Jerusalem24 – Whether you end up going into either humble cooking or haute cuisine, inspiration often happens at home.
For Fadi Kattan, it was his grandmother and mother’s cooking, and the hospitality aspect of lunch parties and welcoming people. “That’s what started seducing me and then I went off and did my formal training in Paris,” Chef Fadi shares with Jerusalem24.
Fadi Kattan, a Franco-Palestinian chef and hotelier, has become a voice of modern Palestinian cuisine. With his restaurant Fawda opening in 2016, he created a cuisine honoring Palestine’s best produce with a modern twist, rising to the challenge of rendering this traditional cooking into a gourmet dining experience.
Creativity from chaos
The concept behind the name – fawda means chaos – is that Fawda doesn’t have a menu: “We do a four-course meal that is designed every day according to whatever produce the farmers have in the old city market. And that’s where the fawda is: technically when I’m finished with my tour in the market, I don’t know what I’m cooking that day.”
Chef Fadi explains that there are two reasons for this. The first is because that’s how a lot of people cook in Palestine, including his grandmother. She would go to the market, or farmers sometimes would come to her house with their products, and that would inspire the flavor of the day.
The second reason is that one cannot have a static menu, but rather one that depends on the seasons. “I do believe that creativity comes from chaos, that chaos pushes you to create something new”.
He believes it’s wrong to tell farmers what the chefs need produced; rather, it’s the chefs who need to adapt to what farmers have available that day, and “that gives it the whole rhythm.”
At Fawda, Palestine is celebrated, and everything Chef Fadi has in his kitchen is Palestinian. “I don’t do classical Palestinian food – however, everything is inspired by Palestinian food.”
Fawda, which is located in Bethlehem, has been closed since the Covid-19 pandemic and hasn’t yet reopened.
“I do believe that being able to cook produce that is locally planted and sourced is essential. I also think that Palestinian cuisine, like other cuisines, is something that needs to go through phases – because most chefs have humongous egos and we think that we will revolutionize the world of food but in reality we know it’s not true.”
Chef Fadi adds that most chefs will come and go and not leave much in the general cuisine picture. Their role lies instead in trying to carry a bit of the story and share it on a plate, in a dish, or in a recipe with people.Chef Fadi believes that as chefs it is essential to remember that they’re celebrating a cuisine by paying homage to it. “We try to work differently with our own personal interpretations but it stays very much something that is inscribed in the land, the flavors, the vegetables, the artisan who produced the stuff.”
Chef Fadi explains that it’s not only the farmers but also the bakers, the butchers and the spice masters: everyone assembles their own product to create a dish.
“Creating a dish is telling a story”
“It’s basically and simply my cuisine, I don’t think I can put a label on it,” says Chef Fadi. “It’s just my personal take on Palestinian dishes, it’s a bit like telling a story. It’s a lot of who you are and what you are that inscribes [itself] in it. Creating a dish is also telling a story.”
Chef Fadi adds that the link to Palestine is not only in the products, it’s in the stories. “I work with oranges. They do not come from Jaffa, but I tell the story of the Jaffa oranges, and how the dispossession of 1948 happened, how my family was dispossessed of its land in Jaffa where we grew oranges – even though technically what I’m serving on the plate are oranges that come from Jericho.”
Culinary glimpses of the Palestine narrative
Around the world and across cultures, when people meet and want to strike a friendship, they’ll very often have a meal together. Some may tell a story in words, and some may tell the story through the food they’re serving.
“I tell the stories by making food.”
Chef Fadi points out that Palestine is a very tiny country but with very different culinary traditions depending on whether you’re in Gaza, Jerusalem, Nablus, or the desert. This is because of geographical factors such as access to water or different land types.
“There have been two major periods of Palestinian history that shaped the Palestinian cuisine. The first [is the] emigration that happened in the late eighteen hundreds where people left to go elsewhere for economic reasons. That movement of people made recipes travel from here to abroad and vice versa, which influenced the way we eat and cook.”
The second major period, Chef Fadi says, is the Nakba in 1948 when people were dispossessed and became refugees in various countries, which in turn also impacted the way they eat and cook.
Marketing Palestinian produce
Palestine faces a big challenge in marketing its products. Chef Fadi says it’s a multi-layered challenge, and that part of it is that most people don’t know about Palestinian products. He explains that Palestinians haven’t been very successful in the last 20 to 30 years in marketing Palestinian produce abroad. However, he notes, Palestine has fantastic examples of Palestinians who have done very well in selling their products at an international level – such as “a few names in olive oil that are doing pretty great and selling on shelves.”
“However,” he queries, “have you ever heard of Palestinian sumac being sold abroad? I haven’t, and we have one of the best sumac in the world.”
There’s also the challenge of exporting and meeting demand – not only in quantity “but also certifications and all that, and being a country under occupation that becomes very complicated.”
Chef Fadi’s recommendations
Chef Fadi has a few personal favorites when it comes to Palestinian artisans and producers.
“Hussam Halaq who produces salt from the Dead Sea, and whose family is from Jerusalem, have been producing the salt prior to 1967.” They managed to keep the production throughout the years, and Chef Fadi believes that the resulting product is one of the best in the world.
He also mentions Taybeh, a company that specializes in crafting beer and recently diversified with wine production. “They’re producing amazing wine in such a short time,” he says.
Also worthy of mention is Hilweh market in Jaffa that sells fantastic products from individual Palestinian producers.
Sharing is caring: Chef Fadi’s recipe
Chef Fadi shares on Vibes the story and secrets of one of the recipes he has up on his website, Laban Jameed and Pea soup.
“As a child I would very often wait for the moment peas arrived in the market or in the garden. The taste of the first fresh green peas is magical, and Laban Jameed is a product I think we don’t celebrate enough. We either rehydrate it for Mansaf and Shishbarak, but actually the dry form of Laban Jameed, if you grate it, it makes a fantastic, beautiful powder that you can sprinkle on different dishes. I also use it when it’s not totally dry after breaking it into small pieces and I cook it.”
“For the pea cream, I get very young peas and cook with a tiny bit of water and a bit of seasoning until they are soft enough to mix with a mixer, to become that thick creamy texture. Then I take some Laban Jameed that I grate on top.”
“Laban Jameed is one of the essential products we have,” asserts Chef Fadi. “We see it now marketed as Israeli, [but] Laban Jameed has been produced by many generations of both Palestinians and Jordanians.”
For more tasty tips, listen to the full interview on Vibes.