Afghan media mogul Saad Mohseni shares his love of simple French food and intimate dining as he plans his hypothetical Last Meal.
“My very first food memory goes back to when I was around three years old and living in Afghanistan. My parents were both working people so they used to drop me at my grandfather’s house where they would serve fried eggs with caramelised onions and all sorts of vegetables. To this day that meal is still one of my favourites.
The restaurants I frequent in Kabul are very different to the ones I go to in Dubai. I think the standard of what you get in Dubai has improved dramatically over the years. This restaurant in particular is one of the best French restaurants I have been to. I think it is the only place in town that has really good quality steaks. There is something quite charming about it – it’s very French.
Unfortunately, Afghan restaurants don’t offer the same quality of food as they did in the 1970s. Given that Afghanistan is landlocked, there is usually little seafood. Local butchers have a limited understanding of how to prepare a cut of meat, which ultimately impacts on what we consume in local restaurants.
Despite spending most of my adult life out of Afghanistan, I think I always knew that if the situation on the ground changed I would go back. After the ousting of the Taliban, there was the Bonn Conference, which pretty much came up with an interim constitution for the country. Media freedoms were enshrined in this document. Previous governments did not allow this.
All of a sudden you could establish a media outlet. My two brothers, sister and I felt this was a good proposition and we could shape the way people perceive things. Our family-run company applied and secured the first independent media licence for the country in 2002 and launched Arman fm in 2003. There was obviously a business opportunity – but we also felt that we could somehow contribute to the development of our nation. I believe that media has played an important role in facilitating social change in our region.
We use Dubai as a springboard to expand into other countries in the region. We have 1,000 people in Afghanistan working for us and 60 people in the UAE. I didn’t envision it becoming this large. There are a lot of people producing shows, as well as actors. But because it’s Afghanistan, you have a lot of security people and drivers.
We have a cooking show on our television station (Tolo TV). Afghanistan is an area that is basically at the crossroads of South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and China. As a result, we have interesting types of cuisine. Our Asian influences are dumplings, noodles, lots of rice and stews. But after the Russian invasion Afghan cuisine pretty much died. Most of the younger generation are not familiar with the old dishes. One of the reasons we set up the cooking show was to bring back to life our old recipes. People congregate around television sets in Afghanistan. They play an important role in a household, village or a community. Even if there is only one it becomes a communal TV set. Home is where the family is and Dubai is now home. Attached as I am to Kabul, the birthplace of my parents, and to Melbourne, my hometown, my parents, siblings and wife are now in Dubai.
For my last meal, I would want peasant French food – chicken and red meat, well cooked and with lots of flavour. But food is only 50 per cent. The other 50 is the company that comes with it. I’d hope my children would be at my last meal. A meal can only be truly enjoyed in the company of loved ones. Also, I have always found certain characters in history fascinating and I think it would be great if you had the chance to talk with them to ask how they see things.
I have been reading about Thomas Jefferson. His words allow us to dream of a better life. It’s fascinating for me how at crucial moments in history – and faced with various challenges – leaders developed their visions for their country, and how they went about implementing them. I also have great admiration for my parents, who managed to provide us with a warm and loving environment despite the hardships our family suffered following the Russian invasion of our homeland.
As an Afghan, there are challenges we face – in terms of how the country should look as far as the political, economic and military system is concerned. With all these sorts of questions we have it would be interesting to find out what these historic figures were thinking when they were making their key decisions.
It should also be a long meal, because when you eat you let your guard down and open up. It’s a very intimate experience. The relationships you have with people pre- and post-meal are two different relationships. Maybe it is very subtle, but once you share a meal with someone there is more of a chance they will share intimate knowledge with you.”
Nicknamed the Rupert Murdoch of Afghanistan (before all those hacking claims), Saad Mohseni, 45, spearheaded the country’s first independent media conglomerate, Moby Group, which now includes Tolo TV, Lemar TV, the Arman FM radio station, an advertising agency and internet cafés. He recently teamed up with Murdoch to launch Farsi1, a satellite channel targeting the roughly 120 million Farsi speakers around the globe.
1966: Born in London
1969-92: Mohseni’s family moves between Kabul, Islamabad, Tokyo, Melbourne and Sydney (his father was an Afghan diplomat)
1988-99: Worked as investment banker and entrepreneur
2002: Returned to Afghanistan to establish the Moby Group, now the largest media company in the country
2009: Launched Dubai-based Farsi1, the first free international Persian entertainment channel
La Petite Maison is in the Dubai International Financial Centre, a hub for business and most recently the city’s growing contemporary art gallery scene. It is popular with power-lunchers and art lovers, of which Mohseni is both. Gate Village 08, DIFC
Deep-fried baby squid
Grilled rib-eye steak
Roast baby chicken
marinated in lemon
Grilled rib-eye steak
400g rib-eye portion
50g green chilli
100ml olive oil
Shallot and caper relish
200g finely chopped shallots
50g fine capers
200ml olive oil; salt to season
100ml white wine vinegar
1.5kg Dijon mustard
20g finely chopped parsley
5g black pepper
The meat is from Australia’s Rangers Valley with a marble score between four and five.
A Josper charcoal oven allows you to recreate the barbecue flavour in the kitchen.
Prepare the relish by mixing ingredients together. For the mustard, add the vinegar with the finely chopped shallots to a pan and cook on a medium heat, reducing until there is no more liquid. Allow to cool, then add to the Dijon mustard and mix well. Finish by adding the finely chopped tarragon; mix again. Next, place the steak in the marinade for 20 minutes. Finally, grill it in a Josper oven (200-250C) for 10 minutes. Allow to rest for five minutes before serving.