Australia Day honours: Abla Amad, Melbourne restaurateur recognised in Australia Day awardsBookmark this
When Lebanese immigrant Abla Amad opened her own restaurant in Melbourne's cosmopolitan Carlton in 1979, she wanted to introduce the community to authentic food she cooked for her family at home.
And 35 years later the restaurateur and cookbook author still does just that.
As part of this year's Australia Day honours, Ms Amad has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to tourism, hospitality, and the Australian Lebanese community.
Inconspicuous to the passer-by on the street, Abla's Lebanese Restaurant has become a Melbourne institution.
Its exterior may seem slightly inconspicuous to the passer-by but it has received a number of awards and recognition over the decades.
But she said today's honour was something special.
"It's humbling to have this beautiful, beautiful, beautiful thing," she said.
"I was so proud and so happy ... I nearly cried. I don't know if I deserve it or not, but I'm so proud.
"I came when I was 17 and this is a beautiful country, beautiful people, I love it."
Good food about 'cooking from the heart'
Ms Amad was born in Lebanon in 1935 and travelled to Australia to visit her brother George and uncle Joe, who had emigrated years earlier.
Here she met her Lebanese-Australian husband John, with whom she had five children.
It was through her family that she learnt to cook - her uncle Joe and a group of Lebanese women living in Australia that she called her "aunties".
She said husband would to bring friends home from all backgrounds, including Italians, Jews and anglo-Australians - neighbours in the multicultural suburb of Carlton.
Ms Amad was eventually encouraged to open the restaurant at the bidding of family and friends, and said she acted out of a sense of duty to others.
"I love [to cook], to feed people," she said.
"Before I started the restaurant, I used to have a lot of people in my home and cook for them.
"When I own the restaurant I still feel like I'm cooking for home, for family.
"It is my duty, I do it from my heart. I always, I do as much as I can."
She said the recipes she had learnt and created played an important part in her life.
"They remind me of when I was younger and [people used to come home and cook]," she said.
Patience, kindness good for business
Ms Amad said the secret to being successful in the competitive hospitality industry was focusing on each customer.
She also said it was also about encouraging people to try new things.
"You have to have a lot of patience and be kind," she said.
"I had this little girl who used to come with her mother and father, now her daughter comes now."
Recently Abla's played host to celebrity British chef Heston Blumenthal, who was impressed by her culinary skills.
"He loved it so much, he came into the kitchen ... he was so happy.
And Ms Amad is still cooking up a storm.
"I ring up my daughter-in-law [at the restaurant] and she says 'oh, mum you don't have to come in, we're all right everything's fine'," she said.
"I say I'll come for a minute and go. I love it, I love people.
"I love food, I cannot change, It's in my nature since I was a girl."