Where We Are Going Today: Wallflower by Le Cafe in Alkhobar, Saudi Arabia

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Baking pastries, a hobby that provided an escape and a coping mechanism during his last years at medical school, eventually turned into a passion that became Abdullah Alghufaily’s profession.

Alghufaily is now a psychiatrist by day and a pastry chef at night. He opens his first pastry shop this week.

His baking journey began with a simple cheesecake. With no prior experience in the kitchen, he started mixing and folding ingredients together, following the recipe he found on YouTube.

That source soon proved insufficient to satisfy Alghufaily’s curiosity about baking and pastries.

He said: “I wanted to raise the quality of the pastry I was making because you reach a stage where YouTube is no longer a helpful resource. I wanted to dig deeper and develop a real understanding of pastry.” 

He wandered through bookstores, searching for the key to delve into the science of baking, but found himself struggling with the basics.

A golden ticket arrived from the Misk Foundation in late 2019, helping Alghufaily toward becoming the pastry chef he is today. It was an opportunity to study the science of baking at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, the pastry capital of the world.

Misk’s program was offered during Alghufaily’s final year of medical school at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Science in Riyadh.

“I couldn’t turn this rare chance down, as it costs around SR1 million ($266,000) to study there, with the living costs added, so I had to postpone my last year and request a leave of absence for one whole year,” he said.

“It wasn’t an easy thing to do. I had to get the approval from my family and the university, which wasn’t easy because the longest duration offered for a leave of absence at the university is usually one to two months.”

After obtaining approval, Alghufaily packed his luggage with a mixing bowl and measuring cups and headed to the pastry capital of the world. 

Alghufaily started the program at Le Cordon Bleu in early 2020, a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was affecting the world.

He said: “With COVID-19 happening, I felt I was in a race against time as the time I requested off to be in Paris was going to waste.

“I needed to request another leave of absence, and I was struggling as I wasn’t sure of anything and all of my plans seemed vague then.”

Everything eventually worked out for Alghufaily. He completed his program at Le Cordon Bleu, received a diploma in pastry, and then traveled back to Riyadh to complete his medical degree.

He said: “Attending Le Cordon Bleu honed my skills as a pastry chef, but being in Paris and trying different pastry shops made me the chef I am today. 

“The pastry shops in Paris are run by chefs of different nationalities, each infusing flavors of their own culture into the pastries they make, and this enables you to build a framework of different flavors.”

Paris had a significant impact on Alghufaily, and the baked goods he has chosen to include in the menu of his dream business.

While designing the blueprint for it, Alghufaily made a name for himself by showcasing his talent and baked goods at several food festivals across the Kingdom and abroad.

He said: “I participated in the Saudi Coffee Festival and the Saudi Feast Food Festival in Riyadh, with specially made waffles infused with kleija spices playing with local flavors.

“The waffles with kleija spices were a hit and traveled all the way to Paris as I was given the opportunity by the Saudi Fashion Commission to participate in Paris Fashion Week as part of a pop-up event held in France to showcase Saudi’s creative talents.”

Alghufaily’s waffles with kleija spices will soon be available, along with other items, in his first shop, Floated, which opens for business this week following its soft opening on Thursday.

Floated is creative and unique, and promises new items monthly.

Pointing at a glass box outside of the shop, Alghufaily said: “This box will display the product of the month.

“The name Floated came from the idea that this shop doesn’t have a fixed menu. What we are doing is floating with different flavors. You can find the most unexpected, delicious baked goods at a low cost here, something everyone can enjoy.”

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