chef profile

Living Above the Store

In another life I will come back as a chef with a small restaurant in a little village with less than 10 seats inside and a quaint patio outside. Word of my talents will spread far and wide and people will come from the furthest corners of the earth to sit and sample and soak in the special little space we’ll create.

Until then, I’ll watch Chef’s Table on Netflix. 

There are so many wonderful lessons for founders to take from the unique perspectives on food and business and creatively shared by the chefs the show profiles. 

For even the most talented chefs, the business of starting and running a restaurant makes launching your website in your underwear look as simple as, well, launching a website in your underwear. Their stories of sacrifice, perseverance, overcoming obscurity and rising to fame are so well crafted in the course of 45 minutes. Someone could write a dozen posts just teasing our patterns for founders.

This is not one of those posts.

But, there has been one theme throughout the previous seasons that has stuck with me. And has given me a new way to frame the tired and tortured debate on work/life balance.

No one I know likes that term. No one I know with a family or a business or a personal life feels they’ve nailed that perfect “balance”. 

That’s likely because balance among all those variables is an impossible goal. 

But many of the chefs profiled have something about it figured out. 

Not in the sense that they have struck the perfect balance of their family and their business and their obsession with food but that they marry them as a core part of the life they’re building. 

In many cases, in the early days of their restaurants (and often later) they live above their stores. 

Like, literally above it.

The restaurant is on the street level and they have an apartment above. 

As the editors of the show take us back in the history of these famed restaurateurs you’ll often see photos of their partners, or spouses or children hauling in supplies, chopping produce or having a meal with them in the back office prior to service. You’ll see their living spaces, and the steps and stairs the constitute their commute. There isn’t some arbitrary separation between the work they’re doing and the people dearest to them. Their lives and efforts are intertwined. All invested in a shared vision, with proximity to see it take shape day in and day out.

As someone who’s a bit (read- a lot!) obsessive about the work I do, that metaphor, of living above the store, has given me a new visual framework for thinking how to incorporate my work and my family. Not with the goal of striking a perfect balance, but with blurring those distinct lines altogether. 

And if I don’t figure it out in this life, I’ve always got that little restaurant in the next one to really nail it.

Chef Profile: Bilal Attar

Chef Bilal Attar is the creator of the (in)famous Speakeasy burger and other indulgences. WeEatBeirut sat down with him at the bar and discussed his passions, his aversions, and of course, booze.


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How’d you get into food?
 
It was a hobby, it was the first thing I ever did. While I was a child I used to play in the kitchen all the time. I grew up with food and food grew on me. The first word I said was minanu. (What?) McDonalds! Everytime I saw the big M I started jumping. My second word was labneh and my third was mom.
 
When did you start cooking at Speakeasy?
 
Ever since they opened
 
What’s your favorite thing on the menu?
 
That’s a trick question. The menu was made out of my favorites. I’ll say the trio sliders.
 
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
 
Pasta.
 
You cook at a bar. How does alcohol factor into your food?
 
I’m not drunk! Since I’m known for my twisted fusion food, alcohol has contributed a lot. I had mixed and mashed a lot of alcohol into my recipes, so I ended up working in a bar. It was by choice. The alcohol came before I worked in the bar as part of my secret ingredients and hidden flavors.
 
How do you rep your day3a?
 
I don’t have a day3a, I’m from Texas! The heat in the texmex shows up in the food. If you can’t stand it don’t eat it.
 
If you had to pick a meal that embodies your personality what would it be? What is chef on a plate?
 
That’s a trick question. I would say waraq 3aynab (stuffed vine leaves). You spend the whole day making them and rolling them and cooking them with pleasure and you put your heart and soul into them and they grow up. And then each one, when you eat it, everything stops for a second while you chew it and then you have another one and you have another one of those moments. When you see people eat waraq 3aynab they’re humming and that for me is happiness.
 
Thoughts on pork?
 
It makes things yummy if you don’t tell anyone.
 
What will you not eat, ever, under any circumstances?
 
Seafood because I’m allergic to it.
 
How do you like your steak cooked?
 
Well done.
 
Favorite restaurant in Lebanon besides Speaks?
 
If you’ve lost me you’ll find me at McDonalds. I’m addicted to McDonalds, I have to eat it every day.
 
White or brown meat?
 
White.
 
Sauce or no sauce?
 
Sauce.
 
Wet or dry?
 
Wet.
 
Let’s play word association. Tell us the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear:
 
MAYONNAISE: EW.
 
BRATWURST: No comment.
 
TOUM: Can’t have enough of it.
 
ASIAN: Short.
 
AL DENTE: Perfection.
 
What have you got planned for the future?
 
I want to publish my book, Cooking With A Touch of Glam. It’s an upscale cooking book that shows you how to cook with style. You learn how to make fancy meals – or at least meals that look fancy - with simple things. Presentation, presentation, presentation.
 
Second, I want to start doing cooking lessons in Beirut for executive women. Sometimes we have those businessmen traveling and their wives are bored at the hotel all day and so come along learn how to make a meal.

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Albert Roux - Atholl Hotel [Scotland]

+ The bit about simplicity just made my day