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The New Oak Grill, the Spirituality of Cooking & the Falafel Conflict: A Q&A with Chef Joe Barza

The New Oak Grill, the Spirituality of Cooking & the Falafel Conflict: A Q&A with Chef Joe Barza
written by
Hend Salah

In collaboration with celebrity Lebanese chef, Joe Barza, Conrad Cairo Hotel restaurant, Oak Grill, has taken on a renovation of its entire menu, adding an Arabian-Mediterranean touch, with Barza promising revolutionary dishes and new culinary trends.

With over 24 years of experience in professional cooking and kitchen management, as well as being co-host of the Middle East version of Top Chef and appearing on several other shows, we got the chance to sit down with Barza ahead of a special unveiling of the menu.

-You’re known for your rebel attitude to food, but how do you discover and create new flavour combinations?

Cooking is very spiritual; it has to come from within. Food is my passion and the new flavour combinations are actually nothing more than an upgrade made to an existing recipe. I like to give every recipe its fair share of creativity and innovation; creating everything myself is just what I do best.

-How did you get into food?

The need to get out of Lebanon especially during the Lebanese Civil War is what made me get into food. I enlisted at the Hotel School of Arts in Lebanon and, after graduation, I worked as an apprentice chef in Lebanon, before going to South Africa for six years where I in my career quickly progressed.

-What would you consider the most important decision/moment that set you on the road to success in your career as a chef?

I was taught in South Africa how to think and create, instead of how to cook; I learnt afterwards that these are the two pillars of any excellent chef. So, I started getting out my comfort zone in the way I cook, which helped me reach where I am today.

-Do you think Middle Eastern food can ever be as globally popular as something like Chinese cuisine for example?

Middle Eastern food is widely known around the world, but what separates one cuisine over the other is the amount of effort and dedication behind it. We as Middle Easter chefs are responsible for making it becomes globally popular.

-What attracted you to the Conrad?

My history with the Conrad goes way back. I work with both Hilton and Conrad in the Middle East and I helped in establishing their kitchens and setting a tone to the food served.

-What can Cairo expect from ‘the new’ Oak Grill?

Mouthwatering and authentic Lebanese dishes! Anyone who appreciates food will certainly enjoy the new Oak Grill menu. I work with an extremely talented staff with different nationalities and skill, who know how to respect food.

-If you could recommend one dish from the new menu, what would it be?

I can’t recommend one dish only since my menu forms a harmony that is hard to separate or choose from!

-Tough question…Lebanon and Egypt….who does the best ta3meya?

Both are completely two different things and unique in their own way – and I like the mboth equally!

A very diplomatic answer by Barza! For more information, check out Conrad Cairo Hotel on Facebook, or call 02-2580-8000.