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Interview with Anissa Helou (Part One)

July 22, 2018

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 17.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Thirteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: July 22, 2018

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,725

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Anissa Helou is a Chef, Cooking Instructor, Culinary Researcher, Food Consultant, Food Writer, Middle Eastern Cuisine, and a Writer. Her new book is entitled Feast: Food of the Islamic World. Her Instagram material can be seen here. She discusses: family background via geography, culture, and language; influence on development; pivotal moments and major cross-sections in early life; interest in the culinary artsAnissa Helou interview: Accidental Cook; a stubborn personality trait; grabbing luck or taking advantage of serendipity; resilience, perceptiveness, and taking advantage of luck in professional life; unfair and unjust conventions; mellowing with age; the empowerment of women; the domination of cooking and chef work by women; the state of empowerment of women in Lebanon; and the next steps for the empowerment of women; representations in the media. 

Keywords: Anissa Helou, chef, cooking, culinary arts, food, Middle Eastern, writer.

Interview with Anissa Helou: Chef; Cooking Instructor; Culinary Researcher; Food Consultant; Food Writer, Middle Eastern Cuisine; Writer (Part One)[1],[2],[3]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your family background reside?

Anissa Helou: My mother is from Lebanon, from Beirut although both her mother and father are from mountain villages while my father is from Syria, from a mountain village called Mashta el-Helou.

2. Jacobsen: How did this influence development?

Helou: I grew up in Lebanon and lived there until I was 21, and during that time I spent my summers in my grandmother’s village in Reshmaya and parts in my father’s in Mashta el-Helou where I witnessed food being prepared, grown and preserved and I assume this fuelled my passion for food from that early age, as well as providing me naturally with a deep enough knowledge about foodways.

3. Jacobsen: What about influences and pivotal moments in major cross-sections of early life including kindergarten, elementary school, junior high school, high school, and undergraduate studies (college/university)?

Helou: I didn’t go to university but did specialized courses such as a short interior design course at Inchbald and a full course in expertise in works of art at Sotheby’s in London. Both, and especially the latter, have had a profound influence on my sense of aesthetics in relation to everything including food. Watching my paternal aunt in Syria make tannur bread, churn butter and make malban, a kind of grape leather as well as killing chickens and milking cows have given me an abiding interest in seeing how food is produced and made.

4. Jacobsen: Where did interest in culinary arts originate for you?

Helou: Within my family as briefly explained above. My father was an austere man but he appreciated good food and I am not sure that he knew about my mother’s culinary talent when he married her (he was initially taken by her amazing beauty!) but when he found out that she was an excellent cook, he would only eat her food unless he was travelling and she always cooked proper meals. Her version of fast food was grilled pork chops and home made fries, and salad of course as no Lebanese meal could be complete without at least one salad! My grandmother was also an amazing cook, and she always cooked elaborate meals for us when we visited and my Syrian aunt grew her produce on the farm, had her own animals and prepared everything at home from scratch. So not only did I grow up on excellent food but I also everything prepared at home and I was everyone’s kitchen pest, not only because I was a curious child but also a greedy one. Not to mention that both Lebanon and Syria are countries with a very strong food culture.

5. Jacobsen: In Anissa Helou interview: Accidental Cook (2013), the interview describes some of your history, as follows:

…a long winding road that began with her rebellion against convention in Lebanon where she grew up after finishing school… “After I finished school my father wouldn’t let me go,” Helou recalls. “Me being very stubborn I said to him good if you don’t let me go and study abroad I’m not going to study. So I refused to go to the American University of Beirut (AUB) which was foolish. My obsession at that time was to leave Beirut, I didn’t want to stay”… “I was trying to find ways of breaking that barrier with my father but I didn’t have money so I couldn’t go against him,” she says. “Two weeks later I realised I was a maid on those planes so I wasn’t really happy to do that job but at the same time it was a question of pride after having made such a fuss. So I stayed in the job.”… As part of her feminist outlook Helou didn’t like the idea of cooking. She refused to cook for her companions… “I was interested in food as a hobby and certainly not as a profession,” Helou says. “But once a chance presents itself then you make in a way your luck and you grab it and turn into something very positive.”[4]

How does this “stubborn” personality trait connect to the present in terms of a possible consistent characteristic?

Helou: It makes me pursue what I want regardless of the obstacles, whether from people or circumstances.

6. Jacobsen: What about the “grabbing” of “luck” or taking advantage of serendipity – not everyone sees these opportunities in life?

