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TORONTO: For 33-year-old Tala Bashmi — chef patronne at Fusions by Tala in the Gulf Hotel, Manama — modernizing Bahraini and Khaleeji cuisine feels like a “responsibility.” 
Bashmi grew up in Bahrain, and actually began her career at the Gulf Hotel, before heading to Switzerland to train at Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois and the Michelin-starred Prisma. 


Fusions by Tala in the Gulf Hotel, Manama. (Supplied)

She returned to Bahrain in 2014 and worked her way up through the ranks at the Gulf Hotel to eventually head Fusions by Tala, where she’s determined to reinvent Gulf cuisine. She was recently named Best Female Chef in the Middle East and North Africa by 50 Best.
“I always saw a gap for a different version of Middle Eastern and Khaleeji cuisine,” Bashmi tells Arab News. “I want to compete on a global scale by elevating our cuisine technically, visually, and flavor-wise,” she says. 
Here, Bashmi offers some advice and a delicious fish recipe to try at home.


Tala Bashmi’s Seabream Carpaccio. (Supplied)

What’s your top tip for amateur cooks?
Don’t rush things. For the first two years of my career, I wasn’t even allowed to cook. It was purely preparation. I believe all young chefs should start that way and not jump the gun. When you rush things, you end up burning something. You (eventually) want to combine perfection and speed, but speed alone is not beneficial. 
Also, there’s nothing more dangerous than a dull knife. A dull knife will slip and, most likely, cause injury. So, invest in a good quality knife and keep it sharp. 
What’s one ingredient that can instantly improve any dish?
I can think of a few. There’s olive oil. And invest in good salt — not iodized table salt! Whenever I travel, I always get salt that’s local to the region. I’m a firm believer in the fact that the simplest local ingredients can elevate or transform a dish.
What is your favorite cuisine?
Currently, it’s Korean. The entire experience of making your own Korean barbeque is fun. With its fermented and pickled elements, it relies heavily on the traditional umami taste, which I enjoy a lot.
What is your favorite dish to cook?
I really enjoy cooking seafood, especially when it’s fresh from the market. I love clams. I make a type of curry that has clams and local crabs in it, which you leave to simmer on the stove. When you cook all day, every day, you want to make your meals quick and tasty. 
What’s the most difficult dish you prepare?
Desserts at the restaurant have a lot of elements and are relatively time-consuming. There is the cooking, chilling, setting, assembling, and layering. I’d say my lavender dessert — lavender sponge, blueberry jelly, white-chocolate mousse, and lemon crème brûlée — is the most difficult to prepare.
What are you like in the kitchen? Are you a disciplinary or are you more laid-back?
I was lucky enough to work under a second chef who showed me that you can be kind, gentle, and forgiving in this environment, without being disrespected. So, I follow his example. I don’t like to put people down because everyone learns differently. I want my team to feel happy, comfortable, and confident when they come into the kitchen. Patience and learning to deal with different personalities are important. 
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RECIPE: Chef Tala’s pan-seared faskar with vine leaf risotto
Ingredients
90g Faskar fillet; salt; pepper; 30g butter; 3g thyme; turmeric (optional); 150g of Arborio rice; 20g onion (finely chopped); 70g vine leaves; 10g lime juice; 10g parmesan cheese; cooking oil; vegetable stock or water
 
Instructions (fish):
Pat your fillets to dry them. Season with salt, pepper, and turmeric (optional).
Heat a non-stick pan to almost smoking point. Add 2 tbsp of oil per fillet.
Place the fillet (skin side) with a weight on top.
Cook for one minute, until skin is golden-brown. 
Turn the heat to low, add thyme and 10g of butter. 
The residual heat will finish cooking the fish (time depends on thickness of fillets)
 
