With new Executive Chef El-Husseiny Fathy in town, the Sheraton Montazah’s Mamma Mia promises new tastes as it spices up the menu
By Kaylan Geiger
At the eastern end of Alexandria’s corniche, the Sheraton Montazah sits between the sea and the green gardens surrounding the royal palace built during the reign of Khedive Abbas II. With the fresh sea breeze rolling into the open balconies of the hotel, it’s hard not to get swept away by the Mediterranean in this quaint hotel that thrives off an old-time charm so many have swapped for flash and glam.
That lingering old-time charm is what gives the Sheraton Monatazah its appeal. From the ever-friendly staff to the décor, it’s the setting one might choose for a novel fueled by the spirit of coastal life and guests from around the world telling their stories. One new character in this antiquarian setting is Executive Chef El-Husseiny Fathy.
Fathy is a jolly man full of laughter and a welcoming smile. It’s the kind of smile that says, “Welcome to my kitchen!” And that’s what he hopes to express as he takes on the task of revamping the Sheraton Montazah’s menus and meals. Spearheading the changes to the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Mamma Mia, Fathy hopes to draw attention to this side of the corniche and please guests, because that is what he loves best. “If I’m not going to give all I have, I won’t be happy,” says Fathy. “We want people to know we have a new chef and a new menu. We want people to know we are here and ‘word of mouth’ is the best way to do that in Egypt.”[caption id="attachment_74319" align="alignnone" width="600"] Executive Chef El-Husseiny Fathy aims to revamp and spice up Mamma Mia's menu.[/caption]
Fathy has a rich history that has taken him around the world. Born in Egypt, he traveled to the Big Apple in the 1990s to see if New York City is where dreams come true. Fathy lived in New York City for nine years while working as a sous chef at the Crown Plaza in Manhattan and later at Saks Fifth Avenue. He was able to gain experience by experimenting with different cuisines and interacting with chefs from around the world. “I love to merge different cuisines,” says Fathy of the learning experience. “From the beginning, I’ve loved to do this.”
From New York City Fathy packed up and moved to Toronto, Canada where he worked at the famous Fish House Restaurant and later at Sympatico Restaurant as executive chef.
But all that time away from home took its toll, and Fathy made his way back to Egypt with his family in 2002 and took up a chef position at the Sheraton Pyramids until it was later bought out by Amarante Pyramids. Fathy stayed on for another year but then decided to experiment in the vast world of catering. Catering kept him busy and in the kitchen, but once you start your career in the hotel industry, it’s hard to let it go forever.
When the Sheraton Montazah in Alexandria came knocking on Fathy’s door, it was hard to say no. “I didn’t say no to the Sheraton when they asked me to come back,” says Fathy. “I know the Sheraton, they know me.”
Fathy is full of ideas for how to revamp the Sheraton Montazah’s cuisine, hoping to spice things up and bring people back to the shoreline with the smell of good food.
“When I came to the Sheraton I had two priorities. One was the Italian restaurant and the other was the pastry corner,” says Fathy. “It’s always about quality. You have to give the customer value for their money.”
Indeed, Fathy may not willingly admit it but when you get him talking about food and what he enjoys making he always ends up talking about dessert. His shy sweet tooth delights in using natural flavors that make dessert items savory, like his cherry chocolate cheesecake or his ice cream flavors.
It may be the passion for ice cream along the Alexandrian corniche or the cold feeling of the sweet dessert that makes him reminisce about Canada, but Fathy’s love for ice cream is undeniable. He loves ice cream so much, last time he was in New York City he bought parts for an ice cream machine to start making ice cream at home. He has even branded his creations, calling it Rainbow Ice Cream. While Fathy insists that this is just a hobby, he hints that his ice cream flavors may find their way into the Sheraton one day.
Fathy has already revamped Mamma Mia’s menu, embracing traditional tastes of Italy with flavorful pizza and risotto. “With the Italian restaurant I took the menu, broke it down and tried to understand what people liked best,” says Fathy.[caption id="attachment_363540" align="alignnone" width="620"] Risotto with shrimp.[/caption]
There are a few dishes Fathy is particularly proud of, one being the La Mamma Salad. Marinated barbecue salmon and shrimp are decorated with apricots, fresh mushrooms, asparagus, red onions, olives and tomatoes on top of a bed of leafy greens. It’s a taste of the sea paired with hints of summer fruit and full of eye-popping colors.
It’s reminiscent not only of Alexandria’s coast, but also of Italy’s fondness for seafood. In hefty competition, Fathy’s risotto dishes pack a punch and sticks to the roots of the dish’s traditional recipes. They also exemplify how much care Fathy uses in creating his dishes, searching far and wide for the best and freshest ingredients.
Fathy has two favorite risotto dishes and both rely on savory tastes. The first is the homemade sundried tomato risotto with mushrooms, which boasts a sweet and salty taste from the tomatoes. The other is the wild mushroom risotto, packed full of each type of mushroom Fathy could get his hands on, from the traditional Portobello to the shitake. Both are layered with Parmesan cheese, which comes out stronger in the wild mushroom risotto as compared to the sundried tomato.
“Risotto must be very simple, and you have to know how to properly time risotto and to mix the ingredients with each other,” says Fathy.
These sides and starters are the accent marks on Fathy’s menu. The main attraction, however, is the wood-smoked, lemongrass chicken. Fathy finds particular pride in this dish, as lemongrass is not a common ingredient in cuisine this side of the world. “No one knew what lemongrass was,” Fathy says with a laugh.
With these new menu items and a lot of passion, Fathy promises exciting things in the future. As winter approaches, the crowds are less likely to flock north to the beaches. But for whoever finds their way to the pearl of the Mediterranean, Fathy promises a good meal and a spectacular view.[caption id="attachment_363541" align="alignnone" width="620"] Salmon salad.[/caption]