A majlis set up on the deck of a popular resort in Ontario’s cottage country, boasting Bahraini cuisine with sprinkles of diverse nationalities feasting on the fare, is now a picturesque installation for travellers in Toronto to adore.
The image, which will be displayed at the Toronto International Pearson Airport in September — encompassing a ‘One People, One Connect’ philosophy — was a collaboration between Bahraini Chef Suman Ali and ‘Take Your Seat’, a global photographic platform that celebrates human stories.
Take Your Seat, which started with father and son Randy and Spencer VanDerStarren, has been exhibiting photographic installations in the high-traffic Toronto Pearson Airport since 2017 to humanise the airport experience, showcase world-class destinations and connect travellers to a unifying mission.
The image of individuals savouring Chef Suman’s bountiful Bahrain-themed meal and majlis at Terrawoods on Muskoka Shores Cottage and Park Resort will make her the first Bahraini/ Khaleeji artist and chef to be featured at an international level in North America.
“The installation, which will be at the airport for up to eight months, encompasses how food can connect and unite us all, despite our differences,” said the award winning chef, corporate culinary executive and founder of her brand House of Khaleej. “I’m also the first chef in Canada to be featured as an artist and chef at an international level representing various categories. It is a milestone, Alhamdulillah.”
The invited guests for her family-style, elevated, Bahraini-inspired Canadian meal included self-made entrepreneurs and eminent personalities in Toronto, all from different backgrounds.
Some of her delightful dishes included Spruce Loomi Kebab, Bahraini Hummus, Sabzi Harvest Ontario and Ontario Lamb Quzi.
“I utilised this opportunity to not just showcase the beautiful bounty of Canada, but also to put Bahraini cuisine, heritage and culture on the North American map,” said Chef Suman, who lives in downtown Toronto when she isn’t with her family in Sanad, Bahrain.
“For example, I marinate any protein (deer meat, poultry or red meat) hand chopped and minced, with special spices and add grounded loomi (black lemon) and skewer them on real tree skewers (spruce and cedar).
“I then incorporate age old traditional cooking methods like pit fire, underground cooking and slow-cooked clay pot cooking techniques. The reactions and responses have been amazing and sometimes, overwhelmingly positive. Those are my personal moments of extreme happiness.
“The majlis style setup in the Canadian cottage country was the vision to do something out of the box. The event was also a reflection of bringing in big and small women-owned businesses together.
“I hope to continuously make our Bahraini identity prominent and proud, to resonate with others on a personal level, as well as to make my parents and kingdom proud. I also aim to leave lasting memories of exceptional creativity which is not within the norms.”
The educator and advocate for women in leadership has been building cultural bridges between Canada and the Middle East over the years by partaking in several food festivals, exhibitions and more.
“I aspire to orchestrate a symphony of pushing boundaries and redefining what is possible in the world of food,” said Chef Suman, who is currently visiting her family in Bahrain.
She has some projects lined up during her time on the island, such as showcasing a Bahraini breakfast at a popular local eatery as well as a couple of cooking video collaborations with personalities like Cycling Bees’ Sarah Alsammak and Dana Zubari.
“There are some cooking collaborations that I am excited about and I’m finalising those dates for the near future,” she added.
And when she returns to Toronto in September, she will be participating in two major features to represent the cuisine she grew up with and loves.
“We as an island, culture and ethnicity are so diverse,” she said. “You get to see in our Bahraini traditions elements and reflections of the diaspora communities that settled in the 1940s and 1950s. It is important for our generation to accept this, showcase this, appreciate it and beautifully represent it.
“When you see on international platforms, people talking about inclusivity and diversity, I reflect back on Bahrain which had and has been way ahead of this. Food represents it ... from dishes like Aloo Basheer, Karak Chai or even Harissa or Haleem…it’s evident.”
Chef Suman’s favourites dishes are home-cooked and include meat and rice. She loves machboos and mandi, her mother’s lentil curry and rice, as well as grilled shaari with flavoured rice and shorbat loomi and mehwaya from local shops in Bahrain. She also loves handpicked, ripe dates from the palm tree fronds.
“Our food is a tale of humbleness,” she added. “Regardless of our professions or background, Bahraini food culture emphasises how one still is able to sit down and share a meal; inviting and welcoming others. How insanely beautiful is this concept! So much love, affection and kindness is being shared in that moment.”
This feeling will also be shared with others during her time in the fifth annual Harvest Chef Garden Party in Toronto that includes celebrity and A-list chefs. It is a fundraiser to send students to Spain (the country changes every year) on a culinary expedition. She will also participate in the Terroir Symposium Canada.
Chef Suman, who was nominated for the 2023 Rogers Women Empowerment Awards, has also curated food experience for stars such as Simu Liu, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Fawad Khan and other artists. She is also a founding member and angel investor for a MENA-based Getplaybook App, oriented to accelerate career growth for women across the globe.
“This is one of my very proudest ventures to back women-lead projects for education and career advancement,” explained Chef Suman who also provides lectures at Fanshawe College.
“When I embarked on my professional culinary career 15 years ago, there was a huge lack of guidance and mentorship into this field. I didn’t have any female peers or leaders to look up to.
“I have met immensely strong, talented, passionate women throughout my career who are part of this positive change, who at some level have faced similar challenges, if not more.
“Connect, collaborate and let your actions speak for your talents and hard-work. If someone like me can make it happen, so can you!”
For details, follow @chefsumanali on Instagram.