As a Christian, there was very little chance for me to witness a pilgrimage to the city of Medina, the second-holiest city in Islam after Mecca. The center of the city is restricted to Muslims, so I stayed at a hotel on the perimeter from where I had to manage the opening of a hotel directly facing the Mosque.
Some of the most pressing questions were: What type of products would I be able to find in the city or, more generally, in the Kingdom of Saudi? What unique and sexy recipe could I use to create a drink in a country where alcohol is prohibited?
I prepared for my trip working on some special mocktail recipes as I wanted to bring a different approach to the “virgin” collection, what I call the “me-too list” of alcoholic drinks. Forget the Virgin Mojito or Virgin Bloody Mary; I thought I could do better than that. My idea was very clear: to use some key ingredients from the region, bringing a contemporary and unique twist to their combinations.
Two ingredients in particular caught my attention: rose and honey.
As a gift to my hosts I had brought a selection of violet flowers and candied roses, a tradition in France that goes back to the 13th century. Candied flowers mainly use violet but also rose, acacia or orange blossom. My Saudi host in turn brought to my attention the great reputation of the rose of Taif. He even brought me some fresh petals that he was able to buy somewhere in the city.
The region “Taif” is close to Jeddah, where the land rises above 2,000 m (6,562 ft) and with a right climate and soil produces the “Arabia Rose” — a typical 30-petal rose, maybe brought from the Balkans by the Ottoman, perhaps from India or even the former Persia. This rose is very often used for perfume, rose oil or rose water, but also in the kitchen for desserts, drinks or sweets. During a fantastic creative moment with my pastry chef and drinks expert we developed several variations with these specific rose petals, from classic crystallization to an exclusive rose water.
The second ingredient also came to me by chance. I had heard that honey is considered “the food of the foods, the drink of the drinks” in the Kingdom, and our HR manager brought me some samples of spring honey from the Medina region to make his point. The taste was truly unique — flowery, yet strong and pronounced, wild, oriental and quite liquid.
Now that we had the key ingredients we combined chilled Jasmine tea, lychee juice, lemon juice and the spring honey for the perfect drink. Adding a spritz of rose aroma, one candied rose petal and finally a delicate rose foam on top I somewhat presumptuously called the drink “Fragrance of Paradise.”
This is a long story to make a simple point: Even in the middle of the desert, in one of the driest climates on earth, delightful products such as rose and honey chosen with attention and meaning can produce unexpected culinary results. The combination happened to be a unique creation, a mocktail that I will proudly remember all my life and that to this day you can still find in the holy city of Medina, at the Shaza hotel, which means “fragrance” in Arabic.
Recipe: “Fragrance of Paradise”
75 ml chilled Jasmine tea
100 ml lychee juice
20 ml honey
15 ml lemon juice
Spritz rose aroma
1 rose petal
1. Add Jasmine tea, lychee juice, honey and lemon juice to a Boston shaker and shake.
2. Strain the ingredients over crushed ice.
3. Top with rose foam, garnish with a rose petal and finish the cocktail with a spritz of rose water.
*Recipe: Rose foam
350 ml water
4 teaspoons agar agar flakes
50 ml rose water
75 ml rose syrup
2 egg whites
1. Add water to a pan and stir in the agar flakes.
2. Bring to a boil and simmer for 6 minutes, stirring until the agar has dissolved.
3. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
4. Add rose water, rose syrup and beaten egg whites. Whisk all together.
5. Pour into a cream siphon, shake and cool.
Nota Bene: The final recipe has been done with the support of my friends from the Gorgeous Group in London