In September 2016, three men carried a massive cactus across The Yard at Alserkal Avenue. They set it outside a black iron door that was partially hidden from sight, being along the side of a large block of four warehouses that was still under construction. A few days later, we received invitations to dinner at a place called ‘INKED’. No address. Just…“look for the cactus”.
On the evening in question, we walked across The Yard, knocked, and waited to see what lay behind the giant cactus. It was Patrick who let us in and welcomed us into a cavernous hall that looked like a chic industrial loft in Paris. The cornices featured classic moulding that spelled a timeless elegance and the single table set in the middle of the hall was both understated and opulent at the same time. The perfectly arranged accoutrements all faded into the background as Kenza and Patrick made a little toast and inaugurated the dream that they’d been working towards for years.
Kenza Jarjour always knew, in her bones, what it was she wanted to do when she grew up. She didn’t experience the vacillations that others went through, from flight attendant to heart surgeon. From her very first taste of sushi, at age 6, she was bitten by the food bug. Her curiosity, piqued by the unique flavours of Japanese food, led her to the joy that comes with discovering new tastes, textures and flavours. From that young age, Kenza knew that no matter what path she took, that somehow her life would end up being abot food.
Through her high school years, Kenza plotted with her friend and classmate, Patrick, to one day open a ‘restaurant’. Patrick’s passion was about making events happen. The doodles that occupied the otherwise pristine edges of many a philosophy textbook would eventually become reality.
The road to INKED wasn’t simple or straightforward. Neither Patrick nor Kenza took the traditional routes that would logically lead them to open a restaurant. Kenza opted for a life in finance in New York, and Patrick became a serial entrepreneur, but neither path could seduce them away from their collective dream.
They tried launching a few different F&B concepts, including a stint researching grilled cheese, before the idea for INKED was born.
“We went to Berlin and discovered the city’s underground food scene,” says Kenza. “It was really about experimenting, creating new things and not having to fit in one box. It was about an expression of emotions, art and expertise through food.” That experience sparked the idea for INKED—a departure from the focus on food franchises, cuisines, and food brands.
“What we wanted was to create a space where people could connect through their shared passion for food,” says Kenza.
A conversation with Vilma Jurkute, Director of Alserkal Avenue, sparked the idea for Good Vibes Market – a collective of culinary concepts that comes to life for events in the Avenue. “This is where the makers are really at the centre of what we do,” says Kenza. And, in practice, the formula works. People want to know who’s behind that charcoal-activated lemonade ice cream that they’ve seen before, and they want to have a conversation about it. From the success of Good Vibes Market, it was just a matter of time before the concept for INKED became clear and then viable.
Announced only by the massive cactus-cum-homing-beacon that sits outside its front door, INKED is tucked away in a corner of The Yard in Alserkal Avenue. If you didn’t know it existed, you’d have no idea of the world of wonderment and imagination that lies beyond its heavy iron door. It seems pithy to describe it as just a culinary concept because it really is a creative journey.
As Patrick puts it, INKED is “a combination of both of our passions in a physical space. It allows us to create our own events, our own food experiences, but also to welcome people from different walks of life who share a passion for food and express it in different ways.”
The space, brought to life by Patrick and Kenza Jarjour, is deeply rooted in culinary experiences, but it’s much more than the sum of its professional kitchens and the temperature and humidity-controlled chocolate room.
Kenza spent a few sleepless nights trying to find the perfect name for the childhood dream that she and Patrick had nurtured for years. It needed to be something that would convey the experience; something that would carry the weight of the hopes that they had infused the concept with. Ideas would come up, and then be rejected arbitrarily. And then, as most such things do, it came to her in epiphanic fashion at 4am. INKED was the perfect name; as Kenza puts it: “At its core, INKED is about allowing the food to be more open and human. It’s not meant to be perfect. It’s meant to leave a memory. Hence the name. You can leave with the memory of something you ate; someone you met. The idea is to give people a chance to pay attention to all the details that go into the experience.”