Kamal Mouzawak is a Lebanese food visionary. He has created the farmers market Souk El Tayeb in Beruit, which brings people from all over Lebanon to sell their produce. He set up Tawlet in an old garage where small producers and cooks from around Lebanon can come to cook the regional recipes. He also extends himself way beyond these two spaces into a number of other projects including education, writing and various international public speaking. He is due to participate again at the MAD food circus in Copenhagen.
Drop Everything asked Aoibheann Mac Namara of Ard Bia at Nimmos to hit him with a Q&A on food, life and getting things done.
What motivates you every morning?
“Be the change you want to see” said Gandhi, which means, in other words like, shut the fuck up, you know? Stop nagging and go just do it. Just do it. And this is what motivates me every everyday. If we have mind and energy, what is it all for…? What can my contribution be to life? This is what I think. In Islam they say every act is an act of adoration. Do the best thing possible, what ever you do. This is your act of adoration this is your contribution to life, speaking, cooking… do your job what ever it is… talk, write.., do the best possible.
How do your projects come about?
Projects are simply an expression of what you want to do. So you believe in something and projects are just an expression. I started with the farmers market and it was about supporting small farmers and producers who are doing an amazing job. How to bring small producers from land to city rural to urban with a developing purchasing power? It was an organic evolution. Then we realized we needed food education for children, food and feast regional food festivals in the villages, then we thought to enjoy the cuisine itself, then Tawlet came about. Tawlet is not just about the produce but it is about the cuisine itself, cooked by the woman themselves or the producers themselves.
What are the driving forces in your life?
Well I told you, be the change you want to see… and amazement by life and its expression. I am not religious at all. I was born into a Christian family but from a very young age I saw people destroyed by religion. If your God is right then mine must be wrong or vice versa so how can this be? There must be a bigger truth than all of these religions I totally believe in a wonderful amazing big super power but I don’t want to explain, or understand, or preach at all… I just try to celebrate and enjoy it in every single breath. I respect religions but I do not believe in them.
Are there personal and professionally principals in your life that are one and the same ?
Totally the same. Totally, how can we be schziophrenic you know? They have to be one and the same. Life, a certain way to live, different expressions of who we are … life, house, family, friends all facets co-exist… they can not but be the same… you can read someone from one detail and you can see the whole person.
What does food mean to you in its very essence?
It’s a wonderful expression of people, of their land. It is the most important most authentic expression of people, their land and their history. So for me it’s a story rather then a gastronomic adventure.
So has America lost touch with its roots?
Not at all. America is a mish mash of cultures and its cuisine is the same. It’s the most authentic expression of people, their land and their history.
What do the next five years bring for you?
I never think five years or ten years, it’s one belief and one vision that brings different expressions along the way.
How do you feel you’ve impacted on the Lebanese society, food scene, the people, the culture?
I am just doing my job. But as I am a face, and a mouth, I must speak… but every time I am trying to do something I am just speaking for Suzanne who makes the best Kibbeh, or Amalie who is making the best breads. My work is to talk about these people and I have to do it as well as their Kibbeh and their breads. This is how I see it.
How did it come about that this is your vocation?
I am a son of farmers and producers, this is the most important thing. I was born between gardens and kitchens.
What’s the future for Lebanon?
Ouff!! Who knows… it’s a country of uncertainty… unfortunately… which makes it very exciting for a visitors and very tiring for those that live here. You know, it’s a lot of adrenaline, which makes dipping in and out for a week or two, or a month or two amazing, but when you live in so much adrenaline on a daily basis… it’s like, can I go to Switzerland?!
At some points I want to have a green light or a red light that on may 15th I have a meeting and it is ON. Things can be unpredictable all the time, this is what we live in.
Will you live here forever?
I am living here today… I believe very much in the here and now. Wherever I am it’s, you know, how to make the best contribution to life? And how to enjoy wherever I am, here and now… How to enjoy it the best for me, for me to be able to give out the best… on whatever level it is.
But I feel, you know, this place gave me a lot and I am grateful to this land first of all, and secondly if there are things to be done here and there… if I am not going to do them… not me as Kamal, but me as a Lebanese, then who will do them? I have a certain devoir, what you call devoir? Duty.
Public office is that a possibility for you?
I’ll do whatever. And if you want to make any real change you need to be in the system.
But the system might not be ready for you?
Well I don’t know, we have to try… OK yalla let’s have lunch!