Kamal Mouzawak, food visionary for Lebanon

My first encounter with Kamal Mouzawak occurred seven years ago; my cousin Isabelle had taken me to meet  the top fashion designer Rabih Kayrouz, in his Gemmayzé showroom (Beirut); Kamal stopped by, casually announcing that   he was on his way to Yemen, to teach classes in macrobiotic cuisine. I remember being jolted by his words;  the association of Yemen, cooking classes and macrobiotic struck me as surreal.

Over subsequent trips to Beirut, I heard  more stories about Kamal Mouzawak:

  • He  created a concept new in Lebanon; a farmer’s market called  Souk el-Tayebtayeb means” tasting good”  in Lebanese)  where producers from the most remote villages could  (for a nominal fee)  present and sell the fruits  of their labor. The products are organic and free-range; the pastries are made with whole-grain flour.  You will find there mouneh products. (mouneh is the  larder that comprises foodstuff preserved in the ancient tradition  for the winter season). The souk is  located in Saifi village, a stylish and renovated area in downtown Beirut and has started hosting wine tastings.

Nobody in Lebanon up until then had paid any attention to small farmers who were basically left to fend for themselves, trying to survive without any governmental assistance; usually  forced to leave their villages and either immigrate or move to the big city and abandon their land.

I remember hopping on  a cab one Saturday morning and asking the driver to take me to Souk el Tayeb; Taxi drivers in Beirut are opinionated,  and  his comment was ” you know if you buy your cucumbers there, you will pay more but they will smell of cucumber for kilometers  around!” I was filled with trepidation as I disembarked  in front of the canopied area buzzing with people;  rows and rows of jam and other preserves lined up on makeshift  tables, people drinking fresh jellab and lemonade, people ordering flatbreads from a saaj maker, buying country cheese,sheesh barak, maamool, mujaddara hamra, stuffed grape and chard leaves, kibbe balls, zaatar, makdous; people greeting each other with hugs and laughter, I mean that place was happening!

  • Kamal Mouzawak  continued to carve a trailblazing path through the Lebanese culinary scene and took the concept to the next level: This time, in addition to a marketplace, he would provide a kitchen for the forgotten small farmers and producers of Lebanon: Tawlet was born. Set in a stylishly renovated garage, Tawlét (tr: Table, in Arabic) is a place where from 1 to 4PM every day, people can come, serve themselves buffet-style  and sample dishes  cooked by producers from all corners of the country, every day. The menu varies daily and is based on the regional specialties. Every dish presented is meticulously tested and fine-tuned  by Kamal. Dishes that jaded Beirutis are unfamiliar with, such as  lentil kibbés or goat-meat laban ummo. Reservations are required (01) 448-129. Location is in the Mar Mikhael district and cost is US $25, all-you-can-eat.

I was invited there by the talented artist Mona Dabaji;  All four of us refilled our plates at least once, eating heartily yet we did not feel stuffed;  three desserts including fresh fruit are also  offered.Tawlet also organizes children workshops,  to teach them about traditions such as St. Barbara’s day.

daily menu

tasting and coaching

shmoozing

  • Kamal Mouzawak also founded and contributes to a newsletter, El Tayeb, (English/Arabic); the free newsletter is filled with information on local food producers, villages to visit, any interesting news emanating from Lebanon (non-political).
  • Kamal and his team founded Beit Loubnan, a project aiming at keeping the farmer in his environment and reviving and perpetuating his local traditions; it also seeks to create jobs in the rural communities.
  • Kamal and his team run a kitchen workshop out of his home in Batroun, teaching ancient Lebanese culinary traditions.
  • Kamal and his team developed a Farmers Exchange Program which puts Lebanese farmers in touch with other farmers throughout the world and focuses on how both sides can learn from the other and improve their operation.
  • Kamal and his team organized Food & Feast, a series of festivals throughout Lebanon which aims at promoting local traditions and food specialties.
  • Kamal and his team developed a Seeds for Peace project, a Bala Nylon program, a Souk @ School program (raising awareness at schools for organic, sustainable agriculture and teaching food traditions).
  • Kamal created Dekenet Souk el Tayeb in order to support  small producers, to discover and perpetuate culinary traditions.
  • Kamal contributed to an excellent guidebook A Complete Insider’s Guide to Lebanon (Souk el-Tayeb Press 2008)

About food in general, Kamal says, full of  passion and feelings:   “Food is our identity. Taste is the only thing that we will take with us to the grave“.