Helou: I have a very flexible approach to life and a lot of curiosity and do not mind changing tack at the drop if a hat (not quite as I think through whatever I wish to move onto) so if an opportunity arises that appeals to me I grab it even if it means changing things dramatically.

7. Jacobsen: How might this grit/resilience/stubbornness and perceptiveness with respect to taking advantage of luck have influenced professional life?

Helou: I guess it helps me be successful. My perceptiveness has made me spot trends ahead of others, as with my fishing collection or getting into food, or buying my loft in Shoreditch, and the grit and resilience/stubbornness have made pursue my goals despite either being dissuaded from doing so or finding obstacles in my way.

8. Jacobsen: What “convention” seemed unjust and unfair to you at the time?

Helou: I hate conventions so I probably wouldn’t consider any fair!

9. Jacobsen: What about now?

Helou: I guess I have mellowed with age but I still have my curiosity about almost everything unless it is boring or senseless and my flexibility of thinking. I may not rebel so forcefully now but I won’t give up on what I want.

10. Jacobsen: The interview delves into a feminist perspective. Akin to the interview with Mina Holland entitled Chefs who inspired Signe Johansen and Anissa Helou to cook (2014), you discussed something that seems related to this. That is, the relationship of personal female heroes/heroines and the empowerment of women.[5] In fact, in the interview with Mina Holland, you made an astute and poignant comment about the domination of cooking by men in the public and by women in the home too. You said, “It’s the men who, kind of, dominate restaurant kitchens, but at home it’s the women in both the East and West.”[6] Does this relate to the empowerment of women?

Helou: Well, actually in the home, it is somewhat a type of enslavement because even if the woman works outside and earns as much as the man, she is in general the one expected to put the food on the table as it were. On the other hand the homecook is also the guardian of food culture and if, as in traditional cultures, she passes it on to her daughter and her daughter does the same, they are then heroines because they are safekeeping a very important part of a people’s culture and heritage, so, I always encourage young girls now to learn how to cook, and not necessarily to feed their family but to acquire a very important lore that may go missing once the grandmother and mother are gone.

11. Jacobsen: If you observe this domination in the restaurant, or public, kitchens by men and the home kitchens by women across the East/West divide, what seems like the source of it – in history, in socio-cultural and economic conditions, and so on?

Helou: As for men cooks in restaurants and on the street, it is the continuation of ‘it’s still a man’s world!’

12. Jacobsen: What is the state of the empowerment of women in Lebanon now?

Helou: Much better than when I grew up there. Many more are allowed to set up home on their own even if they are not married, there is not so much pressure on them to marry and start families and almost all of them work. Mind you becoming a professional was not an issue when I was there. In fact, my father insisted that we should all have an education and be independent but within the conventional norms of marrying and setting up a family and he was quite upset when I refused to go to university but in the end I made it up to him. And there are quite a few who have now entered the food world professionally, and quite successfully, both as restaurateurs or entrepreneurs.

13. Jacobsen: What seem like the next steps for the empowerment of women in cooking, in Lebanon, in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region, and the world?

Helou: Encourage more of them to become independent. In fact there is a definite move towards more women in the kitchen and running their own business which is very encouraging.

14. Jacobsen: What seems like the greatest emotional struggle in personal life?

Helou: I can’t really think of any. I don’t have to struggle with much as I have no one stopping me from what I want to do and I personally have no personal conflicts with myself!

15. Jacobsen: You have numerous audio-visual representations online.[7],[8],[9],[10],[11],[12],[13],[14],[15],[16],[17] In addition to this broad range of interviews and presentations online, you have numerous written/typed productions including articles, reports, and interviews in the media too.[18],[19],[20],[21],[22],[23],[24],[25],[26],[27],[28] In fact, hundreds of articles exist in the world wide web with authorship by, or mention of, you. What responsibilities come with extensive exposure in various media?

Helou: Primarily being an inspiration and a good example to the younger generation, especially those who want to get into food, and not be an embarrassment to either myself, or friends and family, and of course to those I work with.

