Villa Mamas founder Roaya Saleh on conquering the small screen
Time Out Bahrain staff
The owner of Saar-based eatery Villa Mamas has now conquered the global small screen. We talk to Roaya about her debut on The Food Channel and what else we can expect from this ambitious restaurateur.
So… you’re launching the first cooking show on The Food Channel about Khaleeji/Bahraini cuisine. What can we viewers expect?
My show is directed to the world so they can experience Bahraini and Gulf cuisine. It gives an in-depth experience on the way of living in Bahrain and to our local produce. I am hoping to continue onto the Food Network to give a better understanding of our life in Bahrain and the Villa Mamas concept and cuisine. Then, when we establish ourselves in New York in five years people would have already been introduced to us.
You have big plans then. Where else is the Villa Mamas concept headed? Next, we are working on Mama Gourmet, close behind Villa Mamas, and will complement Villa Mamas with its freshly produced condiments. It will also give our guests more food and seating options. We are also working to place ourselves in New York, London and Istanbul in five years from now.
What Bahraini dishes do you expect to become popular around the world? All my food is delicious but if you’re asking about my Bahraini food, I would say chicken machbous and mathrouba.
More restaurants serving authentic Bahraini cuisine are now springing up and becoming popular with everyone here. How does Villa Mamas differ? Villa Mamas is different in that the owner is the chef and we source our food locally, organically and we make sure all the senses are met in each diners’ experience. Plus we don’t only serve Bahraini food, as we create other delicious food [mainly Mediterranean] using local, fresh and organic seasonal ingredients.
You worked in banking before becoming a restaurateur. What was the final straw that made you decide to make the transition? Establishing my own restaurant was in the back of my mind for a long time. This was a retirement plan at age 50 or so somewhere out of Bahrain, in the coasts of a Mediterranean city.
Destiny played a big part that I start now.
Before Villa Mamas (and after working in banking) I had a real estate business, investing in property in Bahrain. I took this step out of banking to focus my energy in investing my money and my investors’ money into the Bahrain market as opposed to the international market. This is because of the love of my country I guess and the belief of existing opportunities.
I did extremely well and achieved my goals, however, in 2008, there was a real estate downfall and business started to slow down.
After studying and observing the market situation, I took a bold decision to close my office and focus on developing my cooking skills and start a business plan to begin my restaurant business. Things took off from here.
You had no experience in the culinary industry before you started Villa Mamas. What made you confident that you could pull it all off? My confidence always comes from proper planning, hard work and determination.
You must have gone through a massive learning curve. What was it like for you? When it first started, it was horrible for me! I was short of staff and my menu was totally new to anyone who joined me. Adding to the catastrophe, I did not have any experience in an industrial kitchen.
But you have undeniably become successful with the concept since. How do you feel about that? I feel more responsibility and more eagerness to continue the success in Bahrain and the international market.
Where do you find your passion and inspiration for cooking from on a daily basis? I get inspired in many ways – by books, TV shows, family and friends. I get inspired by even visiting the local vegetable market. Inspiration is everywhere!