Beirut poised for a gastronomical explosion

Beirut was widely known as the 'Paris of the Middle East' prior to the decades of war that have ravaged Lebanon's capital city in the recent past, and according to the
New York Times on June 1, it could soon be again enjoying comparisons to the French capital with over 100 new restaurants in the works.

Joseph Asseily is the chairman of Beirut Hospitality, part of the Lebanese firm Solidere, which is responsible for the large development project that is basically re-envisioning downtown Beirut with 400 new luxury hotels, shops, parks, waterfront, cultural and religious places.

Asseily announced, "we are bringing in world-renowned chefs to make Beirut the food capital of the Middle East."

The world-renowned chefs that Asseily is referring to are the Michelin-starred French elite: Joël Robuchon, Yannick Alléno, Antoine Westermann (considered an Epicurean Master of the World), Parisian baker Eric Kayser and possibly Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Lebanese cuisine has missed a world of culinary trends from fusion to deconstruction but Beirut is now poised for a gastronomical explosion with the plentiful fresh ingredients available and acclaimed Lebanese wines.

Chefs in Lebanon are also divided between tradition palates and all the ‘new' possibilities.

Kamal Mouzawak, a food activist and restaurateur, said, "Nouvelle Lebanese does not exist," but at his local guest chef restaurant Tawlet, one chef, Joe Barza is cooking up "Nouvelle Lebanese" and getting locals to rethink traditional staples like hummus. Barza asked, "Why does hummus have to be made with tahini? I see a big opportunity."

He continued,"We have the ingredients, we just have to think about how we are using them."  And, he is by creating kibbe with fish instead of meat, wrapping fish over stuffed grape leaves, bulgur-stuffed chicken and even a pizza topped with bastirma (spiced dried beef) and arugula salad.

Not only will Beirut be home to over 100 new restaurants including one with a fused Moroccan-French-Lebanese menu but a whole new cuisine is also emerging.

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