Friday, 18 October 2019

PALESTINE: Jamie Oliver Visits West Bank For Cookery Show, Invited By Chef Fadi Kattan A Palestinian Chef

James Trevor Oliver MBE born 27 May 1975 is a British chef and restaurateur. He is known for his approachable cuisine, which has led him to front numerous television shows and open many restaurants.

Born and raised in Clavering, Essex, he was educated in London before joining Antonio Carluccio's Neal Street restaurant as a pastry chef. While serving as a sous-chef at the River Café, he was noticed by Patricia Llewellyn of Optomen.

In 1999 the BBC aired his television show, The Naked Chef. This was followed by a first cook book, which became a No. 1 UK bestseller.

His television work included a documentary, Jamie's Kitchen, which gained him an invitation from Prime Minister Tony Blair to visit 10 Downing Street.

In 2005 he opened a campaign, Feed Me Better, to introduce schoolchildren to healthier foods, which was later backed by the government. He was the owner of a restaurant chain, Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group, which opened its first restaurant, Jamie's Italian, in Oxford in 2008.

The chain went into administration in May 2019.

His TED Talk won him the 2010 TED Prize. In June 2003 Oliver was awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire.

Franco-Palestinian chef Fadi Kattan heard Jamie Oliver was heading to Israel to shoot an episode of his new cooking show, he decided it just would not do.

Instead, he and his London PR agency lobbied the celebrity chef to come to Bethlehem, where Kattan owns and operates the boutique Hosh Al Syrian guesthouse and its celebrated Fawda Cafe.

We said you can't do Israel alone; you should do Israel and Palestine, Kattan said. We didn't have any idea what the show would be about. We just knew how important it was to reflect Palestinian cuisine in it."

Thankfully, Oliver wasn't hard to convince. Kattan says that after winning over the team with the idea, Oliver approved the visit immediately.

It happened that Kattan spent a chilly morning in February wandering through the market in Old Bethlehem with Oliver in tow, teaching the world-renowned chef the ins and outs of Palestinian cuisine.

He had knowledge of the situation, but he left with much more understanding. There was a lot of stuff that will never be on the show, but he was extremely curious about a lot of things, politically also.

Oliver's new vegetarian cooking show, Jamie's Ultimate Veg, is currently screening on Fox Life. It takes the exuberant chef across the world as he meets local cooks and vendors to learn how to create region-specific meat-free dishes.

One of the locations Oliver visited in the six-episode series was the West Bank and its colourful streets .

Kattan opened the Hosh complex in 2015 as a way to bring gourmet Palestinian fare to life. He did so by employing the French cooking techniques he had learnt through years working beyond the Israel-imposed Palestinian border wall.

From the Lycee Francais de Jerusalem, a French international school in the city, to an Italian restaurant in Paris, the InterContinental Hyde Park Corner in London and the InterContinental Bethlehem that closed during the Second Intifada.

The chef comes from one of the oldest ­Christian families in Bethlehem, growing up in the holy town just off Star Street, its most famous boulevard, and is a vocal campaigner for Palestinian rights.

So it should come as no surprise that he would be the person to persuade Oliver to visit not only his hometown, but his personal kitchen, too.

Kattan was overjoyed when Oliver's team agreed to come out beforehand and scout out a location, despite all the preconceptions about the country. There was just one initial problem to overcome.

It snowed. It snows here once a year and that was the only day it snowed. We did a creative visit of the market together and they had to imagine things I was explaining, as it was closed, Kattan recalls.

It was quite a stressful moment I was thinking: 'How can I convince them that Jamie's going to be seeing fantastic herbs and people when it looks so grim and sad?

Luckily, the idea was enough, and about a month later, Oliver arrived for a day crammed full of experiencing the best in Bethlehem gastronomy. To begin, Kattan took Oliver on a guided tour of Old Bethlehem’s market.

He introduced him to each of his trusted vendors; the elderly woman who travels in from the countryside and sits on the steps near the entrance selling herbs, her name is Um Nabil, although Kattan affectionately calls her “the queen of herbs.

The vendor with the best courgettes in town, who comes in each day from a small village a few kilometres to the south of Bethlehem; the family-run butchery, where 15 to 20 relatives ply their trade.

Kattan’s grinning face adorns a wall there, in a framed picture with a messy scrawl signed: Thanks for the best meat in Palestine.

He was fantastic in the ­market, Kattan says. As a person, he was beyond what we expected he comes across as this chef who creates meals simplified to do at home.

