Last year, the Sydney International Food Festivalâ€™s World Chef Showcase was one hell of a treat. Inspiring figures of the worldâ€™s culinary scene gathered in our beautiful city and spoke about the one thing that really unites the world: food. I had the opportunity to attend the World Chef Showcase and was mesmerised by what I heard and saw. The event brought in chefs from both Australia and the international scene to present their ideologies, methods and cuisines, and the focus was mainly on Asian food. This year, Joanna Savill has my heart fluttering as the World Chef Showcase 2010 is featuring luminaries from the Middle Eastern food world. Apart from Melbourneâ€™s Greg Malouf and Abla Amad, three (well, 2.5) of my fellow Lebanese compatriots are flying in from Lebanon and England to share their experience with us. I thought Iâ€™d give you a bit of background on those who will be coming and it is my hope that anyone who is interested in Levantine food will attend the World Chef Showcase and hear what these wonderful people have to say. And hopefully, Sydneyâ€™s Middle Eastern scene would take the opportunity to learn and benefit.
Born to a Syrian father and a Lebanese mother (hence the 2.5 Lebanese presenters), Anissa Helouâ€™s eclectic life saw her moving to London at the age of 21 where she became Sothebyâ€™s representative to the Middle East. Later, during a stint in Kuwait, she became an arts adviser to the Kuwaiti ruling family. Anissaâ€™s interest and knowledge in art seemed matched by her passion for food from the Levant. In 2007, Anissa published her sixth cook book, Savory Baking from the Mediterranean, and has recently opened a cooking school where she shares her knowledge on the culinary traditions of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. She is also a formidable food blogger, and on of her most recent foodie adventures took her to Al Ain, near Abu Dhabi, where she was faced with the possibility of eating camel hump. At SIFF, Anissa will be showing us some tasty desserts.
The founder of Souk el Tayeb, Lebanonâ€™s first farmerâ€™s market, Kamal Mouzawak is simultaneously a force for change and a guardian of Lebanese tradition. Lifting the image of a farmer to be viewed as an artisanal producer is not an easy task in a classist society, but Kamalâ€™s vision is doing just that. His passion for Lebanese farmers, Lebanese produce and Lebanese food is evident in the quality and freshness of the food sold weekly in Souk el Tayeb where farmers and producers have the opportunity to sell their fantastic produce to the Lebanese public. His work is also helping heal the wounds that the various factions have inflicted upon the Lebanese people. In his own words â€œin a country as divided as Lebanon, nothing can bring people together as much as the land and food.â€His restaurant, Tawlet Souk el Tayeb (or the table of the Souk) is driven by an innovative concept where every day, a different producer or chef prepares typical food from their region using produce for the souk itself. Kamal is also, naturally, a strong advocate of the Slow Food movement. He will be working with Abla Amad from Melbourneâ€™s famous restaurant Ablaâ€™s to prepare some classic Lebanese sweets.
A neighbour of mine from the city of Tyre, Joeâ€™s refined and imaginative approach to Lebanese food has marked him as one of the hottest chefs in the region. Joe has represented his country in many international events and his skill and ability have garnered widespread attention, with his food recently showcased in the New York Times (a double mention of Kamal and Joe can be found here). Joeâ€™s food seems to show restrained yet fluent innovation in his interpretation of the regionâ€™s food, as his creations look to the future while respecting and understanding tradition. He will be joining Kamal on the second day of the festival where they will be cooking up a storm together.