Lebanese-born chef Tara Khattar is launching her very own cookbook. Paying tribute to her heritage and muses, Khattar’s book, Liban, is filled with over 100 recipes of traditional Lebanese dishes celebrating the women who taught her how to cook. “My grandmothers are my first influence as a chef; I learned how to cook with love and passion from them,” says Khattar. Every recipe was selected with the aim of evoking Khattar’s memories created in the kitchens where she first learned cooking, and in honor of the “unsung heroes that have kept families close” with every meal.
After training with renowned Michelin-starred chefs, Jacques Chibois and Joel Robuchon, Khattar rose to fame with her participation in Top Chef France in 2018, becoming the show’s first-ever contestant to represent the Middle East. The young chef then went on to be a two-time winner of the culinary competition Chopped on Food Network. Now, as a private chef and consultant, Khattar has toured the globe, living in Lyon, Paris and New York, while staying true to her Lebanese heritage which is at the core of Liban.
We caught up with the chef to learn more about her debut cookbook, and her relationship with Lebanese cuisine.
What is your earliest food-related memory?
My earliest food-related memory is having tea-time at my grandmother’s house. My family spent time in England during the Lebanese Civil War and so, tea-time became a routine in our home. I remember having black tea with a touch of milk along with the cake of the day.
What do you love the most about Lebanese food?
My favorite aspect of Lebanese food is the way in which it is enjoyed. I love how convivial it is and how warm a Lebanese table is. I believe it is a true representation of Lebanese people and their culture.
What is your favorite Lebanese dish to cook and also to eat?
My favorite dishes to cook are either a yogurt-based dish like shish barak, or laban emmo and moukoukhieh. They are also my favorite to eat. I struggled a lot to get the recipes just right and believe I have perfected them this year.
Why was it important for you to pay tribute to your heritage with this cookbook?
I think that being Lebanese and growing up the way I did with all the struggles and positive memories that come with it has made me who I am today. I am fortunate enough to have been able to travel the world and live in places like New York and Paris and truly think that I couldn’t have done it all without my Lebanese upbringing. It has taught me resilience and adaptivity, which are the key components to my success. Having a book about my grandmothers and my home country is my way of giving back and saying thank you for everything they have given me.
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs in the Middle East?
The road is hard and long but it is worth it. I would say keep going, don’t give up, don’t let the long hours and stress get to you, and believe in yourself. Stay true to what you believe in and to your culinary identity.