Also nestled up in the trees is Faarufushi’s coconut-inspired treatment rooms:
- While in the spa, the treatments rooms are giant coconuts; hard shell on the outside and soft white interiors on the inside, set within a coconuts grove…We wanted to evoke a sense of protection and well-being, simple natural luxury, for the Spa experience. The treatment rooms are further rise off the ground at the level of the coconut trees, to further enforce the concept of treatment rooms as coconuts, while a wink to tree house, link to the fun and easiness of childhood.
Today is official “Don’t Go To Work Unless It’s Fun Day” (no joke). But for most of the world during the pandemic, every day is “Don’t Go To Work Unless You Are a Key Worker Day”. The world is getting on top of the coronavirus scourge by reducing its transmission until vaccines, treatments and testing is more widely available. That has meant all the resorts rightfully shutting down. So instead of visiting the real thing, people are having to settle for the digital, virtual equivalents with screen time skyrocketing.
While the Maldives geotag is dominated by fashionistas in swimsuits, one of the most common subjects on Instagram is photographing your food. If you are staying at Faarufushi, you won’t be able to resist a post yourself if you dine at Lagoon (the resort’s Asian tapas restaurant) and feast your eyes (and your Followers’ eyes) on one of Mohamed Adil striking dishes. And if you don’t have your camera, then you can repost one of Adil’s pictures on his very on fleek feed.
Hotelier Maldives featured a profile on him earlier this year. Hotel Asia’s Best Maldivian chef 2018 described his background, “Art was something I always saw when I was growing up. Mostly paintings by my dad, but I never thought of art on a plate and that’s where I found myself.” His mentor Executive Sous Chef Bir Kumar Yadav first worked together at Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru where he started as a kitchen steward. From there he has skyrocketed in the culinary world to recently winning the Gold Medal in the Dubai World Summit. Here is his story in his own words:
- What atoll are you from? – Born in Ari Atoll, located towards the west of the archipelago, brought up in Seenu Atoll (Addu Atoll).
- What was the first dish you ever cooked for someone else? – I clearly remember the first dish that I cooked for my executive chef as a practical exam. It was a grilled chicken breast with homemade crispy fries, sautéed peppers and hollandaise sauce.
- What’s your favourite unsung ingredient? – Unsung ingredient would be cumin as Ground Cumin has a very distinctive flavor with an earthy, nutty, spicy taste with a somewhat bitter undertone and a warm, penetrating aroma with hints of lemon.
- What’s your signature Maldivian dish? – Coming to a signature Maldivian dish would be something I created back in 2019 for a culinary challenge. The dish had various components and all of them are favourites to many locals. A fillet of red snapper grilled over coconut coal, breadfruit curry, tempered banana blossom with smoked tuna, fried moringa leaves, fried onion tuile served with a savory doughnut.
- What has been your most ambitious dish? – My most ambitious dish was one that I made for a culinary challenge. I knew that I wanted to go with beef and the rest was unclear. So I took a piece of paper and wrote down all the things that would go well with beef. Then I started crossing out the ingredients until I got the perfect combination. First I worked on perfecting the taste. Then I moved on to the presentation of the dish. The whole process took me over 30 attempts to create the dish which consisted of Wagyu striploin paired with cylinder of potato fondant filled with wild mushroom duxelle, decorated with shimiji mushrooms, onion flan, sweet unagi, garlic sautéed baby spinach, tea smoked cauliflower puree, black garlic jell and a rich veal jus.
- Has there been any memorable failures where something you tried didn’t work? – Looking back, there would have been many failures. Some dishes were not executed to the standard that I wanted to bring out. However, I kept working on perfecting those dishes and that practice is what brought out the ability in me to a higher level. I don’t consider them to be failures but as something that I can learn and gain from for the future.
- What was the best advice you’ve received as a chef? – The best advice that I got is not to constantly look at the working hours and the amount of pay and instead to keep looking at the blood and sweat as a stepping stone to greatness.