Instructions (risotto):
On low-medium heat, melt 10g butter in a pan, add onion, sauté until translucent. 
Stir rice into the mix.
And one ladle of veg stock (or water) at a time, making sure broth is fully absorbed.
Meanwhile, blanch the vine leaves in hot water for one minute or until softened. Finely chop.
Cook risotto for 20 minutes, stirring regularly. It should be al dente, but creamy.
Add remaining butter, cheese, vine leaves, salt, and lime juice. 
Serve hot.
VENICE, Italy: Julianne Moore led a flash-mob protest on the Venice red carpet on Friday in support of filmmakers detained around the world, as the festival premiered the new movie from imprisoned Iranian director Jafar Panahi.
Panahi, who won the top prize Golden Lion in Venice in 2000, was jailed in July along with two other filmmakers in the latest crackdown on Iranian civil society.
Moore, who is leading the jury at this year’s festival, was joined for the protest by dozens of other artists, including British director Sally Potter and last year’s Golden Lion winner, France’s Audrey Diwan.
They held posters that also highlighted the detention of Myanmar filmmaker Ma Aeint and Turkish producer Cigdem Mater.
Despite years of attempts to silence him, Panahi’s new film “No Bears” shows that he has lost none of his searing political critique and wry sense of humor.
The film is partly focused on Iranians in Turkey, trying desperately to emigrate to Europe.
But it also follows Panahi himself in a fictionalized version of his real life, as he struggles to make the film from across the border in Iran, which he was already banned from leaving.
One of the film’s stars, Mina Kavani, told reporters in Venice she was inspired by his focus, despite having to direct by phone and Internet.
“He was in such concentration, he had such perfectionism — as an actress, I couldn’t let myself get sentimental,” said Kavani, who lives in exile in France.
“All that counted for him was cinema. He just wanted to make his movie. I thought: ‘I know now why he’s Mr.Panahi.’“
In 2010, Panahi was sentenced to six years in prison for “propaganda against the system” following his support for anti-government protests.
As can often happen in Iran, the sentence was never carried out but hung over him — and was only enacted in July when he went to enquire about two other filmmakers, Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad, who had just been arrested.
Panahi and Rasoulof issued a defiant statement via the Venice organizers last week, vowing to continue making art.
“The history of Iranian cinema witnesses the constant and active presence of independent directors who have struggled to push back censorship and to ensure the survival of this art,” they wrote.
Panahi has won the top prizes in Venice (for 2000’s “The Circle“) and Berlin (2015’s “Taxi“), as well as best screenplay at Cannes (2018’s “Three Faces“) — but was unable to accept either of the last two prizes in person.
The crackdown on civil society has worsened even further under President Ebrahim Raisi, an ultra-conservative former judiciary chief who came to power last year.
Yet Iran’s independent filmmakers continue to punch above their weight, in spite of the pressure.
A second Iranian film is competing for the Golden Lion this week — “Beyond the Walls” by Vahid Jalivand — a grim look at Iran’s security state and those trapped within it.
Jalivand was cautious in his words at a press conference on Thursday, saying “a balance between the two sides” was needed in Iran today.
“In this movie the hero of the movie is a security official himself. We have unfortunately reached a perspective where it is totally bipolar,” he told reporters.
“If we can create the sense of brotherhood, dialogue will become much easier, there will be less violence. This is my true belief and I would still believe this even if I were living in Europe or the United States.”
DUBAI: The glamorous Miss Universe Bahrain pageant kicked off this week with a series of online episodes, watch the latest below.

