Chef and writer Fouad Kassab rose to Sydney fame with ‘The Food Blog’, which documented his journey through Australia’s cooking culture after moving here from his native town of Jbeil in Lebanon. Fouad is the head chef at Summer Hill’s weekly popup restaurant Chic Pea, which serves up modernised memories of Fouad’s childhood fare made from locally sourced ingredients.
What do you like most about sharing your knowledge of Middle Eastern cuisine with the broader Inner West community?
I’m always humbled by seeing how much people love our food. We’ve had so much support from the Inner West community and so much positivity. My hope is that up and coming Middle Eastern chefs who are training in Sydney’s restaurants realise that the food they grew up with has a place in Sydney’s dining scene, is something to be proud of, and is a cuisine where clever innovation can still take place.
What is your favourite ingredient in your cooking?
Tahini, which is like a peanut butter made from sesame seeds, has to be up there. It’s essential to our cuisine and staples like hummus and baba ghanouj are impossible without it. I also love lamb fat for roasting vegetables and pistachios are my favourite nut.
What is your first memory of cooking?
My mum was and still is an amazing cook. I would always ask to help her and she would give me a mortar and pestle and ask me to pound some garlic. I now think it was her way of keeping me out of the kitchen as she was never satisfied that the garlic was pounded enough and would always ask me to keep pounding away!
Your second passion is writing. Do you see any similarities in the process of writing and cooking?
Sure. I don’t know where the inspiration for either comes from. There’s something magical that I cannot take any credit for, and I always feel blessed to be the recipient of these ideas and able to turn them into something concrete.
Do you have a secret treat you indulge in which is unsustainable, processed, or just plain bad for you?
No. My body is a temple. Hehehe. Ice cream! I usually don’t eat much sugar, but I can’t go past a good ice cream.
Puy Lentil Salad with Hazelnuts, Preserved Lemons, Thyme and Isot Pepper
Isot pepper is a black Turkish pepper with medium heat and a complex flavour reminiscent of raisins and chocolate. I buy mine from Gyma, a Turkish supermarket in Auburn.
Mix the following ingredients together:
2 cups puy lentils, boiled with a bouquet garni until just after al dente
1/2-cup roast pumpkins, cut into small cubes
1/2-cup oven-dried tomatoes – Make your own or use
good quality semi-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp preserved lemon peel – rinsed and finely chopped
A handful or two of roasted hazelnuts, peeled and coarsely crushed
1/4-cup chopped fresh thyme
1 tbsp isot pepper
1 tsp allspice
Olive oil and salt to taste