June 15, 2012

In The Kitchen With Kamal

From being on Anthony Bourdain’s travel show to being recognized as a social innovator, it seems that Kamal Mouzawak is something of a hot topic at the moment. The man behind Souk al-Tayeb is here to offer more than just mouthwatering, healthy food recipes; he’s also here to provide an A to Z solution set for reorganizing and sprucing up your kitchen with his new venture: The Kitchen.
Some might say Mouzawak is on a mission to revolutionize the way we view the whole concept of a kitchen. This sanctuary found in every home is a place where people gather, aromas are created and deliciously home cooked meals are formed. And while we put so much emphasis on a kitchen’s meaning, we’ve somehow allowed kitchen design to fall through the cracks.
In today’s world it’s not acceptable to just walk in and see the same kitchen again and again, in every home one enters. Having a personal style is not just about wanting something rich in traditional styling or going for the modern trend; your kitchen has to capture your personal vision, your essence. As the popular saying goes, “Time is of essence,” and comfort at home is of utmost importance. I had the chance to spend some time with the man behind this concept.
Kamal invited me for a cooking experience at his beautiful Lebanese house in the heart of the old Batroun archeological town. As I walked up the stairs I knew I was in for an afternoon treat where I would be enjoying a day with a man who’s known as a social revolutionary. He tells me that every kitchen should be personalized according to your needs, likes and lifestyle. Start by psychoanalysis; ask yourself about whom you are, what you do, your lifestyle and what your view is on your kitchen. These questions are important, because at the end of the day, if the kitchen of someone who is constantly cooking looks identical to the person who never steps foot in theirs, than one of these people has misrepresented themselves.
“A kitchen should be functional. There should be a reason for every item in the kitchen. Beauty therefore is functionality. Function defines form. An ideal kitchen is a place that’s clutter free, organized and expresses a comfortable space,” explains Kamal. “I am a person who will help you discover and shape your vision, and translate it into a real space. It’s not only the design and furniture of the kitchen, but it’s also about the littlest details of plates, pans, napkins, even the food in your fridge, the herbs you need and so on … and also making cooking lessons available to you, depending on what you like and so on.
You shouldn’t have to bend over and break your back every time you want to retrieve a cooking pan. With Kamal’s help, everything in your kitchen will be set and organized in its place according to your specific kitchen behavior. What you don’t need and what you will never use will not be there. We have to forget the idea that we must get this or that because we have to, or because our mothers said so. These are outdated notions, and Mouzawak is here to help us accept such facts. We get what we need and what we use- not more, not less.
Tawlet and Souk El Tayyeb are two concepts everyone is talking about in town for the last couple of years. In 2005 a creative food writer had the idea to gather under one roof major organic producers from the villages of Lebanon helping them reach the capital’s inhabitants: Souk EL Tayyeb was born, than it changed to be a farmers market of fresh, seasonable products, traditional and organic. Tawlet is an open kitchen where everyday a different cook prepares typical food from her region. Each day you can experience a different cook, a different meal, a different story in Beirut and now at the Ammiq branch in the Bekaa valley.
The variety of food on the buffet is overwhelming. You’re given the choice of home made fresh lemonade or rose water, anything more commercial is not an option. Everything is ‘Made in Lebanon’ at Tawlet, and the water is even served in a traditional Lebanese water jug – el Bri’ – that many of us will remember seeing in our grandparents’ kitchens. It’s a nostalgic experience that makes you feel like you’re at home.
Sitting outside on his terrace, we began by sipping on some puffed rice green tea brought up specially from Japan. With every sip came a story of passion and dreams. And after only a short time, he made me see my life a little differently, offering me different ways to deal things that bother me. I complained about having to raise my daughter in Lebanon with all its chaos, but he responded, “If you want a change, then you have to create that change. It’s how we do what we do in the best way we know how … this is what will make a difference.” It was a pleasant afternoon where we talked about kitchens, organic food, villages of Lebanon, latest restaurants and shared many interesting experiences.
Exploring Kamal’s love for food and cooking is an endless and fascinating journey. As he gave me a tour around his Batroun home, he showed me his various kitchens around the house, the many high ceiling rooms, the details of intricate architecture and how his obvious love for natural light. He loves the kitchen and the way he has organized this space, his sanctuary, is worth learning about. His passion for the kitchen is expressed through his conversation. He has three kitchens in one single house; but at last after the tour we stopped at the main one as he told me about every detail in the kitchen and the reasons behind its locations, the plates, the glasses, the special pans for boiling rice, for frying... every detail plays a role in the final taste of any prepared meal.
He tells me more stories about his travels and experiences as he begins chopping onions. He was preparing a home-made cooked meal for us as we sipped numerous glasses of white Lebanese wine. That afternoon, Kamal decided to prepare the Kebbe Arnabiye, “Kamal’s style”. He does it differently from the way we usually know.  Onions are cut into slices and cooked for a long time, then fresh orange juice with a little bit of Tahine is added to the marmite and stirred for several hours until the mix becomes harder. Kebbe filled with the secret Kamal ingredient is then added to the mix and ready to be served. Ready to be served, yes, but this is a dish that takes more than 5 hours to prepare.
Everything was just perfect and cooked traditionally with no extra additives. When you look around, you notice an open space between the dinning area and the kitchen. When Kamal has guests, everyone is involved, people mingle and everyone's tummy is growling for Kamal's prepared dishes. He likes it when he interacts with his guests, asks for help and so on... It creates the perfect ambiance for a warm gathering. Like he says, this is a big part of the experience which I learned more about and truly enjoyed.
No wonder, Tawlet is my favorite place for authentic and healthy Lebanese cuisine is my favorite spot to visit once a week. Every time it’s a different experience, a new taste and a new journey into the real Lebanon... That day, I went back home in very positive mood, thinking how many great men we have in our country, and how one person can make such a big difference in the way we see things, taste things... every little detail can make a big difference.
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