About his accomplishments, Kamal refuses any credit: ” It is not me, it is all these producers out there who need credit: I only give them a voice and support them”.

Listen to Larry Kent, an expert in market management from North Carolina State University, who came to Lebanon to provide help and guidance to Souk el-Tayeb’s producers: ” The whole concept which Kamal has created (all the projects listed above) …Kamal is way ahead of us in the US… this is a leader project that can be a boost for peace, and can be duplicated in other countries.”

As Lebanese expatriates whose nostalgia and longing for the taste of our motherland and whose love for our country of origin is ever so vibrant, here’s what we would like Kamal Mouzawak to know:

Kamal, we root for you and we are proud of you.

We are proud that you are helping the small farmers and producers  and giving them  a chance to make it.

We are proud that you are reviving our ancient  traditions through all these forgotten  dishes, through your classes, events, media, and through the souk.

We are proud that you are helping put a stop to  the decay and  neglect of  farm  land  throughout Lebanon.

We give you our steady  support and wish you continued success.

NOTE: www.soukeltayeb.com

Tel/fax:  +961 1 448 129

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69 Comments

  1. Posted January 13, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I’m so impressed. Kamal’s projects are visionary indeed.

    And I love your blog. Thank you for this post, and for all the posts.

  2. Posted January 13, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Mr. Mouzawak not only played with a concept, but turned it into a wonderful reality!
    Kudos to him and to you for putting the spotlight on him, or we never would’ve known about this man.

    Thanks J for alerting me to this post, even if I’m a hundred years too late and don’t stand a chance of winning. What the heck. Your story and pictures certainly made it all worthwhile. Good luck to Kamal Mouzawak for his determination in bringing a dream to life. And good luck to all participants of this giveaway!

  3. Posted January 13, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Mr. Mouzawak not only played with a concept, but turned it into a wonderful reality! Kudos to him and to you for putting the spotlight on him, or we never would’ve known about this man.

    Thanks J for alerting me to this post, even if I’m a hundred years too late and don’t stand a chance of winning. What the heck. Your story and pictures certainly made it all worthwhile. Good luck to Kamal Mouzawak for his determination in bringing a dream to life. And good luck to all participants of this giveaway!

  4. Posted January 13, 2010 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    …and my apologies for the hiccups.

  5. Jeff
    Posted January 14, 2010 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    Rural residents are usually shut-out of the economic viabilities and opportunities of the urban setting. Kamal Mouzawak has been able to democratize opportunity for the small, local farmer, but he does it in a way that is shows a genuine passion for his country, regional environment, and most of all, food. It’s how food should be.

    And what a wonderful blog of all these great, fresh Lebanese recipes!

  6. Posted January 14, 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    This sounds like a great experience! The spices sound wonderful!

  7. Posted January 14, 2010 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    thank you, dear joumana, for this ‘contest’. the spices look amazing. best wishes, shayma

  8. farzana
    Posted January 15, 2010 at 2:35 am | Permalink

    What a lovely giveaway. I had the good fortune of living in America some years back and was introduced to “Freekeh” by some Palestinian friends. I can still remember the smokey flavour. I have not found it in my part of the world and would love to receive this now. Thank you for an interesting and informative post. Take care. Pick me pick me.

  9. Posted January 16, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Joumana, mon amie, il devrait y avoir des Kamal partout dans le monde.
    Ca maintient des traditions culinaires et ça aide beaucoup le monde paysan à mieux se faire connaitre.
    A bientôt.

  10. Joseph Nicholas
    Posted January 18, 2010 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    Very inspirational- in the Northeast US we are trying to plan our own gardens, and this is quite motivating. Kamal Mouzawak’s success is heartwarming, that there is some hope that we can maintain tradition and link generations of people through food. Its hard to find such resources in many parts of the US, I suppose a trip to Lebanon is the most pleasurable way to stay inspired! Thank you Jourmana for your exquisite blog, photography and reporting.

  11. Posted January 18, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    This is a lovely post, and he sounds like an amazing man. I’d love to win some of the tasty goodies you’re so generously giving away. Thanks for the opportunity.

  12. dana
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    What an amazing person and amazing feats. Thank you Joumana for highlighting Kamal’s achievements. Lebanon is in dire need of visionaries like him. Your closing words couldnt have said it any better: thank you, Kamal!

    Plus, to all you foodies out there and fans of tasteofbeirut, Joumana has been doing a wonderful job of testing, archiving, and educating the masses about the beautiful culinary heritage of Lebanon. Thank you, Joumana!

