anything as long as it has some relation to good food‭. ‬

Founded by Kenza and Patrick Jarjour‭, ‬the idea of INKED actually sprung up when the couple was 15‭ ‬years old and dreamt of opening a restaurant‭. ‬Fast forward to 2016‭ ‬and Kenza‭, ‬37‭, ‬with her understanding of the culinary arts‭, ‬and Patrick‭, ‬38‭, ‬with his background in events and production‭, ‬decided to set up INKED‭. ‬When it came to choosing a place to set up their business‭, ‬what better‭ ‬place than Dubai‭? ‬After all‭, ‬the city’s vibrant gastronomic culture and ease of doing business is hard to match‭.‬

“What inspired us to start INKED was the desire to create a platform that would allow us to have the freedom to create‭, ‬to offer‭ ‬alternative experiences and ways of dining‭, ‬and to collaborate with other like-minded individuals”‭ ‬said Kenza‭. ‬“Our medium is food because that is our passion‭, ‬but it is the invention of ideas and experiences that is at the root of what we‭ ‬do‭.‬”

At the heart of INKED are culinary-led experiences‭. ‬“We host private dinners‭, ‬corporate private dinners‭, ‬brand launches‭, ‬workshops‭, ‬chef collaborations‭, ‬our own pop-up dinners‭, ‬talks‭, ‬and so much more‭,‬”‭ ‬said Kenza‭. ‬“We have several varying food-centered occasions but sometimes the focus can be more on the event creation and production‭.‬”

INKED doesn’t cater to a specific set of clientele as a lot of personalization is done in the dinner concepts that they hold every now and then‭. ‬From corporate dinners to cooking aficionados or general creativity lovers‭, ‬there’s something for everyone here as long as the common theme revolves around food‭.‬

One of INKED’s most unique pop-ups called Tête-a-Tête was more like a social experiment‭; ‬the concept had each guest seated opposite a mirror‭ ‬placed in the center of each table‭. ‬During the remainder of the dinner‭, ‬each guest was asked to rotate from table to table in intervals‭. ‬

The idea behind the concept‭, ‬Kenza said‭, ‬was that‭, ‬“We as a society have become so fixated on ourselves as evidenced by the infamous selfie‭.‬”‭ ‬She added‭, ‬“We thought‭, ‬‘What better way to confront this self obsession by having our guests literally look at themselves for an entire meal‭?‬’”

One of its other innovative pop-ups‭, ‬Kenza fondly recalled‭, ‬was called Grey Area‭. ‬It was launched during Dubai Design Week and was held in collaboration with local design firm Tinkah‭.‬

“We created an immersive dining experience that 40‭ ‬guests per evening got to enjoy”‭ ‬said Kenza‭. ‬“Through a series of achromatic courses served on custom designed tableware pieces‭, ‬guests were taken through a journey where pure colors from their surroundings‭, ‬plating‭, ‬and food have been vacuumed‭, ‬starting from white‭ [‬and‭] ‬reaching black by the end of their meal‭.‬”

One of its most recent pop-ups was held in Ramadan‭, ‬called Tawlet Souk El Tayeb‭. ‬“Tawlet is a‭ ‘‬mom’s kitchen and table‭’ ‬where cooks from different regions of Lebanon have shared dishes drawing from their own history‭, ‬traditions‭, ‬and hometown flavors‭,‬”‭ ‬said Kenza‭. ‬“Tawlet is both a celebration of food and tradition that unites communities and the culture of sustainable agriculture‭, ‬as well as a social business where profit is generated to support farmers‭, ‬cooks‭, ‬and producers‭. ‬It tells a story about Lebanon‭; ‬of a land‭, ‬of people‭, ‬and of their roots and origins through the one expression that travels through time and space‭: ‬food‭.‬”

The inspiration for each pop-up is varied but they all aim at giving a novel experience to visitors‭. ‬Speaking of the inspiration‭ ‬behind the pop-ups Kenza said‭, ‬“It always depends on the project‭, ‬challenge‭, ‬or concept that we are given‭, ‬or the idea that we have in mind and would like to materialize‭. ‬We are a people’s collective‭; ‬from creators‭, ‬chefs‭, ‬party hosts‭, ‬event designers‭, ‬and curators‭, ‬we work and think collaboratively to create experiences that are indelible‭.‬”

When asked about the kind of projects to expect from INKED in the future‭, ‬Kenza said‭, ‬“We would like to continue to offer experiences that tell a story‭, ‬create emotions‭, ‬and share a passion‭. ‬This is the foundation of what we do and who we collaborate with‭.‬”‭ ‬She added‭, ‬“We want them to always be generous‭, ‬playful‭, ‬and poetic‭. ‬Even push boundaries by blending the worlds of food and art as a tribute to our presence in Alserkal Avenue‭.‬”

Words‭ ‬by Mohammed Mirza

Images‭ ‬by INKED

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