Set to culminate on Sept. 11 with the announcement of the final winner who will represent the country at the Miss Universe pageant next year, we’re taking a look at the seven contestants who have made it to the finals.
Maya Malalla
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The 18-year-old, apart from being busy with beauty campaigns and fashion shoots, works with children with autism. Her aim in life is to champion Bahraini culture, especially the women of her country.
Lujane Yacoub
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At 18, Yacoub is currently enrolled in Bahrain High School as a senior, where she has been serving as president of the Student Council. Apart from winning deals for her theater work, she is also passionate about cosplaying and has founded “Project Hero,” with plans to visit children in special needs schools and hospitals.
Maryam Naji
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A former player in the Bahrain National Fencing team, the 25-year-old is a published writer and a well-known author of horror novels. Having revealed her struggle with depression, she strives to advocate for discussing mental health issues more openly.
Evlin Khalifa
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The 24-year-old is trained in music, dance and taekwondo and is passionate about education. A graduate in finance and banking, she is currently pursuing online classes to master her Arabic and English skills, as well psychology.
Shereen Ahmed
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The half Filipino, half Bahraini 27-year-old is a presenter for a weekly show called “Emirates Draw.” She has been writing for digital publications and local brands, as well as modeling since she was 15 years old.
Maria Malalla
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The 20-year-old is a professional fashion model and a local social media influencer. She strives to be a role model to young girls in her community by encouraging kindness and modesty.
Ghadeer Alshayeb
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A fitness coach, paddle board instructor, model and martial arts trainer, the 23-year-old is also studying web media. One of her main advocacies is to educate people about leading healthy lifestyles.
DUBAI: In honor of the British monarch, we take a look at some of the gifts she received from the region during her 70-year reign.
King Hamad 
Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, king of Bahrain, presented Elizabeth with two purebred Arabian horses at the 2013 Royal Windsor Horse Show. 
Sultan Qaboos
 In 2010, former ruler of Oman Sultan Qaboos bin Said presented the queen with a 12-inch vase engraved in 21-carat gold, and a gold Faberge egg that opened to reveal a tiny toy horse.
Sheikh Khalifa 
In 1985, Qatar’s ruler at the time, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al-Thani, gave the queen a diamond necklace with a centerpiece of two large rubies. 
Sheikh Rashid
In 1979, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai at the time, gifted Elizabeth diamond and sapphire jewelry, a solid-gold sculpture of a camel, and two palm trees.
King Faisal
In 1967, Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal gifted the British monarch a necklace with 300 diamonds, including baguettes and brilliants, weighing more than 80 carats. 
King Farouk
Egypt’s King Farouk gifted the queen a gold necklace in 1947 that dated back to the third century and incorporated one of the earliest Egyptian coins.
DUBAI: Saudi actress Fatima Al-Banawi has made a career out of playing strong female characters. But that may not mean what you think. From her breakthrough role in 2016’s “Barakah Meets Barakah” to her latest Saudi thriller “Route 10,” the groundbreaking performer isn’t turning every part into Wonder Woman — instead, character by character, Al-Banawi is on a mission to show the world that Saudi women are complex, and that true strength is born from that complexity.
“Sometimes we think that portraying women as perfect makes them strong. To me it makes them flat,” Al-Banawi tells Arab News. “Women have different layers, and different sides. Women, like men, are imperfect. That’s what makes us human. I want to give my female characters layers of imperfection — sometimes naïve, sometimes selfish, sometimes arrogant — just like the best male characters. Otherwise, they’ll be soulless.”
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Initially, “Route 10,” directed by Omar Naim (“The Final Cut,” “Becoming”) seems to be a basic genre film — all thrills, no depth. Al-Banawi plays Maryam, a woman traveling by road with her brother from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi to attend their father’s wedding — a trip that turns a lot more dangerous when a stranger starts hunting them, apparently set on killing them, turning a routine road trip into a race for their lives.
Looks, Al-Banawi argues, can be deceiving.
“I realized a long time ago that you can package things that are deep and meaningful and that hit a real emotional cord within different genres. I started my career with a rom-com, ‘Barakah Meets Barakah,’ that achieved that, and now, with ‘Route 10,’ I can do that with a thriller,” she says.
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“I’m always trying to shuffle things, to repackage things. I say to myself, ‘I did this, so now I need to do this.’ I played a superstar on stage who wants the spotlight on her, so after that I wanted to play a naïve little girl. I want to tap into different elements of people — of women — that I can play and thus highlight on the silver screen,” Al-Banawi continues.
Six years removed from her breakout performance in Mahmoud Sabbagh’s “Barakah Meets Barakah,” which was only the second Saudi film to ever be submitted for Academy Awards consideration, Al-Banawi has honed her skills impressively, pushing herself as an actor and a person to make each role something both distinct and fully formed, a representation of who she is while also being something totally removed from herself.
