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!
Every now and then, I eat in a restaurant where I have an absolutely perfect meal. Recently, it was at Lyle’s where James Lowe cooks beautiful dishes that are light, elegant and totally exquisite. A year or so ago, I finally ate at Faviken and Nilsson’s food was just as light and elegant and possibly even more pure than Lowe’s. In between, I went to Blue Hill at Stone Barns where I have been wanting to go for years but never got round to it until, that is, my new wonderful agent, Nicole, took me there to celebrate my joining her agency. Our meal there was also memorable, for the setting, the company and of course the food which was delightful, starting with this lovely arrangement of freshly picked radishes, each individually spiked onto a long wooden log. They were served alongside the crunchiest and most delicious ice lettuce (or ficoïde glaciale) which I was tasting for the first time, tiny baby carrots with their tender stalks and leaves on, asparagus, greens spiked into edible earth, a delightful drink and various delicate sauces to dip this incredibly fresh bounty into. Below, you can see some of the selection arranged on my plate — the dark blob is beetroot jerky — and I have to say vegetables never tasted so good, nor looked so pretty!
I like to think of myself as a hermit even if it is really a fantasy. The same way I like to say that I am a country girl because of the summers I spent as a child in Mashta el-Helou in Syria and Reshmaya in Lebanon. In reality I am neither, and my life is mostly very urban and thankfully full of excitement, with the most recent being a day trip to Copenhagen to eat at Noma, invited by my lovely friend Seen, who you can see in the picture above talking to Rene Redzepi and Lars Williams who brought us most of our dishes, explaining everything in detail in his soft voice. He was utterly charming, as was everyone at Noma. It is part of Redzepi’s brilliant philosophy which makes his restaurant such a perfect place, both for the amazing food and the setting from the welcome and the attentive and friendly service to the aesthetics of the whole place, inside and out as well as front of house and back in the kitchens. I had already been there, also with Seen and her husband Fred and other friends, in summer two years ago and I was intrigued to see what the menu was like in winter. Naturally, it was very different except for one dish, the classic moss which this time was flavoured with cepes. Here are the photos of what we ate.
I will always regret it. The year must have been 2002, perhaps even earlier. I had rented a flat in Barcelona to test recipes for my offal book and was there for 3 weeks. During that time, I could have easily gone to El Bulli whenever I wanted. I had a well-connected friend who would have organised it for me — in fact he had organised an amazing offal dinner at Can Fabes and an exquisite lunch at Ca L’Isidre where the owner gave me their recipe for tripe. But El Bulli was far and I was not so taken by molecular cuisine after a disappointing meal at the Fat Duck. So, I didn’t even try to get a booking. Then it became incredibly difficult to get in and now it is closed. Since then, I decided never to miss eating at a restaurant I was interested in even if it means travelling. Last year I went to Noma and I am just back from Faviken where I had the most amazing dinner followed by a terrific breakfast in the most serene if slightly ascetic atmosphere.