of the premier
in Lebanon and
Middle East, Joe
Barza has been
for Lebanon’s nine-unit The Chase
Restaurant since 2002. Here, he talks
about Lebanese cuisine.
Q&A with Lebanese chef Joe Barza
How is it like and not like other Middle
If you research Middle Eastern cuisine in
general, you notice a lot of similarities in
food varieties and combinations. What
differentiates Lebanese cuisine, however,
is the moderation of spice notes in the
food. Although there is a high reliance
on spice usage in Lebanese cuisine,
Lebanese spice mixes are moderate in
taste. Moreover, Lebanese cuisine relies
on vegetable garnishes to add flavor to
dishes. Most meat stews have vegetables
in them, and vegetable stews accompanied
by rice are favorites in Lebanese homes.
Garnishes such as parsley and coriander
are heavily used in Lebanese salads and
entrées to give flavor and fragrance. A
tray filled with a variety of seasonal fresh
vegetables is typical of any Lebanese
dining table at any time of the year.
developed a passion for Lebanese
cuisine. Sometimes, one is so busy
looking ahead that he fails to see what
is right under his nose. There is a lot
to work with, and with all the modern
cooking techniques and new trends in
the culinary world, the sky is the limit for
what I can do with our local products.
How would you describe Lebanese
cuisine? And what is special about it?
Lebanese cuisine is a mix of different
practices and cultures. It relies mainly
on products extracted from land and
sea. All ingredients can be found
yearlong. Lebanese cuisine is reliant on
stove cooking and oven baking (stews,
pies, etc.). It also includes a large
repertoire of vegetarian dishes, since
vegetables and fruits are abundant and
meat is often an expensive alternative
for Lebanese villagers.
What do you want for Lebanese cooking
going into the 21st century?
For me, after 22 years of being a chef and
experimenting with all types of cuisines
and ingredients from the world over, I have
I was invited recently to Abu Dhabi
as part of an international culinary
exhibition, and was given the title “master
chef.” This made me think a lot about
my culinary future. I am a down-to-earth
family man who considers God to be
the only supreme master of all beings.
However, I would like to look back at
my career and say that I have mastered
the understanding of the different
ingredients and spices and cooking
techniques and temperatures and all that
is related to my profession. This mastery
should enable me to innovate and create
a trend in Lebanese cuisine that I will
carry with me to the rest of the world,
enabling my native cuisine to shine
amongst other international styles.
of the restaurant’s appetizers, plus salads and
a meat or vegetarian main course, for about
$10. Since family style dining is a Lebanese
tradition, Nicola’s also offers a family dinner:
four appetizers, two salads, three entrées and
the special of the day for $15.95 per person.
a radish, parsley and chickpeas. He serves
the mezza with warm pita triangles.
began cooking for himself. The results so
impressed family and friends that Hamdan
enrolled at Western Culinary Institute in
Portland, Ore., to learn to cook professionally.
Hummus is a staple on any mezza
menu. Recipes may vary from country to
country and cook to cook, but the basic
ingredients for the dip are chickpeas,
garlic, lemon juice and tahini. For an
attractive presentation, Al-Faqih spreads
the hummus on a plate, leaving an
indentation in the center. He fills the circle
with olive oil and garnishes the center with
Another variation is to serve several kinds
of hummus with a selection of toppings
and dippers. At Lebanese Taverna venues,
the hummus bar includes regular, garlic
and spicy versions with an assortment of
meat, shrimp, nuts and cheese toppings.
Dippers include rice crackers, pita chips,
french fries and vegetables.
Ramsey Hamdan, executive chef/owner of
Joolz in Bend, Ore., missed the foods of his
native land when he moved from Lebanon
to the U.S. He wrote home for recipes, and
Eventually, he opened Joolz, where he takes
a lighthearted approach to menu-writing and
has customized some of his dishes to meet
customer tastes. He offers a hummus on
the range, which is the traditional dip topped
with local, organic elk pan-seared with
lemon, parsley and sumac, a tart seasoning
widely used in Lebanese cooking.
Other traditional appetizers on Lebanese
restaurant menus include baba ghanoush