We go all nuts for him

Behind the name Les Mauvais Garçons (the bad boys) hides a passionate pastry chef, Raja Farah, dedicated to composing delicious desserts in which each ingredients is carefully selected to delight our taste buds.

The chef’s favourite ingredient? Hazelnut, an ingredient that can be interpreted in multiple ways. For his choco-hazelnut tarte, Raja substitutes chocolate and hazelnut powder for the base, then fills it with different chocolate textures; creamy dark chocolate, topped by a crunchy chocolate crust then sprinkled with chocolate and hazelnut cream. The menu, which changes twice a year, features the classics of French pastry. Pastry cooking is a meticulous experience, in which dosage and timing follow strict rules from which one cannot deviate for a successful dessert. Originality can be added once the basics are mastered, and for Raja it resides in the choice of ingredients. He proposes unique combinations such as choux au spéculos, with a crunchy layer of biscuit and almond powder. The young chef also infuses some local flavours in his desserts; orange blossom, pistachio, apricot paste or rose water, and creates modern compositions such as his tarte Maamoul with almonds, hazelnuts and chocolate. For his lemon tarte, red fruits Pavlova, apple and salted butter caramel cake or his citrus fruit salad flavoured with twelve spices, Raja selects seasonal ingredients, as he says fruits are much tastier when ripe and fresh.

As a child, Raja was passionate about pastry. He learned his first recipes from his grandmothers. He still remembers the first cookbook he received which encouraged him to tackle more difficult recipes. For his university studies, he opted for a more ‘conventional’ curriculum, then worked in advertising, a choice guided by his parents who noted the instability and difficulty of the cooking profession. Between classes and tiny apartments without a suitable kitchen, Raja left cooking aside for a while. Then one day, that was it, he decided to pursue his long-time passion. The young man chose the prestigious Ferrandi school in Paris, and after a year of intensive studies, he completed trainings with the biggest names in pastry, Christophe Michalak and Jean Francois Piège, before coming back home to Lebanon to open his own pastry shop. In his lab in Badaro, the chef receives clients’ requests and prepares his desserts alone behind the oven, while planning possibly to open a boutique soon. Clients come back for his home-made desserts, and the chef also proposes a selection of choux and mini cakes with multiple flavours; vanilla, maple syrup, pecan or green tea and jasmine to cater for events. For his creations in which each ingredient is selected with care, Raja rhymes the delicious with the gorgeous.

Article originally published in L’Officiel Levant, June 2017 Issue

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Muito BEY, colours and tastes

A colourful atmosphere, savoury meals and a fusion of culture, Lisbon gets up to date with Lebanese cuisine with its new address: Muito BEY.

In a modern setting, Muito BEY offers a Lebanese menu in the heart of the trendy neighbourhood Cais do Sodré. The numerous similarities between the two capital cities inspired Ezzat Ellaz, the entrepreneur behind Muito BEY. The weather first of all, which allowed him to find fresh local ingredients. The culinary tastes are also similar; a preference for lemon dressings, coriander, and some notes of garlic, but also the colours, sky blue, red roof tiles, sun and azulejos, the ceramic tiles adding a particular touch to the restaurant’s décor which was conceived by a Portuguese architect. Muito BEY is the bridge between ‘Muito’, from the Portuguese expression Muito Bom that means very good, and BEY the abbreviation of Beirut’s airport. On the menu feature tasty pastries; thyme manouché, cheese manouché or vegetarian and homemade bread, hot and cold mezzés, Chermandar, beetroot seasoned with tahini, Flaiflé Hamra or Labné Meklié and grilled skewers. The revisited traditional recipes are born from collaboration with Barbara Abdeni Massad, author of the cook book Soup for Syria. While 90% ingredients are selected locally, zaatar, sumac and other specialities are sourced from Lebanon and also used in cocktails with original recipes and names such Ahlan, Habibi or Badaro.

Ezzat Ellaz studied hotel management at the Ecole Hôtelière de Glion in Switzerland, and then pursued an international career in the Food & Beverage industry. He accumulated experience in the United Arab Emirates and Germany, then moved back to Lebanon and worked for five years in consulting, still in the Food & Beverage sector. His contribution to the creation of several restaurants across the Middle East fuelled his desire to open his own place. Passionate about Lebanese cuisine, he points out its versatility, which makes it adaptable to various concepts; from tapas, to fast food or luxury restaurants. Three years ago, Ezzat went on a vacation to Lisbon and noticed the growing dynamism of the city. He started looking into the project. He observed the habits of locals, where they like to go out, what they prefer to eat and what new restaurants are attracting clients in the city centre. In October 2015 Ezza moved to Lison. He found his location at the address of the old post office headquarters, in a once neglected neighbourhood that became in the past few years the IT address of the city’s nightlife. The restaurant now attracts a cosmopolite clientele delighted to find Lebanese cuisine in their city, a cuisine that they discovered through trips to other capitals, but also amateurs, curious to experience a taste of Lebanon.

Article originally published in L’Officiel Levant – March 2017 Issue

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Connected Wine

The new address for Lebanese wine is online, 209 Lebanese Wine reveals the secrets of Lebanese Wines. Colours, regions and flavors, amateurs and wine enthusiasts can now get a clearer picture and share the delights of wine as true connoisseurs.

209 Lebanese Wines concept is based on three pillars: home delivery, the Wine Club, and soon an itinerant truck that will travel through festivals and markets across Lebanon to share wine and platters of cheese and cold cuts. On the online boutique, launched in October 2016 during the latest edition of Vinifest, the visitor can chose among more than fourty Lebanese Wineries. A search engine enables filtering according to the criteria of choice: wine and food pairing, grapes, price range, colour or winery. Whether you are a cheese amateur, prefer seafood, fois gras or even pizza, whether you are looking for a Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot or local grapes Obeidi and Merwah, nuanced by the multiple microclimates that characterize Lebanon, the right bottle is just a few clicks away. 209 Lebanese Wines blog addresses various wine topics : how to chose seasoning aromatic herbs with wine to enhance the taste of a meal, how to decide between the numerous bottles on a restaurant wine list or what is the correct Wine Etiquette. On 209 Lebanese Wine, a community is building around wine culture. The website offers a Wine Club membership. Members receive discovery bottles every month, can book a wine expert for a house party and are invited to tastings and winery tours.

Why 209?

Sélim Yasmine is passionate about wine. After a twenty years career in corporate marketing, including experience in the wine sector, he decided to dedicate fully to his passion while sharing it. He traveled accross Lebanon in search of wineries throughout the Bekaa, Mount Lebanon, Batroun region and the South. ‘In Lebanon there are about fifty wineries, he says, and it would be a loss not to highlight the products of our terroir.’ The name 209 was chosen in reference to the Pantone color for red wine, a trait d’union between Sélim’s passion for wine and his marketing experience. In the cellar located in the basement, adjacent to Sélim’s office, the bottles are conserved in cool conditions, and deliveries are prepared to arrive fresh to our homes. The website is making wine lovers happy, as well as wineries who now have a new outlet to boost their visibility and facilitate deliveries. A new ambassador of Lebanese Wine, 209 Lebanese Wine is considering exporting the concept carrying a terroir, a unique flavor and a thousand years history accross borders.

Article originally published in L’Officiel Levant – February 2017 Issue

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