Bibliography

  1. [anissa Helou]. (2015, January 15). anissa making tabbouleh 08. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Owtn2IoT_vw.
  2. [AP Archive]. (2015, August 3). Egyptian street food arrives in London. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKE8XOrSfGA.
  3. [Canongate Books]. (2014, September 3). Anissa Helou’s Middle Eastern Meatballs. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFhdtbRTdCM.
  4. [Canongate Books]. (2014, March 8). Chefs who inspired Signe Johansen and Anissa Helou to cook. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMNaSmt2Ths.
  5. [discoverspice]. (2013, March 30). Anissa Helou – art, passion and the Mediterranean!. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTWWOfprVp8.
  6. [Firehorse Showreel]. (2012, August 6). El Chef Yaktachef – Episode 9. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMt-xxkN2jA.
  7. [QatarUK2013]. (2013, November 26). Evenings with Aisha Al-Tamimi and Anissa Helou: Dishes from Qatar. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdAadHJGfwg.
  8. [SallyB2]. (2013, February 20). Anissa Helou On Koshari, And The Rise Of Middle-Eastern Cuisine In London. Retrieved from http://londonist.com/2013/02/koshari.
  9. [sbsarabicvideo’s channel]. (2010, October 26). Karabij and Natif with Anissa Helou. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8iYQWppLUA.
  10. [Sharjah Book Fair]. (2011, December 26). Anissa Helou at Sharjah Book Fair 2011.wmv. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZMYSmzJ_58.
  11. Arabian Business. (2013). Anissa Helou. Retrieved from http://www.arabianbusiness.com/100-most-powerful-arab-women-2013-491497.html?view=profile&itemid=491348#.UVrfMasaeDk.
  12. Arabian Business. (2013). Anissa Helou. Retrieved from http://www.arabianbusiness.com/arabian-business-power-500-2013-493796.html?view=profile&itemid=493832#.VtRbRZwrKM-.
  13. Christie’s. (2016). Christie’s. Retrieved from http://www.christies.com/.
  14. Derhally, M.A. (2013, May 2). Anissa Helou interview: Accidental Cook. Retrieved from http://www.arabianbusiness.com/anissa-helou-interview-accidental-cook-499915.html.
  15. Helou, A. (2016). Anissa Helou. Retrieved from http://www.anissas.com/.
  16. Helou, A. (2014, June 8). A Taste of Syria, In Exile. Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/2014/06/13/taste-syria-exile-253808.html.
  17. Helou, A. (2014, May 24). MOVE OVER BROCCOLI, CAULIFLOWER IS THE NEWEST SUPERFOOD. Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/2014/05/30/move-over-broccoli-cauliflower-newest-superfood-251878.html.
  18. Hodeib, M. (2014, Septemer 24). Anissa Helou: the elegant chef. Retrieved from http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Life/Lubnan/2014/Sep-24/271726-anissa-helou-the-elegant-chef.ashx.
  19. Jalil, X. (2016, February 9). Women to take centre stage at LLF 2016. Retrieved from http://images.dawn.com/news/1174798.
  20. Martha Stewart. (2016). Cooking Turkish Meat Bread with Lamb. Retrieved from http://www.marthastewart.com/910372/cooking-turkish-meat-bread-lamb.
  21. Martha Stewart. (2016). Moroccan-Style Stuff Bread. Retrieved from http://www.marthastewart.com/910371/moroccan-style-stuffed-mussels.
  22. O’Sullivan, E. (2014, May 3). Anissa Helou’s Laster Supper. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/may/03/anissa-helou-last-supper-stuffed-chard-recipe.
  23. Robinson, W. (2014, October 03). Chef Anissa Helou’s Expert Tips on What to Do in Abu Dhabi. Retrieved from http://www.cntraveler.com/stories/2014-10-03/chef-anissa-helou-s-expert-tips-on-what-to-do-in-abu-dhabi.
  24. Sarfraz, E. (2016, February 21). All about freedom of expression. Retrieved from http://nation.com.pk/national/21-Feb-2016/all-about-freedom-of-expression.
  25. Shaukat, A. (2016, February 22). Garnish cooking with research, experiment. Retrieved from http://tribune.com.pk/story/1051748/garnish-cooking-with-research-experiment/.
  26. The World Bank. (2016). Middle East and North Africa. Retrieved from http://www.worldbank.org/en/region/mena.
  27. (2016). @anissahelou. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/anissahelou.
  28. Wood, S. (2013, October 15). The food writer Anissa Helou on her new cookbook, Levant. Retrieved from http://www.thenational.ae/lifestyle/food/the-food-writer-anissa-helou-on-her-new-cookbook-levant.
  29. Yang, W. (2014, July 5). First Stop: Anissa Helou’s Istanbul. Retrieved from http://www.culinarybackstreets.com/istanbul/2014/first-stop-10/.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Chef; Cooking Instructor; Culinary Researcher; Food Consultant; Food Writer, Middle Eastern Cuisine; Writer.

