How has your Lebanese heritage influenced your culinary style?
My hometown of Aitet-Aley has influenced my culinary style a great deal. From foraging herbs to preserving produce, nature played a big role in my upbringing, which translates into my cooking. I am inspired by nature and what it provides in terms of products to create and design dishes.
What did you learn from your experience with Noma’s Danish chef René Redzepi?
Chef Rene Redzepi was a mentor; he inspired and motivated me to achieve and learn more. Working with Chef Rene in Copenhagen brought me closer to my roots in Lebanon because it taught me to seek inspiration from nature and use local ingredients and indigenous techniques.
While working as a sous chef at Noma, you contemplated returning to Lebanon and opening a restaurant unlike anything yet experienced in the country. What happened to the project?
I was on the verge of opening a restaurant in Lebanon; however, by the end of 2019, the situation in Lebanon became challenging due to the pandemic, the revolution and the economic crisis. Although Lebanon’s F&B industry will never fade away, putting the project on hold seemed the wisest decision at the time.
You went unto becoming the culinary director of Baky Hospitality in Egypt. What prompted this transition and what differentiates it from your past experiences?
After the first Covid-19 lockdown, I wanted to experience something new, so I met with Ayman Baky and his team, a homegrown group of young, dynamic people who started with one restaurant and grew to become leaders of the F&B scene in Egypt. In Cairo, I was exposed to different cooking styles, services, clientele, cultures and tastes. Egypt is challenging in terms of products and finding quality produce.
You are the co-founder and owner of Em Tarek. What can you tell us about the concept?
Em Tarek is not only a business project for us — it is actually a love story. When you open a bottle of pomegranate molasses, for example, it is like opening the door to my hometown in Aitet and tasting the best it has to offer.
Although Em Tarek is a new concept, it has found its way to Dubai (through Jarra), to France (through Gulos) and of course Lebanon. We are looking to expand our product and distribution line while maintaining the same identity and soul.
You were recently recognized by W50B. what did this recognition mean to you?
This is a collective award that goes to the whole team, from the steward to the chef de partie, the executive chef and the management team. In short, this award goes to the Baky Hospitality team — each member of this team. On a personal level, it means a lot to me, especially that Sachi Heliopolis was the first restaurant I worked for when I moved to Egypt.