INTERVIEW: In conversation with the meat maverick himself, Chef Fadel of BigT BBQ

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The well-known and loved face behind BigT BBQ, Chef Fadel Faour is a no-fuss guy with a delicious story to tell

“Any cuisine I want to learn? I can be good at it in like six months.”

Sat in camping chairs on the footpath opposite BigT BBQ , Palestinian Chef Fadel ‘Big Tasty’  Faour’s self-assurance is more than validated by the overwhelming lines of people queuing up for a bite.

Offering everything from tender beef cheeks to brisket slices oozing with juices, endless sweet tea refills to a Tres leches cake that will leave you speechless, the nondescript location in Al Quoz has become a crowd favourite ever since it went viral on the ‘Gram in December 2022.

With little more than word-of-mouth by way of marketing, the chef confesses he didn’t really do much to make the place as popular as it has come to be. The Texas-style brisket smokehouse was once his father’s chocolate factory and doesn’t initially look like much with a graffiti styled signboard and modest interiors.

But Chef Fadel’s all-or-nothing passion for cooking is arguably what’s propelled the eatery’s credibility.

“My cooking is not just a job. It’s a lifestyle, I take it seriously. I have no option to do anything else, I don’t want any other career. And when you got to do it, you got to do it,” he says matter-of-factly.

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Opportunity came knocking with the pandemic when the erstwhile chocolate factory closed its doors. Chef Fadel was prematurely nudged into research, which eventually led to BigT BBQ opening in 2022.

And if the wall lined with photos of repeat customers is any indication, it certainly turned out to be a great decision.

Why this style of food, then? “I just saw it in front of me. I was in New York first, then went to Texas. I thought the smokers looked cool, one thing led to another and we’re here now. There wasn’t much thought into it.”

The dichotomy between his callous rationales and meticulous attention-to-detail is perhaps one of the things his customers love. With most chefs preferring an aura of mystique even in the digital age, Chef Fadel has gone left field with his approach and chooses to make full use of his Instagram account.

All week, customers are alerted to new menu items being experimented with, changes in kitchen equipment, and even potential flaws with the latest brisket batch. During their opening hours on weekends too, you get regular updates on the page about the queues, sold-out items and more to plan your visit accordingly.

But for the talkative chef, this is just an extension of his persona since childhood. What was once a social media group with his friends has simply opened up to the public, such is the unpretentiousness of it all.

Dedication to the craft is seemingly inbuilt for Chef Fadel, who reflexively stops mid-sentence to respond to any queries the staff might have. And while the hands-on approach keeps the customers coming, it also stands as a reminder of the arduous journey before fame arrived.

“Most restaurants in Dubai use the contractor model, whereby they hire someone to set up the place, train the staff, and give you the keys once it’s all done. But then there’s no consistency,” the chef observes.

“Honestly, since I began, the challenges included starting the place, being scammed by contractors, people don’t do the job right so I had to chase them around, you know, things like that.”

While BigT BBQ remains one of the earliest brisket spots dishing up fare of its kind, several restaurants with eerily similar concepts have since popped up. And while imitation is the biggest form of flattery, the chef also finds its cringey to be aped.

“Around three people have opened up vaguely around us that are copying everything. From being open only on weekends to talking the way I do and even our menus, they are jumping on the bandwagon and think that people might get confused. Maybe it’s just like a social media boom, everything in this genre is getting attention, I don’t know. But yeah, I don’t think about it much. If you’re not original, people will notice through the bulls@!#.”

Among the chef ’s many eccentricities is his regard for a work-life balance. Contrary to popular notions, he’s content with working on weekends to deliver quality and ensure some time to rest. Which has also left him time to plan and create a laboratory to experiment at in the back.

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“I’m making a central kitchen of sorts in the back. So I’m buying all kinds of equipment. Like an R&D place where I can cook everything I like, from pizzas and pastas to fried chicken and steaks. So it will be like a laboratory with all kinds of ovens, fryers, everything,” he elaborates with a gleam in his eye.

If the 1,000-gallon Texan smoker and rows upon rows of imported wood are anything to go by, the chef ’s vision is not far from becoming a reality. Even as we speak, he wrestles vigorously with a newly purchased iSi gun to create perfect whipped cream foam that will adorn his latest experiment – a chocolate cheesecake. (We tried it and spoiler alert – it’s decadence personified)

All said and done, you cannot have a conversation in 2024 without speaking of sustainability, especially when tonnes of meat, meticulous method and maverick gastronomy have gone into it.

But there’s no greenwashing here.

“We’re in Dubai, you cannot source locally. Where are you going to get the beef locally? Everything you do is not environmentally friendly because we’re in the middle of the desert, we’re defying nature. So there is no way around that. Even if you want to live off the land and plant your trees and stuff, you need to import compost and soil. That said, we don’t waste anything out of respect for the resource we’re using. The brisket is used end to end, the potatoes get used skins and all. We don’t waste anything. I’d rather sell out an hour before closing than waste food.”

Bringing an anti-establishment agenda to the table, the chef is also disillusioned with international chains right from clothing to food and beyond. That local-led idealogy means Chef Fadel has created BigT BBQ on firm circular economy principles. “Why not support the locals, they will come back and help me again. Let’s say, it’s a furniture manufacturer, he’s going to use that money to come eat at my restaurant. And it’s like a full circle, so it’s better for us here.”


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Image source BigT BBQ

Caroline D’Almeida

A little bit of India, a little more of the UAE, and a lot of shawarma perhaps best captures Caroline’s anatomy. An avid believer in value for money, her hobbies include putting the ‘elite lifestyle’ to the test. And finding cheaper dupes for it all. A Sharjah girl new to the capital, she hopes to discover the pulse of the emirate.