I wasn’t sure how much time we had and how much he would be interested. But he was extremely kind with people, talking with people selling their herbs, he said.

The second component of Oliver's visit was staged in Kattan's own kitchen. It is there that he invited a group of Palestinian women, including his own mother, to show Oliver how to cultivate true home cooked Palestinian fare.

The idea was to portray Palestine differently, and have women who represented real Palestine diversity. There was my mother, a friend of hers who is Muslim, and some of my team, so a mix of Christian and Muslim young women. We didn't want the stereotypes of a Palestinian woman.

Kattan decided to teach Oliver a Palestinian staple: stuffed vegetables and stuffed leaves. His mother taught the celebrity chef a recipe of her own for vine leaves stuffed with rice, tomatoes and spices, followed by one of his own recipes for stuffed cauliflower leaves.

While they were cooking, he was trying to understand everything about the food, but also about the story. How the issues appeared. That was quite interesting.

Kattan says he wanted to pay special attention to Palestinian cuisine, rather than Levantine cuisine, which he says is more of the mezzes and meat platters central to many countries in the region.

Instead he wanted to highlight dishes such as taboon bread, mansaf which is lamb cooked in fermented dried yoghurt and chicken and rice maqluba, which is Palestine's national dish.

He also wanted to highlight the plight of farmers in getting produce around the country, with road blocks and travel bans. Oliver was particularly interested to hear that, Kattan says.

Palestinian cuisine, for me, it reflects our country. It's a tiny country that has such diversity; on one side, you have the Bedouin tradition, and then you've got the olive groves and the Mediterranean coast.

It was on the coffee route and the spice route. We've been occupied by practically every nation in the Mediterranean basin. All of these influences have contributed to our cuisine, Kattan says.

We stuffed the cauliflower leaves with freekeh. Because I think it's very important for us to reclaim freekeh as ours. Israelis are trying to claim all of that as theirs. It was important for Jamie to see Palestinian products.

Kattan also took Oliver for a short culinary tour around Bethlehem to the oldest hummus shop and a local baker who showed him how to make Palestinian bread.

The first episode of Jamie's Ultimate Veg screened on October 6, with the Palestinian episode scheduled for October 14.

Kattan tells me he hasn't seen it yet, but saw the episode set in Jerusalem which, surprisingly, he believes was quite well done. He did that one with a Palestinian, which I think was very important.

While Kattan thinks that perhaps no more than a minute of his sequences will make it into the final cut, he believes the aftermath of even that length of footage will have immeasurable ramifications for the West Bank.

Having a picture of Jamie biting into a cucumber in the market shown around the world is just fantastic, because it shows it's safe and it's clean. It's breaking a lot of stereotypes, Kattan says.

This should be an invitation to all chefs to come to Palestine and find out what our cuisine is. Work with products that you've been using that are Palestinian, but you don't realise because it's been marketed as Israeli.

And for non-chefs, it's an invitation for everyone to come and visit Palestine. Come and walk the market of Bethlehem, and discover art and the whole package.

It's time for people to come and see reality.

Jamie’s Ultimate Veg sees the enigmatic chef visit countries such as India and Palestine and meet local chefs and vendors.

Jamie Oliver's new vegetarian cooking show, Jamie's Ultimate Veg, has taken the exuberant chef from the colourful streets of India to the historic city of Bethlehem in Palestine in the name of vegetarian cuisine.

In the six-episode series, Oliver meets up with local cooks and vendors to learn more about the culture of the country he's visiting, and how to create regionally-specific meat-free dishes. A full list of the other destinations Oliver visited has not yet been released.

The show premieres on Fox Life in English, with Arabic subtitles, on Sunday, October 6, and will be accompanied by a cookbook with the recipes.

But first, we've got the lowdown from Oliver himself, on everything he's learnt about herbivorous cuisine on his travels:

Who is this book and TV series for?

It’s for everyone! Obviously it’s for veggies, but importantly this book is also for meat eaters who want to include a bit more of the good stuff in their weekly meals.

It’s a fully meat-free, veg-based cookbook with a good wodge of vegan options in there as well. I want to make that something to celebrate, no matter who you are. This is simply about putting good food first, and making people feel happy.

What would you like people to take from it?

I would like everyone to take away the knowledge that vegetables can be truly joyful and fulfilling if they’re simply given the same love, care and attention that you’d give to a prime cut of meat.

