I seem to specialise in dramatically changing the course of my life every few years, mainly for the sake of keeping it interesting. When I was young I did it every five years or so. Now that I am older, it is every ten years or so. This year I decided to change my life again. I sold my beautiful loft to downsize in London and upsize in Sicily where I plan to build my dream house. It wasn’t a rash decision. I have been wanting to build my dream house for a few years now; and I toyed with different ideas of where to do it. Syria was once an option! Then I considered California, also France and even Spain despite not speaking any Spanish. Then one day, I decided to go to the olive harvest on Mary Taylor Simeti‘s farm in Sicily and while there I decided that Sicily was where I would make this happen. The landscape and way of life there are very close to those in Lebanon and Syria where I grew up, but more orderly and with no risk of ISIS ever coming close. I had been to Sicily before but living on Mary’s farm in my own little casetta made me feel that the island was where I could feel I was going back home without actually doing so. And so it was. Mary introduced me to a friend of hers, Giovanni Matta, who took me to three different plots in one single day and the last one turned out to be the perfect spot. I must have been born under a lucky star!
And this old ruin will become my little house away from the main house. As much as I like the company of friends and family, I also like my own peace and quiet to start and finish the day. Next to my casetta, I will build a teaching kitchen where I hope some of you will come and learn to cook dishes, not only from the Middle East and North Africa but also local Sicilian ones.And here is a picture of Mary and Daniela, the estate agent, walking to the tax office where I had to register to become a landowner in Italy!While this picture is of the picnic I gave for everyone involved in my getting my plot. It was after we had signed the final documents and I had officially became the owner of my little Sicilian domain. The first from the left is my very handsome notaio, then the two signore Palermo, who owned one part of the land. Behind them is Giovanni, who found me the land with Rossana, his partner ,peeking from behind Mary who is raising her glass to me who is standing next to Tonino her husband. And below is Mr Aiuto, the owner of the rest of the land. He was showing me the wheat a friend of his had grown on the plot. There were others too including Daniela, the estate agent, Gianfranco, a local architect, and Mr Aiuto’s daughter and her partner but they were on my side of the picnic table.
And here is what you can expect me to feed you if you visit: a leg of baby lamb (Sicilians only eat lamb when it is very young) with roasted potatoes. Both came from Delizie, a wonderful butcher and salumi place in Alcamo. In fact, it was the owner, Giuseppe Aleccia, who had arranged for the picnic panini to be made on the day and let me pick them up when the shop was closed. Some people think that Sicilians are not so friendly but I have found all those I have met absolutely charming.
I was also of course busy at Koshari Street. The picture above is of our chefs working away while I was telling them about possible new recipes to add to the menu.
2014 was also the year when I finally met my most favourite baby in the world, belonging to my lovely nephew and his gorgeous wife, Deva. His name is Logan or Logi as they like to call him. As you can see I am very happy holding him, which is rather odd for someone who is not at all into babies!
And it was also the year when I became reality TV star as a mentor/judge on the Arab version of The Taste. I spent over a month in Cairo, installed in the most delightful suite at the Mena House hotel with a spectacular view of the pyramids, when not filming in the studio. I absolutely loved my stay there. And I loved my costar, Mona Mosly, who has the most beautiful eyes and smile which you can’t see in this picture but you can definitely see it if you watch the programme. And I found myself a companion, Osman (in the picture above), who brought me daily treats and who was so adorable, I had to take him with me to London.
And here I am with my costars on a huge billboard announcing the programme and below is a picture of us on set. And finally I leave you with a picture of my new view in London. My new downsized pad may be very bijou, but it does have a lot of light and more importantly a view, which I didn’t have in the loft. I decided that from now on, I will only live or stay in places that have a view. One of my new year’s resolutions! And on this note, I wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2015!