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For “Route 10,” she went as deeply into the character as possible, laser-focused on the fact that Maryam is a Saudi female doctor, and making choices in the moment that were unscripted to highlight the many facets of her being. At times, she embraced the principles of method acting, and just as the actor Marlon Brando famously would add certain physical flourishes to his scenes because he instinctually felt they would fit the character, Al-Banawi did too.
“In one major sequence, my character approaches the body of a policeman, and I insisted I feel the (pulse) of that policeman. There was resistance on set, people said a Saudi woman would not do that. I said: ‘No, I’m playing a doctor.’ I wanted to relate to all the female doctors both in Saudi Arabia and outside of Saudi Arabia, and those doctors have instincts. Doctors try to save who is in front of them, and if someone is injured, they act without thinking. As an actor, I do so much research that, when the time comes, I have to act without thinking. I had to become in tune with how doctors deal with every situation, and that was what fueled every aspect of my performance,” she explains.
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Maryam may be a doctor with the strength to take charge in a life or death situation, but Al-Banawi stresses that the character has her flaws, too.
“She lives alone. She’s independent. But she longs for family,” she says. “She lost her mother a year ago. She’s grieving, but she never resolved her issues with all of these things. That fuels her actions in unpredictable ways.”
Al-Banawi didn’t always dream of becoming an actor. She studied psychology at Effat University in Jeddah before traveling to Harvard University for her post-graduate degree in theological studies. She focused on women, gender and Islamic studies, diving into religious texts and related materials and becoming fascinated in how important storytelling was throughout history.
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She started tracing those lines to the present day, contemplating how the storytelling of ancient times aligns with the storytelling of the contemporary world — a passion that drove her, after graduating, to theater; becoming a storyteller herself. It was, she says, never her plan to become a movie star. When a script for what could become an Academy Award submission comes across your desk, however, plans change.
“I didn’t know this was going to come my way. Maybe I was manifesting it. I didn’t see cinema as my future. Honestly, I’m really surprised with where I am today. Throughout all this change, I’m still trying to figure out my path,” says Al-Banawi. “I want to lead, but usually a leader has experience — usually a leader knows where to go. I’m leading as I’m experiencing. I don’t know the route, but I do have a strong impulse to be true to myself, to not compromise, and to be clear-minded at all times. Those principles are my guide forward, and I’m happily surprised with where they’ve gotten me,” she adds.
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As the film industry in Saudi Arabia, and the wider Arab world as a whole, continues its rapid development, with a diverse array of voices showing they have unique stories to tell, Al-Banawi is taking care not to rush her own development to try to match the pace of others, selecting projects that suit what’s best for her own journey.
“Things are changing fast, but I don’t need to be as fast as change. I need to be as fast as I need to be to grow,” she says. “It’s not about taking on as many roles as I can, it’s about diversifying, putting together a skill set and mastering it. Then, I can allow that to be contagious, in a way; to spread it, to share and grow collectively with those around me rather than just individually. I envision bigger things for both myself and us all.”
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Next, Al-Banawi’s path leads her to writing, directing, and co-producing her first feature film, “Basma,” which she’s aiming to release by the end of 2023. While taking on a feature herself is a daunting task, one that fills her with a range of emotions, she knows exactly how she’s going to do it: By allowing herself the same complexity as a person and an artist that she allows her characters.
“I’m a vulnerable and fragile person right now. It’s my first feature. As an actor, I’ve read so many scripts. I think, ‘Who am I to write my own?’ But now I’m just allowing myself to be vulnerable, taking this as a form of strength. Everything I’ve learned on set has led to this moment, has fueled who I will become as a writer and a director, and as a leader. I’m putting together a team of extraordinary people, and it will be amazing to watch them shine,” says Al-Banawi.
“I can’t talk about my own contributions too much,” she adds with a smile. “Let’s wait and see what I bring to the table.”
DUBAI: The Paris-based Egyptian visual artist Youssef Nabil has a new solo show at The Third Line gallery in Dubai, called “The Beautiful Voyage,” which contains works from 2016 onwards and runs Sept. 22 until Oct. 28.
Through his striking photography, Nabil has established himself internationally, with his work being acquired by museums and galleries across the globe — his portraits of celebrities including Alicia Keys, Robert DeNiro, Sting and many others have proved particularly popular.
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Sunny Rahbar, co-founder The Third Line — which has represented Nabil in the region since 2005, explains that Nabil’s photographs are taken in black and white, then hand painted by the artist, giving his work its distinct aesthetic. This, as US cultural journalist Bob Colacello notes in his essay for the show, results in the superimposition of “painting over photography, the human over the machine, the timeless over the immediate.”
“It’s actually an old technique,” Rahbar tells Arab News. “He has a fascination with cinema, and in early cinema they used to hand paint the film. Even though these are photographs (produced) in editions of three or five, or 10, each one is slightly different. They’re unique.”
Since 2010, Nabil has also been working with video as a medium, and the centerpiece of the new show is the titular short film starring Nabil and award-winning actress Charlotte Rampling.