The great thing about delicious, well-thought-out veg meals is that everybody is welcome, and anyone can be included, no matter what their preferences are. And, whether or not we eat meat, we all want more choice.

Why go meat-free now?

I believe we’ve reached a critical mass when it comes to wanting veggie ideas. Veg-based food is no longer an ‘alternative’; it’s truly mainstream, and my job is to serve the widest possible audience with beautiful recipes that answer that demand.

It’s interesting that I first started writing this book eight years ago, when it was still seen as a bit different. That’s no longer the case – sometimes in life you have to sit tight until the time is right!

Are you 100 per cent veggie, then?

Not at all. Everyone in my family eats meat and fish, but for the last five years we’ve also been trying to eat vegetarian meals, at least three days a week, and sometimes more.

It’s purely because veg-based cooking ticks every single box when you’re feeding a family. And at no point are you compromising on flavour.

Putting veg at the centre of your plate is often healthier, and it cuts a large amount of shopping budget, which you can either save, or use to spend on better quality meat if you do eat it. For me, buying less, but better-welfare, meat is fundamental.

Is there one recipe in the book that could convert any veg-sceptic?

That’s a hard one to answer, but the recipes have gone down really well with our testers, who were a mix of meat-eaters and veggies. The curry chapter has loads of knockouts, and my version of a veggie pasty was a real hit.

I think people were surprised by the amazing depth of flavour. The beautiful Allotment cottage pie really shifted some perceptions, too. But really there’s a whole world of delicious veggie cooking in there.

How do you get the maximum flavour out of veg?

Wow, what a question. Well, first of all, freshness helps, and surfing the seasons so the natural depth of flavour is already there when you start.

Cooking over charcoal or wood emparts beautiful flavour as well as roasting and slow-cooking, which essentially concentrates any ingredient’s natural flavours.

And then, of course, kissing it with citrus, incredible olive oil and herbs. These are just a handful of ways you can get maximum flavour from veg.

Any must-have equipment for cooking veg?

Yes! A pestle and mortar, a very fine grater, one large and one small top-quality knife. A hand blender. Large bowls for dressing and marinating ingredients

Did you try out the dishes at home?

Always. Normally I try recipes at home before I test them in the office. But frankly, there’s never a straight-line process to writing a good recipe, it’s an organic thing.

Any tips for getting kids to eat more veg?

Without being dramatic, you have to be as impactful as the junk food brands and adverts that promote unhealthy food. Firstly, cooking veg well and making it taste nice is a good start.

Then have fun with your kids: shopping, buying, growing, drawing, tasting different veg. Forget about what they don’t like, and concentrate on what they might like.

All kids can be erratic and change their minds – their palates and understanding of food are moving targets, which means you’d have to be a superhero to get it right all the time.

Is fresh always best?

Absolutely not. Fresh is best when it’s definitely fresh so probably within 36 hours of being picked. But, chances are, frozen veg is going to be more nutritious than something that’s sat in a warehouse for several days.

The technology behind freezing is incredibly efficient, it’s normally done within eight to 10 hours of harvest. So my take is to eat both. I always have peas, sweetcorn, broad beans, spinach and a whole myriad of fruit in the freezer.

How much veg should we be eating?

In the UK the advice is to eat at least 80g portions of veg and fruit a day. But I’d encourage everyone to eat as much as possible! Whether that’s an extra portion a day, a meat-free day every week, or adopting a totally veg-based diet.

If you eat more veg, and cook recipes from this book two to three times a week, it’s highly likely that you’ll feel better and save money.

If you look back to our great-grandparents’ time, it was never normal to consume animal protein in the quantity we do today.

My grand dad used to say: ‘Have everything in moderation and a little bit of what you like,’ And that approach just wins every single time.

In June 2003 Oliver was awarded the MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours. A proponent of fresh organic foods, Oliver was named the most influential person in the UK hospitality industry when he topped the inaugural 100 in May 2005.

The list placed Oliver higher than Sir Francis Mackay, the then-chairman of the contract catering giant Compass Group, which Oliver had soundly criticised in Jamie's School Dinners.

In 2006, Oliver dropped to second on the list behind fellow celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. In July 2010, Oliver regained the top spot and was named as the most powerful and influential person in the UK hospitality industry once again.

In 2013 Oliver was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the Royal College of General Practitioners for his work in tackling childhood obesity by improving the nutritional value of school dinners.

On 29 October 2015, Oliver was listed by UK-based company Richtopia at number 2 in the list of 100 Most Influential British Entrepreneurs.

Tourism Observer