Familiarity breeds complacency. This is Greg Malouf’s point of view on Lebanese cuisine.
The Michelin-awarded Australian-Lebanese chef, renowned for his sophisticated approach to Middle Eastern cuisine, laments the state of his native culinary tradition.
“Lebanese cuisine has become lazy and I am ready to say it publicly,” he said. The National. “There is no more effort and care with many restaurants taking shortcuts in terms of preparation and products. As a result, the food itself hit a brick wall and has been for years. “
Malouf sees no reason why Lebanese cuisine should not achieve the status of its Southeast Asian counterparts. After all, it’s made up of complex flavors and fresh produce, yet nimble enough to accommodate rustic and refined treatments.
This is part of the reason why Malouf is committed to creating a lavish menu for the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, to be served in the exclusive Shams suite at Yas Marina circuit.
He describes the weekend’s running event as an opportunity to demonstrate how complementary Lebanese food is in the most elegant setting.
“My mission has always been to put Lebanese cuisine on a pedestal,” he says.
“And not to change it, but to elevate it slightly. It means working with good products and presenting them in an interesting way that doesn’t take away from its integrity.
It will also be an opportunity to shatter certain received ideas.
“Not all hummus are the same,” he says. “I don’t think a lot of people have had real humus made from Lebanese, Mexican or Australian chickpeas with a touch of excellent extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and a dash of fresh lemon.
“It’s such a humble dish, but shortcuts were taken to keep costs down and that’s why the hummus we eat today is mostly poor.”
Malouf will try to right these perceived wrongs through dishes that he describes as deeply personal.
These offerings stem from a three-decade career in which he launched groundbreaking Middle Eastern restaurants in Australia, such as MoMo in Melbourne. He is also the former chef at star London-based Petersham Nurseries and has published eight cookbooks on the Middle East.
“I’m basically going to share some of my interpretations of classic Lebanese food, but in my own way,” he says.
“Take, for example, shanklish, a dish made from leftover cheese curds that have been spiced up. I use a combination of fresh Greek feta cheese and French goat cheese which has been drained so that it is quite thick. I then spice it up with various ingredients, including a Turkish red pepper, which, I assure you, is quite difficult to find.
Malouf’s other ‘spicy catches’ include a fattoush salad with poached Gulf shrimp and a shoulder of lamb cooked for eight hours and served with porcini freekah – the latter being a roasted green grain made from durum wheat.
With so much to offer, it’s bittersweet that Malouf says the time he once again ran restaurants – which included the old Dubai stores Zahira and Cle – is behind him.
However, some UAE diners will still be able to experience his creations in subtle ways in the future.
“I feel like I’ve done my share of work 12 hours a day for years in restaurants and I’m looking for less stress in my life,” he says.
“But my work continues in that I consult and train staff here in the UAE and abroad.
“There is still so much to do for Lebanese and Middle Eastern cuisine to reach its potential and bring it to a place where it truly deserves to be. “
1,100 Dh for a three-day Shams Suite pass. The Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will take place from Friday to Sunday December 10 to 12; www.yasmarinacircuit.com
Update: December 3, 2021, 6:21 a.m.