TODAY • Chef of his own catering service
SPECIALTY • Kibbeh Nayeh – Tartare from Damascus
REFUGEE FOOD FESTIVAL 2018 • La maison Troisgros in Ouches (69) with Michel and César Troisgros // Refettorio Paris Madeleine with Maxime Bonnabry-Duval
REFUGEE FOOD FESTIVAL 2017 • Clamato alongside Bertrand Grébaut, in Paris // Substrat, in Lyon
REFUGEE FOOD FESTIVAL 2016 • At L’Ami Jean with Stéphane Jégo
Mohammad comes from Damascus, and in Syria, people start working early to be able to get by in life – but at first, nothing really appeals to him. But then, at the age of 16, he steps foot in a professional kitchen for the first time and it is love at first sight: the chef is there with his team, allocating tasks, proofreading recipes, adjusting any potential flaw in the sauce. The young trainee chooses to follow his calling, between his studies in Lebanon and his busy summers in Syria.
His inspiration behind the stoves? His mother, he answers with wide smiling blue eyes: “She’s the best chef in the world, that’s what everyone says of their mother: when you go to a restaurant and you have a dish that she has cooked for you before, you always compare.”
Mohammad tells me about his life, his businesses, his various projects. His first job at the Hollywood Cafe in Zahle in 2000. His quality control studies, followed by more studies, in food design (he shows me true works of art, made of vegetables, on Instagram). His Orange Bars, which you could find in malls and where you would be served a variety of juices. His increasing popularity in Syria first, then in Dubai, where he would frequently appear on TV as a “food industry professor”. His first restaurants – Spicy, a quality fast-food place mixing Mexican, Indian and American influences, or Bora Bora, “because I have always wanted to go”, he confides to me. His food courts in malls in Damascus, and always this obsession for quality.
An entrepreneurial fever to make anyone’s CV green with envy. Mohammad also explains he runs the world to find his inspirations: “Mixing spices is not enough, you have to heat them up to get what’s good out of them”. My stomach manifests itself.
Mohammad carries on: “What I like most of all in cooking is the very first bite, the delighted sigh when it’s good”. In the corner of the table we are sitting at, I can tell the kibbehs are staring at me.
The Mohammad sitting in front of me has become the chef the young Syrian man had met in his first kitchen: he gives orders, fine-tunes the recipes, shows the right gestures. Today is a busy day at Fatouch (the restaurant Mohammad opened in Aubervilliers): tonight, Mohammad and his team are catering for an evening in Palais de Tokyo. Before he opened his restaurant, freshly arrived in France, the 36 year-old chef gave cooking classes and catered for weddings or large parties.
On the occasion of the Refugee Food Festival, he was able to meet Stéphane Jego and co-create a menu with him: lentil soup, vegetable kibbehs and chili sauce, he details very simply as he shows me the menu for the evening. Mohammad, who recently delighted 500 guests at Paris City Hall, including Mayor Anne Hidalgo, apologizes as he must finish tonight’s buffet: he offers to have me try a bit of his native Syria, I don’t hesitate for a second.
With the Refugee Food Festival
Mohammad Elkhaldy has been working with the Refugee Food Festival since the beginning of the project, thus becoming one of his ambassadors. Thanks to the festival, he was able to cook alongside great chefs: in 2018 at La maison Troisgros in Ouches (69) with Michel et César Troisgros and at Refettorio Paris Madeleine with Maxime Bonnabry-Duval • In 2017 at Clamato with Bertrand Grébaut • In 2016 at L’Ami Jean with Stéphane Jégo.