I don’t think I am on my way to becoming a celebrity in any way. Actually, I think less people know me now than 10 years ago. So I was a bit baffled when NW Magazine contacted me and set me the challenge of answering the 5 questions below. It’s hard answering these kinds of questions, because they always limit you in some way (name the 5 ingredients you will take to your death bed). I guess that’s good though, so let me know if you share my opinions:
What was the first recipe you ever cooked?
I’ve been cooking with my mom ever since I was a child. I remember learning how to make kibbeh, fattouch, hommous and baba ganoush at a very young age. I also remember spending hours going through grains of rice and lentils to remove impurities since grains in Lebanon during the war were of poor quality. The first dish I cooked when I was on my own was lasagne and I cooked it when my parents went to our summer home while I stayed back for a few weeks with my friends. I used what was in the pantry: spaghetti instead of lasagne sheets, powdered milk, frozen mince, onions and mom’s tomato paste. To my 15 year old palate it was superb, and I was hooked.
What is your favourite dish to prepare?
My favourite ingredients are those in season, and so my favourite dishes are in turn seasonal. I don’t usually cook the same dish more than once or twice a year. I like mutton ragout and chicken soup in winter, shish barak or krautwickel in autumn (a new favourite), bbq lamb or prawn and garlic shoot stir fry in spring, fattouch and mom’s fish with tahini in summer
What are your favourite restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
I’m not much of a breakfast guy but a croissant from Bourke Street Bakery and a piccolo late from Mecca Espresso would do fine. Ichiban Boshi’s Aburi Chashu-men (blowtorched pork with ramen noodles) for lunch is amazing. Al Aseel at Greenacre does, imho, the best Lebanese in Sydney, and dinner there is always a treat.
If you could have only 5 ingredients to cook with, what would you pick?
Tough one… hmmm… I hate hypothetical questions… Is this for a one off cooking adventure, or 5 ingredients to haunt me forever? If it’s forever, then aged beef, flour, eggs, zaatar, milk (for butter and cheese making) (and maybe sugar, salt, Lebanese spices, tomatoes, olve oil, onions and garlic). I’m assuming water is abundant…
What is one piece of advice you would give to people who are not great cooks but hope to be one day?
Cook food you’ve eaten before, use fresh, quality ingredients, keep it simple and increase the complexity gradually, and finally resist the temptation of cooking Thai food because it will never be as good.