Very soon I will be going to California for WOF which theme this year is Arc of Flavors. I am looking forward to the conference of course but I also can’t wait to see my newly-engaged nephew and his fiancee and my niece and all my friends including lovely Amy, who as some of you may know, helped me cook my birthday party. I love cooking with Amy. Not only is she a marvellous chef (at Chez Panisse) but she is also a fabulous partner in the kitchen with the sweetest character and no ego in play; and she is very silent as she works — I am totally paranoid about noise. And to make things even better, Amy loves my Lebanese food as much as I love hers. So, when we saw the fresh borlotti beans at la Fromagerie, I told her about my mother’s fassulia (beans in arabic) bil-lahmeh (meat), and how she used to prepare it with pork skin in a tomato sauce. As luck would have it, I had received that morning wonderful pork belly from Packington Free Range farm. So, we decided to buy the beans to cook with the pork.
I always thought I would be dead by the time I was 35. Then I reached that age and thought that I wouldn’t make it past 50. As I approached my 50th year in perfect health, I decided that if I wasn’t going to be buried in a cemetery, I might just as well have a birthday picnic in it except that I never got round to organising it. It took another decade for me to make it happen, almost. It was going to be in Bunhill Fields where Blake, Defoe and Bunyan are buried. A perfect place for a foot in the grave party. I got the necessary permission (there is a garden right by the cemetery) and sent out the invitations. I also asked my lovely friend Amy, who is chef at Chez Panisse, if she would come and cook the picnic with me and she very kindly said yes. As the date approached, I obsessively checked the weather forecast but it was not looking good. So, Zaha, who I have been friends with more or less since I moved to London in 1973, suggested I move the picnic to her stunning gallery. An offer that I was very grateful for and of course accepted. Here are a few photos from what turned out to be a fabulous event, all taken by my very talented young intern, Sophie Minchilli.