|18 November, 2016

Beirut Cooking Festival showcases Lebanon’s finest

The festival brought together over 160 stores, producers and artisans, as well as international companies

Chefs fry falafel at the Kafaayat University in Ain Saadeh, northeast of Beirut May 9, 2010. REUTERS/Jumana ElHeloueh

Chefs fry falafel at the Kafaayat University in Ain Saadeh, northeast of Beirut May 9, 2010. REUTERS/Jumana ElHeloueh

Reuters/Jumana ElHeloueh

18 November 2016

BEIRUT: Between the colorfully decorated stands selling everything from Lebanese sweets to new flavors of Nescafe, and the extravagant Salon du Chocolat fashion show, the sixth annual Beirut Cooking Festival was humming with activity Thursday. One of the largest food events in Beirut, the festival brought together over 160 stores, producers and artisans, as well as international companies and appliance-makers looking to increase their presence in the region.

Running through to Sunday, the festival will also host more than 60 chefs, beverage, and “lifestyle” experts who will be hosting a series of demonstrations and workshops open to the public. Festival organizers are expecting 15,000 visitors.

“People in Lebanon are interested in food, they like fine cuisine, receptions and events. There is a need for a festival like this,” said Maha Hasbani, a project manager for the festival and the Salon du Chocolat.

“People now realize that it’s not only restaurants that can deliver trendy new ideas and recipes. People at home can learn to create good food,” she told The Daily Star.

For many of the exhibitors, the festival was an opportunity to showcase innovative new products, while simultaneously improving their market share in the region.

One of these firms – Yarrow Enterprises – specializes in a water filtration technology based in Japan. “It gives you seven different types of water,” explained Joanna Abdallah, the head of Yarrow in Beirut. “Through a variety of processes, you end up with differently filtered water for cooking, cleaning, washing and drinking,” she told The Daily Star.

While technology like this has existed for quite a while elsewhere, especially in the medical field, Abdallah explained that their product was a first for Lebanon. “Things have been going very well here – it’s exciting. We’re helping people understand what they’re drinking and what they’re eating,” she said.

For Carole Abdel-Malak, the regional brand manager for Kiri cheese, the festival was an opportunity to increase brand awareness.

“Normally, people only use it for sandwiches, but now we’re trying to get people to start cooking with it,” she said, gesturing to a small oven behind the booth that was steadily cranking out Kiri-stuffed Kibbeh.

Abdel-Malak explained that the company was planning on rolling out similar demonstrations throughout Lebanon and the rest of the region. “We’ve created the Kiri kitchen that you can bring to supermarkets.” She noted that awareness of the brand had been increasing over time as more people begin to change their consumer habits. “We hope that people realize that you can use it for all different kinds of dishes.”

Despite the presence of larger international companies and food-technology firms, smaller, Lebanese producers like Mona Bouazza of Fair Trade Lebanon took up much of the festival space. “We work with more than 21 cooperatives to help them find a market for their products according to fair trade standards,” she told The Daily Star. “The most important of these is fair payment.”

For Bouazza, another goal of Fair Trade Lebanon – especially at the festival – is to remind people of their culinary heritage. “It’s important to be here because we have to show people the Lebanese specialties that we’re starting to forget,” she said, gesturing to an array of rose-petal jams, candied eggplants, and jarred pumpkin.

She noted that organizations like hers benefit local communities as well. “It’s a way to promote rural products, while helping farmers make a good living and live a decent life.”

© Copyright The Daily Star 2016.

More From Leisure