Husband and wife, Salim al Kalbani and Amal al Khabori, founders and owners of The Dried Lemon catering business
Q. Tell us a little bit about yourselves.
A: I’m not just a mum (to Noah, aged 15 months), I have a finance and accounting background and I help co-run The Dried Lemon with Salim.
S: I have a marketing background and a few years ago I decided that I didn’t want to work for anyone any more, I wanted to be my own boss. We mainly cater for birthdays, weddings, romantic dinners and parties, with a bit of corporate.
Q. How did you get the idea for The Dried Lemon? Presumably, you both enjoyed cooking.
A: I’ve been cooking for a very long time. My mother used to have a business called Cinderella Sweets, which may ring a bell for a lot of people. I decided that since we do cook really well, we needed to come up with something that is local because we love Oman so much. Using shuwa, dates and all of that was very standard but nobody had really exposed the dried lemon as a spice. Usually, it is used in savoury dishes and we decided to incorporate it into desserts. The dried lemon is called Loomi Amani and it is used in international cuisines, as well as Omani.
S: I originally wanted The Blue Potato as a name. I wanted something different and I found out that you could get purple potatoes and blue potatoes and I was going to make a dish out of blue potatoes. The dried lemon is one of the oldest spices in the Gulf. It has travelled around the world. If you were to go into a spice shop in London and ask for a Loomi Amani, they would have one.
Q. It’s been two years since you started the business, how has it gone? What have been the biggest ups and downs for you both?
S: It has been a great two years for us and I don’t want to say that we’ve had ups and downs but rather it’s been little obstacles along the way. But our biggest challenge so far was our son Noah’s first birthday. We baked a cake (see below) that was two feet high and 55 kilos in weight. It was themed as the “March to Noah’s Ark”, so we had all the animals and the ark, with the mountains and ocean.
A: All the animals were made out of sugar and it took us 10 days just to make these, as we had two of each animal. In all, it took us 14 days to make.
Q. With Noah, how do you combine motherhood/fatherhood with having a business?
A: I actually have an 8-5 job during the day. I go to work in the mornings and come back late afternoon and then I spend whatever time I have with Salim and Noah. Then once Noah has had dinner and gone to bed, we go into The Dried Lemon workstation and we continue, maybe from 8.30 or 9 all the way up to midnight, sometimes two o’clock in the morning. If there’s a lot of work, as it’s just the two of us, we have a nanny who helps and a maid. And also the grandparents play a big role in this. If we can’t put Noah to bed, then my mother or father will come over and spend that time with him.
Q. What’s it like living and working together? Do you fight and who is the boss?
S: Well, I’m the boss (laughs). Actually it’s quite easy (to work together) as we already know what we both like and don’t like so when we are creating a new dish, it just comes naturally to us.
A: We are going to surprise you. We have never had a fight to date. We discuss our disagreements and agree to disagree most of the time.
Q. Tell us about some of the great food that you make?
A: The main speciality comes from our signature dishes, which are The Dried Lemon cookies, Dried Lemon cupcakes and The Dried Lemon cake. It took us 45 days and 500 cookies to perfect the taste. Dried lemon can be very bitter, so we had to find out how to remove this bitterness but keep the flavour. We also make a lot of our own ingredients, like our cheese. Our cheesecake will not taste like any other on the market.
Q. Any special plans for The Dried Lemon during Ramadan and in the future?
A: It is going to be busy but we are actually planning to introduce a few new concepts. We try to take the ordinary and give it a twist. We don’t just do shuwa; we take the shuwa and make canapés with it. We are also looking at cooking classes in the future. We have more than 700 of our own recipes, all handwritten, so a recipe book is also a possibility.
One lucky reader is about to find out just how good Amal and Salim’s food really is with Y’s competition. The prize is a selection of three canapés, savoury and sweet. To win, just answer:
“How long did it take Amal and Salim to perfect the perfect Loomi Cookie?” Send your answer with your contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 30.