Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Baghdad

JUMA Kitchen and the Rapture of Iraqi Cuisine

 JUMA Kitchen and the Rapture of Iraqi Cuisine

London (IraqiNews.com) – To be a cook is to be a storyteller. Food tells a story. This story is JUMA Kitchen. 

Philip Juma, the culinary mastermind behind JUMA Kitchen, is all hands on deck. There is something special happening in this kitchen, and as you approach an atmosphere rich in character and color, iconic dishes steeped in culture and history start to overwhelm you. Just the sweet sizzle of fresh kubba, that oh-so legendary Iraqi dish, promises nirvana.

When you dine at JUMA Kitchen, it is more than just a meal, it is a multi layered sensory experience. The focus is on quality and authenticity, in a modern, fast-casual setting celebrating Iraqi cuisine.

Born and raised in London, the son of an Iraqi immigrant and an English-Irish mother, Juma felt it was his calling to put Iraqi food on the map. His food is a labor of love – a connection to his roots and ancestral land of Mesopotamia. The land where man first settled and began to plough its fertile soil domesticating the first species of wheat, barley, millet, chickpeas, as well as dates and pomegranates. It was here that the world’s oldest cuisine and kitchen were born. A cuisine that many others came to learn and were influenced by.

His mission is simple yet powerful – To share his beloved Iraqi food with as many people as possible.

In a time when this cuisine was not so “hip,” Juma felt a real urgency to share his love for Iraqi cooking. “If you don’t know someone who is Iraqi you are most likely never going to try this food,” Juma tells Iraqi News. 

A pioneer in many ways, he says: “I am all about mainstream, breaking barriers, going after the people who don’t know about the cuisine. I am here to change the dialect, change the listening, interrupt – all through food.”

Philip Juma is all smiles at his JUMA Kitchen in Borough Market.

With a background in Economics and an initial career in finance, it did not take Juma long to realize his heart was not in it. Instead, a deep sense of calling and an outright responsibility came upon him to preserve, narrate and bring to life the beauty and complexity of Iraqi cuisine to those who had never tasted it. “The intricacy of the spicing, the cooking technique, the labor intensity – that needed to be celebrated,” Juma continues. “I knew that from quiet early this cuisine is insane (in a good way), a cut above the rest.”

In November 2013, Juma took a leap of faith and opened his first ever pop-up with a themed Iraqi-inspired dinner. It was at that moment something in him sparked; JUMA Kitchen was born and he was on a quest to bring Iraqi food to the masses. He went on a journey, of pop-ups and supper clubs, building his brand – a stage in his life and his cooking where Juma was free to explore and try things out. The JUMA brand began to thrive. 

His mission is simple yet powerful – To share his beloved Iraqi food with as many people as possible.

Juma revisits the painful journey he endured in the early days: “For three years all I did in London were pop-ups. It was so hard because you don’t really make much and there is so much work involved. The financial situation was difficult because I was not earning like I was in finance.”

Many, including his family, tried to talk him out of it. They thought he was crazy to let go of a steady income and take such a risk. But he is glad he stuck to it and shares that Iraqi pride and celebration are always in the background of everything he does.

“I am self taught all the way and proud. All I had was inspiration. No mentor, nothing,” Juma adds. 

Juma sharing his love for Iraqi food with the world.

After mastering his art, Juma was ready for Borough Market – one of the world’s most historic and reputable markets in central London. To be in Borough Market is to be relevant.

“I cried on the phone when they told me I was to join. It was such a moment. Borough was just perfect. I thought for the first time there is going to be Iraqi representation,” he says. It was November 2019 and JUMA Kitchen was finally ready for its grand debut.

Three months of trade and then the pandemic hit. Juma describes this time as most testing.

In the thick of the pandemic, Juma did an NHS “dish of the day” every Friday where he cooked an Iraqi dinner. It was well received in the community. Everything was for charity and this Friday ritual entailed hundreds of meals cooked by Juma, packed, loaded and driven to hospitals all around London. 

The popular Kubba Halab.

His signature dish is kubba – in all of its delicious varieties.

Attention to detail is what makes Juma a master of his craft. “I have probably tasted every rice to find out what’s the crunchiest rice shell for that kubba halab. If we have done potato chap I have probably tasted all the potatoes out there. We do everything with a lot of passion, love and obsession.”

“There was an Iraqi Jew, an Iraqi Muslim and an Iraqi Christian and they were all talking and I got chills just watching them interact.” 

Just a few months ago Juma embarked on a food journey to his beloved Iraq. Sharing with the world his trip on Instagram, Juma was blown away by the reaction of his followers: “It was so special how Iraqis responded to every story and photo.” Juma found that his posts somehow became this deep-seated emotional trigger that would result in hundreds of messages pouring in. And although the trip was intended to be just for him, it became evident that it was way bigger and deeper in purpose. “This trip was for the whole diaspora worldwide,” Juma says. 

Attention to detail, Juma creating his magic.

His brand is growing globally, with pop-ups in Copenhagen and the United Arab Emirates, to name a few. Expansion is inevitable, even though he admits his greatest struggle will be finding someone who is just as obsessed, intricate and aligned about the cuisine.

Today, Juma stands tall as a proud Iraqi-Londoner sharing his story with the world. With a genuinely organic and diehard Instagram following numbering in the tens of thousands and growing, Juma’s achievements include appearances on BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen and Masterchef The Professionals (2021). He was also awarded Finalist for Best Street Food by the BBC Food & Farming Awards and invited by the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu cookery school to teach Iraqi cooking classes. He has hosted over 100 sell-out suppers and catered numerous high-end events, including the Financial Times.

“The pinnacle moment of my career was when I was on the BBC Saturday Kitchen Live cooking show; a show that my father and I used to watch together, and I was on it. It was such a big moment for me. I get chills just thinking about it,” recalls Juma.

Transcending religious, racial and political divides, JUMA Kitchen is essentially a meeting point where community, love, culture and cuisine are being celebrated. “There was an Iraqi Jew, an Iraqi Muslim and an Iraqi Christian and they were all talking and I got chills just watching them interact. And, that’s the point, Juma said. “No religion can get in the way. JUMA is food. It is love.”

Philip Juma is putting Iraq on the culinary map, one kubba at a time.