One of the most important figures in bringing Lebanese food to an international audience, Chef Barza is an inspirational figure. Sitting down with HOME for Magazine he talks about his craft, his origins and what it means to be a chef in the 21st century.
Chef Joe Barza promoted Lebanese cuisine and took it to an international level. Born and and raised in Tyre, he went on to co-host the Middle Eastern version of ‘Top Chef,’ demonstrated Lebanese cuisine in Lo Mejor de La Gastronomia Alicante and Sydney International Food Festival, and was awarded the World Championship Girotonno Carlo Forte, Sardini. In addition, Chef Barza has been well received by Michelin chefs, including Gérald Passédat, who invited him to cook at his award winning restaurant Le Petit Nice.
His story is far from usual, beginning as a bodyguard changing tack to become a widely successful chef, culinary consultant and television personality Barza took the Lebanese cuisine to a revolutionary level; his passion for food paved the road for many. The secret to his success is belief, illustrated by his motto “Just believe” which is also tattooed on his forearm.
Barza considers the Lebanese cuisine and ingredients to be a treasure. Just think, if borghol, kechek, zaatar, kebbe, moghrabieh were exported to the rest of the world, what an economic boost we might have. “We can focus on transforming our HOME to a better country. We have olive oil, wine and, most importantly, the culture and the human element,” says the chef. “Lebanese cuisine is an international passport.” Recognizing his obligation he says, “I represent something huge, I represent the Lebanese food.” Both healthy and affordable, Lebanese cuisine has become increasingly popular around the world.
For him the secret recipe of success is recognizing the value of those products and renovating them in different ways.
“If you think about it, what’s the difference between stuffed grape leaves and sushi? They are both roles with rice. We have to give things value,” says Barza.
Cooking from the heart is another secret for Barza’s accomplishments, he’s always ready to take risks and give Lebanese food a modern touch. His techniques underwent a major transformation in South Africa where he was introduced to different inventions with food, such as mixing meat with fruits.
"Lebanese cuisine is an international passport; it represents our name and our reputation."
The image of a chef has changed over time in Lebanon. A few years ago, chefs were perceived differently, but today they are perceived as artists who give life to food, instead of pursuing other careers.
“When I went to propose to my wife in 1990 I was embarrassed to say that I am a chef, today, however, we have the pleasure to say that we are chefs because we made a difference,” explains Barza.
“Cuisine is a reflection, and every chef has a huge sensation because we cook with our hands, hearts and essentially with our feelings.”
"When I went to propose to my wife in 1990 i was embarrassed to say that I was a chef."
Down memory lane
Barza reminisces over his childhood and the way they used to wait for his father to come from Tyre and bring the fish for his mom to cook. This conjures up images of HOME - the sense of taste and smell is one of the strongest in terms of memory. It was this warm atmosphere of his childhood in Tyre that gave birth to his passion for cooking. His favorite food as a child was fasolia beans with rice; he also enjoyed sayadieh.
“I love cooking because of my parents. My mom used to cook and my dad used to help her, they used to share and help one another,” says Barza.
“Today, my father is a great cook and I always look forward to eating his food whenever I visit.”
• 250 g of brown bourghul
• 250 g of chicken breast
• 6 pieces of peeled
• 40 g of shallots peeled and
• 5 g of peeled garlic,
• 100 ml of water
• A bit of big salt (rock salt)
• 5 gr of red pepper paste
• 750 g of vegetable stock
• 5 g of sumac
• 15 g of roasted sesame
• 3 g of Allspice
• 5 g of salt
• 100 g of olive oil
• ½ bunch of fresh mint
• 10 g of basil
• 1 gr of white pepper
• 20 g of pomegranate
seeds for decoration
• 4 gr of chives for
Instructions (Serves 4):
Sweat the shallots and garlic with the olive oil, and then add the bourghul.
Pour in the vegetable stock gradually and leave it on the fire for 20 minutes.
Add the red pepper paste, spices, tomatoes and half of the quantity of the herbs.
Place the chicken breast in the water with the big salt; let it cool for at least four hours in the refrigerator.
Remove it from the water and add pepper.
Steam the chicken breasts at a temperature 70 ° C for 20 min.
Color the chicken breasts in a pan.
Coat the chicken with the sumac and the sesame seeds, and then cut it into thin slices.
Season the bourghul with some salt and pepper.
Serve it on a plate with a couple chicken slices.
Drizzle a bit of olive oil on top and garnish with mint leaves, basil, pomegranate seeds and a piece of chive.