For a Lebanese Ramadan


Meet Lebanese chef Ahmed Ammouri who is in Bangalore for a month-long food festival

The Saidon (south Lebanon) based Chef Ahmed Ammouri, is back in Bengaluru, a city where he has quite a fan following from his stint at the Taj West End. He will be heading the month-long Lebanese food festival that is being held at Shangri La.

He has worked with royalty and dignitaries such as Najib Mikati (The Prime Minister of Lebanon), the King of Morocco, Sultan of Muscat and Prince of Saudi Arabia. At Bengaluru, Chef Ammouri presents a buffet of traditional Lebanese delicacies.

The festival’s special menu will feature a variety of 15 salads or cold mezze and freshly grilled meats. Quintessential signatures including dips and salads like fattoush (levantine bread salad made with toasted Arabic flat bread), mutabbal (a grilled eggplant and tahini dip), and the famous chickpea hummus start the guests off. Dishes like bazella (a hearty, spiced stew), shawarma, mulukhiyah chicken (leafy green stew), Lebanese lamb chops, moussaka (an eggplant and/or potato based dish with minced meat), and batate harra (spiced potatoes) make up the main course. Speciality desserts like Basboosa (semolina cake soaked in syrup) and baklava (layered filo pastry stuffed with nuts and coated with syrup) complete the meal. Bringing a close on the age-old battle of the origin of baklava, chef Ammouri says “It is originally from Lebanon, but everyone makes his own version of baklava”.

For a Lebanese Ramadan

Being one of the first Lebanese chefs to move to India, the chef introduced his customers to dishes beyond hummus and shawarma. He presented new flavours through dishes such as tabbouleh (green salad with parsley and tomatoes), and baba ghanoush (an eggplant dip), and his all-time favourite muhammara (a roasted red pepper and walnut spread), widening the scope for Lebanese cuisine in India.

“Now Lebanese food culture has grown and everyone knows about it, but there are few occasions where I have to add spices to cater to the Indian palette,” he adds.

The difference, he explains, is that even though both cuisines use a variety of spices, Indian food has more spice. He enjoys experimenting with new spices and dishes as a way of expanding his skill set and menu. He says “people know more about different cuisines and are more adventurous with food now. I have lived in India for eight years and Lebanese food has become popular over time.”

According to the chef, Lebanese food is light and healthy and is cooked with lots of olive oil, nuts, and spices including anise, sumac, cinnamon, cardamom, sweet spice and seven spice (the Lebanese version of garam masala). Unlike in the Gulf where rice is a staple, the Lebanese prefer bread. Baking and grilling are the central cooking methods, few dishes involve frying. “Lamb and beef are the main meats, and we consume a lot of these red meats,” says the chef. “The meats are not the same and at times you don’t get the exact ingredients like tahini here, so it becomes a challenge for me to bring out the exact flavours.”

For a Lebanese Ramadan

By combining local produce with imported spices he aims at presenting the most authentic Lebanese flavours. “When I was 16 or 17 and studying, I lived alone and had to cook for myself. I learned a little from my mom and that is when I started to enjoy cooking,” says the award-winning chef. Keeping in tune with his birth and heritage the chef choose to specialise in Lebanese food and trained professionally in Cyprus.

In the beginning of his career, he cooked in Cyprus for the Syrian embassy, where he worked as a chef for the ambassador for 12 years. Then he moved to India, where he worked at Taj Mahal Mumbai in 2001 after which he was relocated to the Taj West End Bangalore in 2005.

After spending eight years in India he moved back to his home country and started Bayte Baytak, a restaurant that served local cuisine. Following the closure of his restaurant, the chef visited Chennai in 2015 for The Raintree Food Festival that went on for 17 days. This is his latest visit since the food festival in Chennai. After completing his visit to Bengaluru, he heads back to Lebanon to prepare for his next promotion in Istanbul and for the opening of his new restaurant named Dar–Almer or King’s House.

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 5:09:57 AM |

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