chef: mary jarrah
location: damascus, allentown, pa
My family. I think when it's in you and you like to cook, that's important. I came and lived with my mother-in-law, she used to make the Syrian bread, and I started learning —if you show me, I'll figure it out.
Where did you learn to cook?
Watching my mom and my mother-in-law.
I have some recipes from back home but I don't have a favorite cookbook.
What's the one ingredient you could not live without?
Black pepper. —Actually, my spices are basic —Allspice, black pepper, and salt.
Favorite Microbrew beer or wine?
I don't drink.
Favorite music to listen to while cooking?
The Arabic music. Umm Kulthum is a legend from Egypt, and Fairouz is good too, she is Lebanese.
What is your favorite type of food?
Anything with wheat.
Most memorable meal?
The kibbe. One time in Australia, I have a sister and brother there, we had kibbe on the grill. My nieces and nephews were there, that is something I wouldn't forget.
Most memorable dinner guest?
Gerges Fawaz from CNN occasionally comes in, he likes the Chicken Kabob and the Fatoush Salad.
Most irritating celebrity chef?
Rachel Ray, I can't stand her voice.
What makes indie food better?
The freshness of the food. We don't make big batches of things and serve it. Tonight, we know we are going to be busy, but rather than make a big bowl of Tabouleh, we mix it as ordered. If we make an order of fatoush by mistake, and someone else orders it ten minutes later, we won't serve it. We'll make it fresh. One of us has to be here, If I'm not here I make sure my son is here, I know he won't pass on anything that is not right. We know our customers and we care. On a Friday or Saturday we'll make like fifty orders of Tabouleh, we sample each one to make sure it's OK.