Walid and Modern Middle Eastern Cuisine
That night at the Black Thorn was one of the best going away parties I had ever been to. Chef Walid El-Tawel was off to the big city of Toronto and had one more drink with his staff and friends before heading out. I have never personally worked alongside Walid, but I hope to one day. Working in the same family of restaurants brought me close to him and he became a friend of mine. After some time in Toronto, Walid made the decision to come back home to Ottawa, and we are reaping the benefits of that decision.
Fairouz has been the talk of the town for the past year and it continues to be because of Walid. But he wouldn’t say the same thing. To him, he is nothing without his staff. They are the workforce that continue to make Fairouz what it is, and help him continue to build his name as one of the top chefs in this city.
Becoming the quality of Chef that Walid is takes two things: humility and respect. Walid is humble as the day is long after all the accolades that he’s accomplished.In turn, this earns him the respect where people are clamoring to get into his dining room, and young ambitious cooks are lining up to learn from him. What Walid is able to do is build his staff with the knowledge and confidence to earn the right to work beside him and turn out the kind of cuisine that has earned him #46 on Canada’s Top 100 restaurants.
It was interesting to hear that he was curious as to whether or not Ottawa would accept the type of cuisine he was about to unleash on us. As plans for Fairouz drew nearer, he locked himself in his apartment for almost 2 months just researching, reading, and coming up with concepts for recipes to make Fairouz something that the Ottawa market hasn’t seen before. From this, the slogan was born; "A Modern Journey through the Middle East" This was the concept that he wanted to create, seeing as there isn’t a high level of Middle Eastern cuisine in Ottawa. This isn't your classic shawarma you can find at every corner.Everything is carefully thought out, analysed, and recipe tested for months before it goes out into the dining room. Our current exposure to Middle Eastern food in Ottawa is more of the basic fast food versions of it. Walid is here to change that game with how Middle Eastern food is being represented. He’s not only here to show what Fairouz has to offer, but the different levels in which he can take this style of cuisine.
It’s interesting to find out when Chef’s stop referencing cookbooks, or maybe don’t go back to them as often. For Walid it was difficult because most of the stuff that he’s working on isn’t referenced in cookbooks, since he’s changing the mindset of what Middle Eastern food can be. With this, we talked about menu change, something that Chef’s feel the pressure of at least 4 times a year. But the truth is you never want to change a menu just for the sake of it. That’s something people gotta realize. There’s a reason why the Salmon Pastourma is probably going to stay on the menu for a while, because it’s never been done before and it’s one of the highlights on the menu. Menu changes should come from inspiration, not by demand. And when you eat at a place and see a couple mainstays, there’s a reason why they’re there.
The way Chef’s are running their kitchens is changing; the culture is changing. You don’t see those hard ass chefs running kitchens as much these days. The types where they schedule a cook to work and have that cook miss their brother’s wedding. We as people have lives, and need to take care of ourselves. Chef Walid is at the forefront of this movement . He makes sure his staff gets the appropriate amount of hours each week, and for those times when more is needed, he always balances it out. While Walid has the final say on what goes on at the front and back of his restaurant, there is always room at the table for all of his staff to have a seat and share their thoughts on the menu.There are menu items that have come from his team of cooks, and he’ll make sure they receive full credit for that effort. If a table comes up and comments on how good a dish is, Chef Walid is the first to thank them and explain that the dish actually came from one of his cooks. He does this to build character and confidence amongst his staff; teamwork by definition.
The ability to create this culture in his kitchen is something Chef Walid credits to his days at Eighteen, where he first brought a four diamond award to the restaurant. A special time for him where he worked with some of the most talented cooks that are Chef’s around the city itself, and around the world. They all added to the environment that has stuck with that restaurant to this day. Communication and work ethic was something that was built and created from the ground up. Chef Walid has taken this practice everywhere since, and it shows at Fairouz.
Chef Walid really cares about what he does and what Fairouz is all about. It’s not just putting food on plates. Being a Chef at that level brings so much more to the table , turning your young cooks into future Chef’s. To have an educated and informed Front of House staff. Working alongside them to bring the best wine with the most amazing food he’s producing. Creating a culture where his staff learn, have fun and shape the experience for his guest’s to see something they’ve never encountered before. Fairouz does this in spades.
Last year I stepped into the Fairouz kitchen after not seeing Walid for close to 2 years. Last time I saw him was that night at the Black Thorn. Right away it was a big hug and “How are things brother” We chatted and I told him about S/os. He was hyped and down for anything he could do to help me out. When it came time again to follow up with him to talk again about the site, I got the exact same response, a big hug and how are ya. We might not see each other for months or years at a time, but to have that community and friendship is something that I want people to get from this. These Chef’s may create something pretty special for you to enjoy and experience from time to time, but the impact they have as people in this culinary community is quite timeless. You will see it in the food, but this will show you just how special they are as human beings. Thanks Wa-wa