Karen McLean's Fashionable Food

BY Harper's Bazaar Arabia / Oct 23 2015 / 14:53 PM

We spend fine minutes with the Dubai-based 'Secret Squirrel Food' blogger and talk snack trucks, farmers’ markets and recipe failures

Karen McLean's Fashionable Food
Karen McLean's Fashionable Food
Gluten-Free Baked Doughnuts
Karen McLean's Fashionable Food
Karen McLean photographed at Comptoir 102 Cafe, Jumeirah Beach

With the motto; "Shh… Don’t tell them it’s healthy!" Karen McLean is a Melbourne-born creative mind, photographer and chef behind food blog, Secret Squirrel. She creates treats such as gluten free baked doughnuts and for that alone she deserves five minutes of your time. Bazaar sits down with the charming foodie to find out more...

What prompted you to start a blog?
I’ve been cooking for years so one day I decided to start putting my photos on Instagram and Secret Squirrel Food was born. I’m overwhelmed by all the lovely comments I receive daily. It always puts a smile on my face.

Where does your recipe inspiration come from?
If I’m not thinking about food, I’m cooking or I’m eating. I’m always trying to make food healthier and I love sneaking vegetables and greens in wherever I can. The puzzled reaction on people’s faces when I tell them that the ingredients are actually good for them makes me giggle every time and inspires me to cook. Secret Squirrel is my heart, my soul and I put everything I love into it.

What is your most popular recipe?
My raw vanilla coconut fig slice. A walnut fig base, layered with a vanilla coconut cashew cream, topped with fresh fig slices... It’s completely raw, vegan, sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free and absolutely drool-worthy! It’s so delicious, you wouldn’t even know it’s healthy.

Any epic failures?
I once tried to make a kiwi lime cheesecake and it went horribly wrong. I love experimenting and sometimes the recipe doesn’t go so well and other times, it’s an absolute success. You will often find me dancing in the kitchen and high-fiving the air because I’m so happy with what I’ve just cooked.

How has the food scene changed in the UAE?
There is a growing demand for healthy eating options. With an increasing trend for using locally sourced ingredients and fresh organic produce, a number of amazing cafes and restaurants are now serving nutritious and wholesome food. You will often find me at the farmers’ market at Emirates Towers on Friday mornings to pick up local organic produce and then at Zabeel Park for the Ripe Market.

What excites you right now?
Food trucks… I love the up-and-coming street food concepts popping up. Social media plays a huge role in their popularity and it’s great to see the UAE embracing the trend. It’s also fun going food truck hunting.

Where are your Dubai hotspots?
I love Tom & Serg; it’s one of the city’s coolest cafes and serves the best coffee in town. What I love most is that it reminds me of home in Melbourne. My favourite healthy eatery is Comptoir 102 and I love Chez Sushi. It’s a Japanese restaurant where you can custom build your own perfect sushi. If I want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city I love chilling out at The Farm, Al Barari.

What is you rmost memorable meal?
It has to be my dad’s Vietnamese pho. It consists of the yummiest bowl of fragrant broth, cooked for hours and hours. In fact, every meal at my parent’s house is memorable. Nothing beats home cooking and you can’t find it anywhere else in the world.

What's next for you?
I hope to continue to be a food inspiration and encourage everyone to lead a happier and healthier lifestyle. I’m working on a number of exciting projects, but they are still a secret for now, so stay tuned.