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“This body of work is important because it’s quite a shift in his trajectory — in that he’s really turned the camera on himself,” says Rahbar. “There’s a lot of self-portraits and the new film is a very intimate conversation. I think there’s a maturity in this series.”
Though Nabil has never claimed to be blazing a trail for others from the Arab world, as Rahbar points out: “When an artist from this part of the world gets recognition on this level, it definitely helps further the cause.”
Here we present some highlights from the show.
‘The Beautiful Voyage’
This eight-minute video features a monologue by Rampling which tells Nabil’s own story. In her essay for the exhibition, art scholar and curator Layla S. Diba writes: “The two protagonists lie in a bathtub in a ghostly bathroom seated far apart, together yet separate. Both figures are archetypes: Rampling the eternal Mother and Nabil the spectral figure of Egyptian lore and son. Rampling reassures the artist that he never truly left his loved ones or his country, that life is a journey, a dream, that his true home is movement and that the dead are never truly lost to us. The words are the artist’s own, the first script he has written and published, and represent a moving summation of the wisdom he has acquired through the years as an outsider in an ever-changing and unsettled world, which resonates deeply.”
‘The Dream’
Among the 21 prints in the show is this 2021 self-portrait of Nabil asleep under a tree under a moonlit sky (both of which recur throughout his work). He is dreaming, and being visited by three angels. According to Diba, this image is a “slightly altered version” of an 1883 work by French painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, which Nabil was immediately drawn to. “A similar dreamlike quality is frequently encountered in (Nabil’s) oeuvre,” she writes. “Nabil clearly identifies with the sleeping figure of the lonely wanderer, now transformed into the contemporary artist and his dreams of glory.”
‘Your Life Was Just A Dream’
Another theme of the works on display, Diba notes, is “nostalgia for an Orientalist fantasy of ancient Egypt … The fantasy of Egypt as a verdant green landscape or a fertile oasis … is referenced by a number of the photographs in this series although none are set in Egypt.” This 2019 image is one such example, and also shares the sense of loss and longing that permeates so many of Nabil’s images.
‘The Visitor’
This piece from 2021 encompasses what Diba calls “(Nabil’s) ultimate acceptance of his identity as a nomad wandering the earth.” She also describes the figure in such self-portraits as evoking the Palestinian intellectual Edward Said and the Jewish author Lev Nussenbaum, “who adopted the persona of a Muslim writer to pen one of the most popular pre-war romance novels ‘Ali and Nino.’” All three, she notes “have navigated successfully between worlds and produced their greatest works as exiles.”

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