'Middle Eastern food is yet to come into its own within the Middle East'
Talking food with Greg Malouf, Consulting Chef & Author, Phoenicia at JA Oasis Beach Tower and JA Beach Hotel
Your best food-related experience.
There are so many, but the ones that really stick out in my mind are discovering new restaurants, sticky rice, Jumeirah Village, eating a home-cooked meal after travelling, street food found in markets across the world, getting lost in the Bekkah Valley with food, and eating stuffed Ras Kibbeh.
Who do you admire most in the culinary world, and why?
My father. He was a rag trader but an experimentalist in the kitchen. One of his favourite dishes was a salad of pickled lamb's tongue with lemon, coriander and toum (garlic sauce). Also, my mother and grandmother spring to mind for their legendary kibbeh nayee, a raw minced lamb dish with cracked wheat and spices. These dishes have inspired me, and I admire the quality and methodical way these women went about food.
Your favourite culinary destination, and why?
I'm very biased, but Beirut. It is the 'pearl of the Arab kitchen'. In its location as the gateway to the Mediterranean and its function of linking the cultures of the East and West, Lebanon has stylised its cuisine to appeal to Western palates even through difficult times. No other city or cuisine can claim this. Restaurants are starting to think outside the box. It inherited from the Phoenicians the art of trading and the ability of pleasing, and from the Arabs their hospitality. It would be an understatement to say that food revolves around the life of the people of the Levant. From the cradle to the grave, a dish or a feast to suit the occasion marks every milestone in one's life.
How often do you eat out?
I don't eat out that often but, when I do, my favourite restaurants include Elia in Bur Dubai (they serve some of the tastiest Greek food around), 3 Fils Restaurant (fantastic for seafood), 21 grams (for delicious Balkan cuisine), and Tomo (for Japanese food).
If you could cook for a high-profile personality, who would it be and what would you serve them?
Heston Blumenthal. The food would be a large spread of traditional Lebanese food - at least 12 dishes.
You're asked to invent an unusual dish - what would it be?
The dish would be an interpretation of my family's classic Lebanese dishes. For example, instead of using fried bread for a fattoush salad, I would add baked shards of kataifi pastry.
One ingredient/dish you can't stand, and why?
Caged chickens with poor diets!
What do you think of the regional culinary scene?
Contemporary Middle Eastern food hasn't really come into its own within the Middle East itself, as they are still mainly focused on tradition. We are lucky in Australia as there are a number of talented chefs, who are exploring and developing wonderful ingredients and techniques from countries such as Morocco, Lebanon, Iran or even Turkey. Because of the creativity and skills of these chefs, Middle Eastern ingredients are now being used in exciting ways in restaurants and cafes all around Australia - whether it's a splash of pomegranate molasses, a sprinkling of sumac or za'atar or the salty-sour tang of preserved lemons. Even better, they're becoming increasingly available in supermarkets so that everyone can start experimenting with Middle Eastern flavours.
- Staff Reporter