When Sporty, Meets Spice

Abdul Chatila:

“Karima’s very passionate, very giving. That’s what her name means in Arabic: generous. She lives up to it. I think that’s the reason she’s so successful in business too – she has genuine passion. She never does anything, work-wise, to get attention, she does it because she loves it. She can present as shy sometimes, but if you peel back the layers, she’s creative, caring and very funny. 

We met at French tapas bar in Darlinghurst 10 years ago but don’t ask me the exact date – she’s good at that stuff, but I’m terrible. We were there for a mutual friend’s birthday. I guess what got my attention was her looks – she had beautiful curly hair – but I think I said something silly and blew my chances that night. Luckily, she gave me another look and a few years later, we were married. I was living in Balmain when we went on our first date, so I took her for a walk around Mort Bay Dock in Birchgrove. I’m a bit romantic like that. My dad has a huge vegetable garden that Karima loves, out the back of his house in Caringbah in the Sutherland Shire, so I proposed to her there. I hid the ring in the soil, then got down on one knee, pretending I found it. 

If people just knew us at a glance, they’d say we’re very different, but if you spend more time with us, you realise that our core values are very similar. We both love and respect family, food, and the natural things that life offers. Those important inner things. The outer things are what’s different. I appreciate more materialistic things – like cars, whereas she has appreciation for other things, like food and experiences. Karima loves to cook at home, and I love eating, so we’re a good match.

The funny thing is, Karima was a fashion designer when I met her. She had her own label, showed at Australian Fashion Week and was doing very well, but she realised that industry wasn’t for her and she ended up using her creative side and love for cooking to create Sunday Kitchen with her mum. It’s not your typical cooking class – it’s an amazing cultural experience. These Lebanese food recipes are from ancient villages and it’s an intimate group and everyone’s having fun. There’s so much opportunity to grow that business, but right now, she’s focused on our kids – Layla, 5, and Eden, 3. 

I fell into physiotherapy by accident – literally. I broke my wrist playing football at high school and ended up at a physio. I thought, Well, this job looks like fun – I could do this. When I told my careers advisor at school, he said my grades weren’t good enough. That’s all I needed to hear – I’m competitive, so I lifted my game, then got into physio at Sydney University. It’s been about eight years since I bought my first-ever property, an apartment, through Breakfast Point Realty – that’s why my practice is based here. I saw a ‘for rent’ sign in a shop window and knew it was perfect. I don’t just treat athletes here – I treat the office worker, the older Australian, the younger Australian, and if I can’t treat them, I send them off to a doctor or other allied health professional who can.

Our family is based in Drummoyne now, just across the water, but I’m in Breakfast Point every day of the working week. Weekends are for the girls – we go to the park, do exercise, and eat good food. Has Karima changed me? I think she keeps me on the right path. She keeps me grounded, keeps me motivated, pushes me when I need to be pushed, and tells me to calm down when I need to. She’s just a positive influence from all angles. I’d like to think I’m same thing for her.”

He’s the popular physiotherapist and founder of iPhysio Mortlake. She’s the former fashion designer drawing media attention for her traditional Middle Eastern cooking school, Sunday Kitchen. Here, the happily married couple recall their first meeting and very different approaches to life.

As told to Rachel Sharp

Karima Hazim:

“When Abdul and I first met, I assumed he was a typical good-looking arrogant bachelor and wasn’t interested. It took me months to accept his Facebook friend request but from first date, I knew I was going to marry him. He’s so humble and always learning, always trying to help and for our second date, he took me to a nursing home to meet the residents he worked with. We have very different personalities, in fact, we’re yin and yang, but we have the same core values – and we’re both from close Lebanese families. 

Abdul likes to focus on the big picture. I know I’m quite measured, but he’s spontaneous and unpredictable. And he’s painfully honest. He’s never told a lie – which is his biggest strength and his biggest fault – but he doesn’t believe he’s better than anyone else and he has a great sense of humour. That’s why people love being around him. I work in his clinic on Thursdays and sometimes when patients don’t know I’m his wife, they rave about how great he is. He also really believes in me. When someone tells you enough times just as a matter of fact that you’re capable of something, you start to believe them. 

That said, the early days of us dating was a really hard time for me – I was wrapping up my fashion business because I knew the stress of that industry didn’t align with having a family. I’d graduated top of my fashion class with honours at University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and had a label that almost became my identity. When you lose that, you go through so much self-doubt thinking you’re not good enough.

 There was Abdul, amazing at his job and his whole life sorted, and I keep thinking, Why can’t I be straighty-180 and have a simple plan like him?

I was walking the streets of Breakfast Point a few years later, pushing our daughter in the pram when the idea for Sunday Kitchen first came to me. I had a young baby so I couldn’t act on it at that stage but spent every day thinking about it and planning. If was going to leave my baby for work, it had to be something special – and it is. For Sunday Kitchen, my mother and I gather beautiful ingredients, then cook with people – which we love doing – sharing ideas and joy. I still apply the same principles I did with my fashion business in terms of storytelling and the menus are like the collections I used to design. The happy feedback I get from people who’ve done our classes makes it all worthwhile and I’m in the process of writing a cookbook that will be published soon.

Abdul and I had very different ideas of what romance was at the start of our relationship but now we share a true love and understanding of one another. We just really enjoy each other’s company. In fact, our six-week honeymoon to Italy and Lebanon was like being on holiday with my best friend – so much fun. Now my perfect weekend would be at home with the girls and Abdul, just being in each other’s company, playing and cooking together. Our life is very simple and down-to-earth. It’s all about spending quality time with people we love.”

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