Polish journalist Witold Szablowski has spent his career investigating what dictators like to eat.
When Saddam Hussein’s personal chef Abu Ali took a bite of his boss’s koftas, he thought he was being poisoned. His throat was burning. Russet-faced, Abu Ali swigged a glass of water to put out the fire in his mouth.
Saddam liked to cook for his staff, who ate his creations out of politeness (and fear). This time around, he had seasoned the koftas with a dash of Tabasco sauce that he got as a gift. Saddam didn’t enjoy spicy food himself but had kept the bottle to play pranks on his inner circle.
Eleven years after Saddam’s execution, Abu Ali recalled his introduction to hot sauce to Witold Szabłowski, Polish journalist and author who wrote the fascinating part-travelog, part-memoir and part-cookbook How to Feed a Dictator and What’s Cooking in the Kremlin.
A former cook, Witold crossed four continents to track down the chefs of the world’s most brutal despots. In this conversation, edited for length and clarity, Witold answers these questions:
- Where did he find Saddam Hussein’s chef?
- How do you become a dictator’s chef?
- Do dictators trust their chefs?
- Is it true that Putin’s grandfather cooked for Lenin?
- What do dictators and chefs have in common?