- If you could do your career over again, what would you do differently? – If I could redo my career all over again, I would start it as soon as I could. Until I was 19 years of age, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. If I had known sooner, I could have taken a more scientific focus throughout my studies in school as cooking and science goes closely together. I wish I knew what my career was going to be so that I could have prepared to start my career beforehand.
Adil is definitely someone who loves his job and let’s hope he can resume working it as soon as possible.
Paradise on a platter!
Velanaagey Family: Prominent members of the Malé nobility circa 1900
What’s in a name? A while back I added “Name Meaning” to the Maldives Complete database which identified (where appropriate or available) the Dhivehi meaning to the names of the resorts. But no etymology is as colourful as Faarufushi or “Guard Island”:
- Koimala Kalou (Lord Koimala) was the first king of the Homa (Lunar) Dynasty, which some historians call Theemuge. This legendary nobleman of the Lion Race from Ceylon, sailed from Rasgetheemu island (literally King’s Town) in North Maalhosmadulu Atoll to Malé and established a kingdom there. By then, the Aadeetta (Sun) Dynasty ceased to rule in Malé, possibly due to invasions by the Cholas of Southern India in the Tenth Century. The indigenous people in Malé Atoll, the Giraavaru invited Koimala to Malé and permitted him to be the proclaimed king. In Dhivehi language ‘Faara’ means to stand guard and ‘Faaru’ means wall. The name of the island goes way back but likely refers to the fact that the Prince Koimalaa’s security operated out of the island or this island had something to do with the royals in the neighbourhood.”
Faarufushi has made cultivating flora part of the internal décor with stylish vases holding germinating coconut saplings. When they get mature enough, they are transplanted outdoors on the resort.
For the squinting crowd whose arms are not long enough to hold a menu far away enough to see it, the romance of under-the-stars candlelight might add to the romance, but it also means you can’t figure out what you can order for dinner. Resorts have come up with a various solutions to this problem including the fiddly clip-on mini light or the serve holding a torch. But Faarufushi has introduced electronic menu tablets with soft back lighting to provide optimal visibility.
Faarufushi logo design tops everything. Well, it tops all of its villas as the resort describes:
- “In the design of the WV roof, we had a bit of ‘wink’ to the FaaruFushi logo, and extended one edge of the roof to mimic the dipping ‘A’.“
A+ for thematic integrity.
For low-miles “buy local” shopping, Faarufushi’s boutique is stocked with items almost entirely sourced from local artists. The miles-friendly range includes jewellery, fabrics, ceramics, and even Maldives themed phone covers. The shop also carried massage oil made from locally produced coconut oil (the same signature oil they use for the resort spa treatments). Many of the products are also featured in the rooms, spa and around the island like the Island Bazaar soft furnishings (see photo above) and the Island Apothecary hand cleanser.
Another impressive line of “local” products is one of the most extensive collections of books about the Maldives I have come across. Not just touristy coffee-table photo books, but histories and novels set in the archipelago. Beach reading about your beach!
Despite its fame as a diver’s paradise, we didn’t dive in the Maldives until about our fifth year of going there. Lori’s sister did diving and Lori decided to get certified to join her when the sister came along with us one trip. Even then, I stayed up on top snorkelling with the kids. I remember one day, the kids and I were just finishing with the morning house reef snorkel when Lori was just setting out on her dive. She had to get the gear ready while we just threw on our fins and masks and jumped in. When she got back, we asked what she had seen on the dive. Sharks, morays, colourful fish, sting rays. It was all the stuff we had seen snorkelling. I continued to question why bother with all the equipment and faff of scuba diving when so much can be seen so close to the surface.
Since those days, I have succumbed and gotten my PADI Advanced Open Water and done over 60 dives there. And they have all been delightful. I still make a point to snorkel every house reef and there is still something alluring about the simplicity of snorkelling – no encumbrance, the ability to pop your head up and talk to your buddy, the sun on your back.
