Eating Lebanon: The Adventures of Chef Chad Houser, Randy Potts, and Chef Kamal Mouzawak

Chad Houser preparing his contribution to lunch in Kamal's kitchen in Batroun. photo by Randy Potts.

Writer Randy Potts and Chad Houser (Parigi) are in Lebanon cooking with Chef Kamal Mouzawak. Potts has filed two reports. Today he sends the following update:

Lunch in the Garden

In the morning, I am up at 6:30 making fish kibbeh with Kamal – a beautiful bowl is filled with translucent white fish, cayenne peppers, cilantro, onions, saffron, cinnamon, zest of lemon and tangerine, fine wet bulgur. Kamal grinds the mixture using his Kitchen Aid grinder attachment and the result is pressed and laid across a bed of onions, pine nuts and salt and baked slowly. Later, Houser is making his contribution for lunch – grilled zucchini, stuffed with grated halloumi cheese, topped with a homemade mocajete — and watching the tomatoes grill beside a whole octopus.

Lunch today is for 20 people in the garden: it is a simple affair. Simple in a royal sort of way–rustic and elaborate at the same time. The guest list includes a New York Times journalist, the wife of the Mexican ambassador in Beirut, and Walid the “trash king” of Lebanon who invented a way of pulverizing rubber tires to replace sand in cement mixtures.

If you have seen the movie Big Night, one of my favorite movies, you have a small sense of what it was like, although, honestly, the food was better.  I sighed about every two minutes, overwhelmed with the food, the conversation, the surroundings. Houser’s dish is amazing and the guests from Mexican  loved his mocajete.

The spread in the garden -- fish kibbeh, grilled octopus, Houser's zucchini, etc. photo by Chad Houser.

Houser is now busy planning the menu for he will prepare at Kamal’s restuarant, Tawlet where he will cook a week from today.  I can’t give it away but let’s just say it will be a little taste of Texas in Beirut.  Imagine Parigi-quality, homey Texas fare, with what’s available fresh at Kamal’s market, and you’ll be pretty close.  Or just wait a week, and we’ll have pix and a full report .