Monday, March 14, 2011
Ahmed Mahmoud, Kitchen Manager, HI-Chicago
By Margaret Sheridan
Breakfast at HI-Chicago is served with more than delicious calories. The morning host and kitchen manager Ahmed Mahmoud prides himself in greeting guests in seven languages. The Egyptian-born 26-year old actor/singer/dancer/musician works from 5:30 am to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. But lately, he expects to be especially tired.
The native of Alexandria and his American-born wife Shawna just welcomed their first child, a son named Bilal, on March 9. “My heart flew out of my body when he arrived,’’ enthused the new father. Mother, father and the six-pound bundle of smiles are doing well.
How long have you been in Chicago and what's your impression of it?
I came here in 2008 and worked in a beauty salon. The owner was Egyptian. My wife’s family is from here, so we had instant family. We met in Cairo. She was a tourist; I was working as a singer in a nightclub. Moving here was great. Chicago is such a beautiful city. There’s so much to do. I love the lakefront and singing on the beach. Before I moved here, I imagined it would be a city with the Mafia. You know, gangs fighting on the street. That was a myth. Americans are friendly and curious. There’s respect for people on the street.
What are some favorite things about Chicago?
It’s an international city. It’s a destination place. I like working at HI-Chicago because I meet people from all over the world. Chicago is so easy to get around. You have so many choices in transportation. You take the bus or the subway. The Metra is fast. I can bike the lakefront. In Cairo, we have traffic jams, constantly. It’s always rush hour there. Too many cars, too many people, such narrow streets.
But you miss it?
Yes, my family is there. And it is such a beautiful country. The people are so hospitable. You are always invited into their homes, and they feed you so well. My wife and I went back in December. My family says I am so lucky to be in America. Egypt is ready for change. Thirty years of (President Hosni) Mubarak is too much. Everyone, especially people my age, are willing to fight for change. Life is so expensive there. For example, a pound of tomatoes costs $2 (American). My brother runs our family business, a factory that manufactures clothing accessories. I want my parents to come and see my baby. But my mother is afraid of airplanes.
What about your favorite foods in Chicago?
I love the Nile Restaurant in Hyde Park (1611 E. 55th St.) their kofta, kebabs, lamb, falafel. I like Greek food, especially the Greek Isles in Greektown. When I worked in Cairo as a singer, I also worked as a waiter in a Greek nightclub. So, I speak a little Greek and really enjoy their cooking, especially the grilled sea bass with lemon and olive oil, and moussaka (baked eggplant casserole with spiced meat and cream sauce). Another place is El Salam (4636 N. Kedzie Ave.) The cuisine is Middle Eastern. I’ve tried Chicago-style deep dish pizza, but it is too rich. It hurts my stomach. What I enjoy is having so many choices of ethnic foods such as Chinese and Thai, even Subway and just mac n’cheese.
What about the entertainment scene?
I love Second City. I used to do improv in Cairo. I hope someday to be a part of that group. There is also so much music in Chicago. My academic background is music. I had formal training in the “aod”, a Middle Eastern version of the guitar.
Do you enjoy travel?
Yes. I’ve been all over Egypt and Libya. I went to Turkey and stayed in Istanbul. It was an amazing place. I want to go to Greece and my wife wants to go to Spain. I was in New York City but it was so expensive. I stayed around Times Square but only for one week.
Are there are any myths about Egypt you wish to debunk?
Yes. About camels. People think Egyptians ride them all the time. We don’t. They’re for tourists around areas such as the pyramids. Riding a camel isn’t comfortable. They rock back and forth. If he runs, you shake.