I was 14 when I was thrown into the deep end of the kitchen. My maternal aunt had died and my mum had to go back to her native Libya to attend the funeral. I was tasked with feeding my dad and brother during her month-long absence.
I had a set of cookery books for children but they were in English so I used an old dictionary to figure out what the ingredients were in Arabic. Within 4 weeks, I had become competent at preparing food, my attitude, however, was that of an army cook.
One day, my dad walked into our kitchen and saw me wrestling with a stubborn carrot that was refusing to be julienned. I was red in the face with angry tears bursting out of my eyes. Dad gave me his most disapproving look and said:
“If you can’t cook from a place of love, then it’s better not to cook at all”.
These words hit a nerve. My dad had always preached a “stiff upper lip” and insisted that “a job worth doing, is a job worth doing well”. I was expecting praise for soldiering on and producing good quality food even when I didn’t feel like it. In the words of Tina Turner : What’s love got to do with it?
But something about my father’s words resonated beyond a parent chastising their grumpy teen daughter. I loved food and the rituals involved with eating, cooking was simply another way to appreciate food. My dad’s words triggered a lifelong love affair.
30 years after my dad planted that seed in my heart, I worked up the courage to start my own food business: a 4-square-meter deli in Warsaw’s Hala Gwradii that serves authentic Syrian vegetarian appetizers.
The picture above? That’s me a month after opening Dervish Kitchen. It’s a picture of a single mum trying her best to take care her of her son alone in a foreign country, bruised and scared $***less. She had moved between 3 continents, changed her career 8 times, went though an extremely painful divorce and lost her dad to cancer, yet she’s overjoyed to be FINALLY doing what she loves the most: Sharing her food with the world.
The sign over her head aptly reads: “From Syria, with love”.