But I will admit that you do have to deal with the nuisance of seawater sloshing into your snorkel and being limited in how long you go underwater before you have to return to the surface for a breathe. Faarufushi’s “Peter” breathing system provides the unencumbered simplicity of the snorkelling experience with the underwater breathing freedom of a scuba system. Instead of the air supply being strapped to you, it floats on the surface and follows you through an extra long regulator tube.
Another benefit of the Peter is for giving people a stepping-stone taste of the scuba experience. Many dive centres offer complimentary “Try Dive” sessions. You put on all the scuba gear and have a little underwater swim in the safe confines of the shallow lagoon. But the Peter sessions are even less effort and might serve to ease more people into the underwater experience.
The “Peter system is also featured at Sun Siyam Irufushi and Kandooma resorts, but at Faarufushi it is included in their AI package.
Not just a “Best of the Maldives”, but possibly the Best of the Best from the 2019 Tour, or at least the most enduring, as both Lori and I are still wearing ours back in Blighty – Ghost Net Bracelets. Faarufushi’s Marin Biologist Giulia Pellizzato working on retrieving “Ghost Nets” – fishing nets that have gotten snarled or caught up and so the fishermen just abandon them in the water where they continue to trap and kill sea creatures.
The nets themselves are made of nylon and so Giulia wanted to come up with a way to upcycle them rather than have them add to the landfill of the Maldives. She decided to unravel the strands of plastic twine that they were made of, and use that material to make some woven bracelets. The process is a bit labour intensive so she has a small stock now. She gives them out as a reward to guests who help her with her reef survey work on the island.
The blue and green of the material, coloured that way by design to blend into the ocean when fishing and not scare away the fish, evoke the tapestry of colour which makes up the Maldivian seascape. I’m not a big accessory person, but there is something heart-warming about wearing something that was removed from the Laccadive Sea and is now on my wrist rather than snaring turtles, dolphins and other tragically unfortunate ocean friends.
Pristine Maldives. The unspoilt natural beauty combined with a fresh new property of contemporary flair define the Faarufushi resort.
When we first started coming to the Maldives over 20 years ago, there was only a single property in the Raa atoll. None of the dive books had hardly any dive sites listed for it. It remained for years an untouched corner of this paradise destination. In recent years, a dozen new resorts have launched opening up this remote area. Now in an era of sustainability and environmental awareness, their development and operation aim to have much less impact on the surroundings than their less woke predecessors in the other atolls. And in this relatively undiscovered atoll, the most far-flung is Faarufushi. Situated the northmost of all and furthest from all the other neighbours.
During our visit, we were fortunate enough to be able to explore some of the dive sites that heretofore have only been seen by safari boats. A number of the dive sites in the area haven’t even been dived yet. The whole experience felt quite privileged. We were visiting the top dive sites in the area. Sites with a noticeable amount of more colourful coral and vibrant marine life (though apparently fewer of crowd-pleasing sharks). A yet there were no other divers on the site. The top sites in the other atolls are usually crawling with divers from surrounding resorts. In fact, there weren’t even any other dive boats on the water for as far as the eye could see. A pristine sub-aquatic wonderland all to ourselves.
For the non-divers, the house reef is a delight. It has been hit by bleaching over the years, but it seemed more alive than many reefs we have snorkelled in recent years. Just enough coral peeking back as well as squadrons of colourful fish. It is a bit of a swim from shore (100m), but the dive centre jetty drops you conveniently right at the drop off.
The pristine aesthetic wasn’t limited to the water. The resort itself was paragon of freshness and care. Carefully preserved original, dense palm canopies draped over the meticulously manicured flowers and eye-pleasing gardening across the grounds.
The food itself is also clean and fresh. The Executive Sous Chef Bir Yadav describes the “lightness in the menu” which the kitchen is striving for which means minimizing starches and ingredients that can bloat you. And the presentation boasts some of the most distinguished flourishes in the Maldives (stay tuned for details).