Myself and a few other food bloggers were invited to spend our Saturday touring the Barakat factories here in Dubai; having lived here for over 20 years I have always been aware of Barakat as a company and I remember when they first brought out their juice range so to have a chance to see how they manage to get all their fresh produce out every day was something I wasn’t going to pass up – plus I am incredibly nosey so getting to see behind the doors of the factory just entices my curious mind.
We got there early, even with having to navigate the perilous Jebal Ali Freezone and the sandstorm that had decided to grace us. Upon our arrival we were warmly welcomed by the receptionist and offered a juice – any juice – and being the indecisive people we are this posed a challenge! But we went with mixed berry, and it really was a good choice – it was so fresh and tasty, you could taste each individual berry that had been used and it made such a nice change from the concentrated juices you tend to get stuck with here. We ended up waiting for quite a while for the rest of the group to join, but it was okay, everyone in the Barakat office is unbelievably friendly that you feel very comfortable sitting in the reception area waiting and just watching the people milling around getting on with their day – it also helped that the main doors had been closed to keep out the sand blowing about outside and despite the sign on the door to use the other entrance every single person who walked up almost walked into the glass, so we were entertained.
Once everyone had arrived we were introduced to the CEO and the Managing Director, we heard a little about the company and where the ideas had come from and the whole time all I kept thinking was that the enthusiasm from everyone who worked for Barakat was palpable, they just projected pure happiness and the pride was evident. It made a massive difference to the energy in the room to have such a passionate group of people welcoming you into their world.
We began our tour of the first factory (where they prepare the fruit and fruit juice) by donning some very sexy outfits – long insulated green jackets, hair nets, face masks and protective booties on our shoes; safe to say we all rock a hair net pretty well. Once we were kitted out we began our tour, we saw where they store the fruit that comes in to make the juices (I have never seen so many oranges in my life!) and then we began to move through the inner workings of the production line. We saw the machines they use to make and bottle the orange juices as well as the production methods for their other fruit juice which is amazingly all done by hand, from the peeling to the bottling it’s all manual and very very impressive. To watch these guys peel a pineapple or a watermelon in seconds was something to behold, the knife skills were mind-blowing and it makes my poor attempts at trying to get into fruit look even more pathetic (which is why I tend to buy ready prepared stuff from people like Barakat because clearly they have it down to an art!). We saw where they produce the fruit servings for Emirates Airlines and the fruit salads for Starbucks, we heard all about the very strict specifications airlines have for the sizes of their food and the different ways each fruit is prepared depending on which class it is for.
We also got a great oppertunity to sample a selection of their fresh juices fresh off the line, from smoothies to avacado juice we tried them all and I have definatly found some new flavours I had ummed and ahhhed about previously.
The entire tour we were guided by Chef Mike, the managing director of Barakat and visionary behind the juices and ready prepared fruit and vegetables, he told us all about each stage of production and was full of all sorts of anecdotes from his time with the company. It was easy to see his passion for good, fresh produce and how he had helped translate this into the company.
After we finished making our way around the fruit factory we all headed over to phase II where they produce the vegetables, hot food and ice cream – yes Barakat make ice cream and not just your run of the mill chocolate, vanilla and strawberry processed crap, no, they make some of the most wonderful flavours all using their fresh produce and it’s creamy, flavourful and amazing but unfortunately it hasn’t made it to the retail market yet, just hospitality, but it’s coming so keep an eye out!
When we rocked up at phase II there was a distinct smell of onions in the air and we knew what was coming, tears, lots of tears. We put on our wonderful outfits for a second time and made our way into the kitchen with Chef Mike. He showed us how he likes to use their pre-prepared vegetable products in his cooking as well as some tips and tricks for making the most of their new steam in a bag product – I had never though of using a small amount of soup as a coating for vegetables but seriously, try it, it’s delicious! Genius.
After the taste test – all important of course – we began our tour of the vegetable factory. Essentially the same layout as the fruit one but with a room that should require you to wear goggles; the onion and garlic room, it is safe to say that after that experience I will a) never complain about my job again – okay we all know that’s a lie but at least I don’t have to peel and prep onions all day with tears streaming down my and b) I will be far more appreciative of my packs of ready peeled and chopped onions now! If you have ever experienced being in a closed room with crates and crates of not only brown onions but white and the extra pungent India red onions both whole and already chopped you will understand exactly how painful it is on your eyes!
We saw where they peeled potatoes – by hand (which I am pretty sure was a method of punishment on ships in years gone by) where they chopped the carrots and also where they prepped all the bits for their ready-made salads. I don’t think you can grasp the self-restraint I had to excercise while walking around to not pick up bits and nibble on them! They were all just so beautiful and fresh I could have just eaten all day.
After all the vegetables we saw where the magic really happens – the ice cream room. Some of the flavours they were churning out (pun fully intended) are mouth-watering, from after eight to mulled wine to lychee and coconut, I could have died! I’m not even that big of an ice cream fan but give me exciting flavours that don’t taste like chemicals and I am more than happy to eat it until I’m sick. I am really excited for these ice creams to make their way to the retail market, I think it’s something Dubai could do with, locally made, delicious ice cream.
Once we had finished our tour of the second factory we made our way upstairs to the offices where lunch was being served, everything on offer was made using Barakat products (including the chicken and beef sausages because yes, they are moving into meat production too!) and it was all delicious, most of all was the onion soup they had; after a cold day in the factories a bowl of warm and unbelievably delicious soup was just what we needed! I definitely am of the opinion that they need to add that onion soup to their line of ready-made soups asap because I know I for one would stock my fridge and happily live on it for the next few months when it gets a bit chilly out. We also had a chance to sample some of the ice creams and the coconut one took me straight back to markets in Thailand – fresh, creamy and full of bits of shredded coconut: heaven.
Overall it was a great way to spend a Saturday, something completely new and different and it’s safe to say I could be a complete Barakat convert.