  13. cmiranda
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    I will be travelling to Beirut in March and I look forward to visiting this place.Thank you for sharing.

  14. Posted December 24, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    A twitter follower has informed me of this site, and I have to say I liked it. I’m going to tell to my about 7000 fans, thank you very much!

  15. Posted December 26, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Hi! Just wanted to say good blog. Continue with the good work!

  16. Posted January 2, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Outstanding piece, thanks for sharing!

  17. Posted January 4, 2011 at 2:54 am | Permalink

    Very informative post! Thanks!

  18. Posted January 5, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    I always wished to write on my site something like that. I regularly don’t write-up comments in blogs but yet your blog made me to, tremendous work.… Respectfully, Krista.

  19. Posted June 18, 2011 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    hi, good day. i was just reading about this on our local website

13 Trackbacks

  1. [...] The last time Joumana visited Beirut, Lebanese chef and food project genius Kamal Mouzawak gave her several packages of za’atar spice, herb salt, khamouneh, a spice mix based on cumin, and freekah, wheat smoked in the fields while still green. She is now running a raffle for them, including a recipe booklet. The raffle is on till Jan. 31st, so if you’re interested, leave a comment on her post about Kamal Mouzawak and the amazing work he’s done with small farmers and local ingredients, here. [...]

  2. By kamal - StartTags.com on February 1, 2010 at 10:31 am

    [...] daughter Linda told the Daily News that her dad wanted to punish the U.S. for supporting Israel …Kamal Mouzawak, food visionary for LebanonMy first encounter with Kamal Mouzawak occurred seven years ago; my cousin Isabelle had taken me to [...]

  3. [...] a peaceful food movement is possible in this war-torn nation. Learn more about Souk el Tayeb on the Taste of Beirut [...]

  4. By Lunch at Tawlet on June 15, 2010 at 1:52 am

    [...] is yet another of Kamal Mouzawak’s creations  and a must-stop on your foodie tour of Beirut’s restaurants. The concept [...]

  5. [...] Try: new ideas for minced meat are always good so these Lamb and Apricot Balls are top of the list. Kamal Mouzawak’s Aubergine Purée is a must try, as are the Caramelised Biscuits to sprinkle over ice cream [...]

  6. By cooking @ Tawlet, Beirut | kitchen guerilla on March 18, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    [...] mit unserem Essen glücklich gemacht hatten. Zum Lunch hatten wir gebeten und mit Hilfe von Kamal Mouzawak, Christine und dem großartigen Team des Tawlets haben wir diverse Köstlichkeiten angeboten. [...]

  7. By cooking @ Tawlet, Beirut | kitchen guerilla on March 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    [...] our food. We had invited Beirut for lunch, where we offered a variety of delicacies with the help of Kamal Mouzawak, Christine and the great team of Tawlet. Octopus, ceviche of tuna, beetroot carpaccio with ginger [...]

  8. [...] is amazing what a good meal can do. I find myself in Tawlet Restaurant, owned by Kamal Mouzawak. Friend and connoisseur of the Arabian cuisine Merijn Tol introduced him to me. It’s the second [...]

  9. By Rice and fava beans on May 13, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    [...] stalks and shells) were served as a snack at the new TAWLET Ammiq restaurant in the Bekaa Valley, Kamal Mouzawak‘s latest venture. (More on that later this week). [Translate] « Loquats [...]

  10. By Lunch at Tawlet | Food Recipes on July 7, 2012 at 12:50 am

    [...] is yet another of Kamal Mouzawak‘s creations  and a must-stop on your foodie tour of Beirut’s restaurants. The concept [...]

  11. By Délices des Mille et Une Nuits (Kamal Mouzawak) on January 7, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    [...] Designed around the story of The Thousand and One Nights, this book is a work of art created by Kamal Mouzawak, written by  Malek Chebel and illustrated by Anne-Lise [...]

  12. By Muhallabieh with candied lemon on January 16, 2013 at 1:58 am

    [...] was reminded recently (after a glorious lunch at Kamal’s) how wonderful our homey muhallabieh can be. It is perfect in many ways; it takes less than 5 [...]

  13. By Sprouted fava casserole (Foolyieh) on February 5, 2013 at 10:39 am

    [...] had lunch with Kamal Mouzawak at his Tawlet restaurant recently; while we were on the topic of his exquisite cookbook, he let it [...]

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