Q1/ You started your career as an art adviser and you owned an antique shop in Paris. What prompted you to turn to food writing and cooking?
It was a fortuitous coincidence. I was having dinner with my literary agent (I was planning on writing a book on collecting) and a Lebanese friend of hers who was a publisher and their conversation turned to cookery books. That was back at the time of the Gulf war in the very early 1990’s. As I listened to them, I thought it would be a good idea to write a Lebanese cookbook for all those displaced Lebanese youngsters who didn’t have my good fortune of seeing everything grown and made at home. Also my mother is an amazing classical Lebanese cook and I thought it would be a great opportunity to record her recipes. So I suggested I write a cookbook on Lebanese food that was also user friendly to those who didn’t know the cuisine — there weren’t very many cookbooks in those days who did that for Lebanese dishes and there were certainly none that offered any historical information or social context. As luck would have it, my agent had been contacted by a publisher (Grub Street) who was looking for someone to do just that. So, I wrote a proposal. The catch though was that I thought I would write the book in 3 months — I didn’t know much about food writing then — and the proposal alone took 6 months and the book another 2 years or even a little longer.
Q2/ What can be found as staple ingredients in your kitchen?
Spices, tahini, burghul, freekeh, pulses, lemons, onions, garlic, fresh herbs, extra virgin olive oil. And in the freezer nuts, Arabic bread and spiced coffee from Doha.
Q3/ Do you have a guilty food indulgence?
Q4/ Do you have a ‘signature dish’ or favourite dish you enjoy cooking?
Salads: tabbouleh, white tabbouleh and fattoush. Also Turkish kissir and Iranian jewelled rice.
Q5/ You have plans to run culinary tours in 2015 in a number of places including Istanbul and Tangiers. Can you tell us a little about these upcoming tours and previous ones you have led.
I used to lead culinary tours to Syria where I took a small group to sweet-makers, home cooks, spice souks, amazing restaurants and historical sites as well. Those who came with me on these tours are so happy they did given the sadness of what is happening in Syria nowadays. I will be doing the same kind of tour in Turkey, especially the south eastern part and Morocco, also Sicily.