Fattoush is the second most renowned Lebanese salad. It is usually made from toasted or fried pieces of Arabic flat bread, combined with mixed greens and vegetables chopped into relatively large pieces. But Emm Tony’s Fattoush was particular just like all her dishes.
Emm Tony always compared the Fattoush to planet earth. She used to tell me: “Fattoush is a huge world. You can incorporate any ingredient in it!”. Tasting her Fattoush was a peculiar experience. I used to enjoy the flavors as much as discovering the new addition.
I wanted to recreate the experience I had as a taster of Emm Tony’s Fattoush with my “Planet Fattoush”. This dish requires the use of your eyes, hands and taste buds.
“Planet Fattoush” is a combination of fresh cucumber, pomegranate, yellow and red tomatoes for sweetness and acidity, fresh green bell pepper, confit red bell pepper and edible flowers mixed with olive oil and sumac, fried Arabic flat bread on top, and grilled Arabic flat bread circle with a drizzle of lemon, olive oil and pomegranate molasses sauce.
This dish represents me as a person and as a chef. I live in my own world and people tend to have a wrong first impression about me. Only the ones who dig deeper get to know the real George. And the real George is happy on his own planet surrounded by the people he loves even if they are not here anymore.
Lebanese cuisine is known worldwide for its mezes. This selection of small dishes is served as appetizers at the beginning of every typical lunch or dinner.
Emm Tony used to mix two of the most famous eggplant mezes (Baba Ghanoush and Raheb Salad) in one dish and replace the bread with a crispy fried eggplant. When I asked her why does she do so, her answer was: “There are no rules! Since I love these flavors, why not mix them in a unique recipe?”. The little boy I was back then wanted to know more: “Why don’t people who like these flavors do the same, grandma?”. Between two bites of this divine dish, Emm Tony told me something that became the foundation of my culinary apprenticeship: “You have to understand every ingredient in order to master its cooking in every possible way and understand how flavors work together.”
Today, my taste buds can still reminisce all the flavors of Emm Tony’s one-of-a-kind eggplant dish.
“Eggplant Festival” is a dish playing around the flavors and textures of one unique ingredient: the eggplant.
The eggplants are candied in olive oil and flavored with cumin, garlic and thyme, then oven-cooked for 2 hours at 100 °C and finally stuffed with Baba Ghanoush. To add some smokiness to the acidity of the dish, the eggplant roll is grilled and stuffed with Raheb Salad. For crispiness, eggplant slices were oven-baked for 2 hours at 160°C, then seasoned with lemon and garlic powder.
CORAL ROCK HUMMUS
I will not linger on the origins of the famous Hummus dish. My favorite Hummus is Emm Tony’s and it inspired me the “Coral Rock Hummus”.
Emm Tony used prepare the “Hummus bi Tahina” (Hummus with Tahini) and add at the end a mix of cumin, garlic and olive oil. When I first asked her why doesn’t she mix this sauce with the chickpeas purée, her answer was: “You will find out after tasting it”. One bite was enough! The answer was there! I distinguished first all the components of her sauce and the “Hummus bi Tahina” flavor emerged later and stayed in my mouth. She was right! Sometimes experiences give us the perfect answers. I realized that she didn’t mix the sauce with the purée to keep the flavor of the “Hummus bi Tahina” as a surprise at the end.
In this dish, I used chickpeas in 3 forms: fried, baked and puréed. The purée base is Emm Tony’s “Hummus bi Tahina”. The fried chickpeas are coated with a cumin tempura (a mix of cumin, flour, soda water, salt and pepper). The baked chickpeas are boiled and mixed with garlic then oven-baked for 1 hour at 170 °C.
I wanted the plating to look like coral rocks because it reminds me of Assinie-Mafia, a coastal town in Ivory Coast. When I went to Abidjan for work, I was far away from Emm Tony for the first time and for a long period. Whenever I felt angry, lonely or nostalgic, I used to take her photos (where she was always smiling) and go sit by the beach and its coral rocks. These moments gave me back the energy needed to pursue my dream in order to make her feel proud of me.
THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG?
“Djej w Batata bel Forn” (Baked Chicken and Potato) is a common Lebanese main course. But Emm Tony used to prepare it in a unique way. And her recipe has been passed down from generation to generation.
In “The Chicken or The Egg?”, I wanted to show my family that Emm Tony’s patrimony is much more than good recipes. Emm Tony teached me how to use my imagination creatively in every dish I conceive.
My revisited “Djej w Batata bel Forn” looks like a nest with an egg in the middle and the shells of hatching eggs on the sides. The surprise effect occurs when the potato is cut and the chicken is found stuffed inside.
To create the central egg, the potato was hollowed out, then oven-baked in chicken stock, garlic and thyme for 3 hours at 150
°C. Afterwards, it was stuffed with chicken breast cooked sous-vide at 53°C for 90mins with lemon, garlic, coriander, salt and pepper then pan fried with butter. To create the nest, chicken thighs were slow cooked inside the chicken stock and a hint of cinnamon for 2 hours, then shredded and fried to add crispiness. The eggshells on the side were made from the scooped-out potato pulp boiled then fried with a hint of rosemary. For the sauce, I followed Emm Tony’s recipe mixing chicken stock, lemon juice, garlic, coriander and a bit of butter after boiling.