[2] Individual Publication Date: July 22, 2018: www.in-sightjournal.com/helou-one; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[3] Photograph courtesy of Anissa Helou.

[4] Derhally, M.A. (2013, May 2). Anissa Helou interview: Accidental Cook. Retrieved from http://www.arabianbusiness.com/anissa-helou-interview-accidental-cook-499915.html.

[5] [Canongate Books]. (2014, March 8).  Chefs who inspired Signe Johansen and Anissa Helou to cook. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMNaSmt2Ths.

[6] [Canongate Books]. (2014, March 8).  Chefs who inspired Signe Johansen and Anissa Helou to cook. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMNaSmt2Ths.

[7] [anissa Helou]. (2015, January 15). anissa making tabbouleh 08. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Owtn2IoT_vw.

[8] [AP Archive]. (2015, August 3). Egyptian street food arrives in London. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKE8XOrSfGA.

[9] [Canongate Books]. (2014, September 3). Anissa Helou’s Middle Eastern Meatballs. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFhdtbRTdCM.

[10] [Canongate Books]. (2014, March 8).  Chefs who inspired Signe Johansen and Anissa Helou to cook. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMNaSmt2Ths.

[11] [discoverspice]. (2013, March 30). Anissa Helou – art, passion and the Mediterranean!. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTWWOfprVp8.

[12] [Firehorse Showreel]. (2012, August 6). El Chef Yaktachef – Episode 9. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMt-xxkN2jA.

[13] [QatarUK2013]. (2013, November 26). Evenings with Aisha Al-Tamimi and Anissa Helou: Dishes from Qatar. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdAadHJGfwg.

[14] [sbsarabicvideo’s channel]. (2010, October 26). Karabij and Natif with Anissa Helou. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8iYQWppLUA.

[15] [Sharjah Book Fair]. (2011, December 26). Anissa Helou at Sharjah Book Fair 2011.wmv. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZMYSmzJ_58.

[16] Martha Stewart. (2016). Cooking Turkish Meat Bread with Lamb. Retrieved from http://www.marthastewart.com/910372/cooking-turkishmeatbread-lamb.

[17] Martha Stewart. (2016). Moroccan-Style Stuff Bread. Retrieved from http://www.marthastewart.com/910371/moroccan-style-stuffed-mussels.

[18] [SallyB2]. (2013, February 20). Anissa Helou On Koshari, And The Rise Of Middle-Eastern Cuisine In London. Retrieved from http://londonist.com/2013/02/koshari. 

[19] Derhally, M.A. (2013, May 2). Anissa Helou interview: Accidental Cook. Retrieved from http://www.arabianbusiness.com/anissa-helou-interview-accidental-cook-499915.html.

[20] Helou, A. (2014, May 24). MOVE OVER BROCCOLI, CAULIFLOWER IS THE NEWEST SUPERFOOD. Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/2014/05/30/move-over-broccoli-cauliflower-newest-superfood-251878.html.

[21] Jalil, X. (2016, February 9). Women to take centre stage at LLF 2016. Retrieved from http://images.dawn.com/news/1174798.

[22] O’Sullivan, E. (2014, May 3). Anissa Helou’s Laster Supper. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/may/03/anissa-helou-last-supper-stuffed-chard-recipe.

[23] Robinson, W. (2014, October 03). Chef Anissa Helou’s Expert Tips on What to Do in Abu Dhabi. Retrieved from http://www.cntraveler.com/stories/2014-10-03/chef-anissa-helou-s-expert-tips-on-what-to-do-in-abu-dhabi.

[24] Sarfraz, E. (2016, February 21). All about freedom of expression. Retrieved from http://nation.com.pk/national/21-Feb2016/all-about-freedomof-expression.

[25] Shaukat, A. (2016, February 22). Garnish cooking with research, experiment. Retrieved from http://tribune.com.pk/story/1051748/garnish-cooking-with-research-experiment/.

[26] Tahseen, N. (2016, February 22). http://nation.com.pk/lahore/22-Feb-2016/iqbal-islam-aesthetics-and-post

colonialism. Retrieved from http://nation.com.pk/lahore/22-Feb-2016/iqbal-islam-aesthetics-and-post-colonialism.

[27] Wood, S. (2013, October 15). The food writer Anissa Helou on her new cookbook, Levant. Retrieved from http://www.thenational.ae/lifestyle/food/the-food-writer-anissa-helou-on-her-new-cookbook-levant.

[28] Yang, W. (2014, July 5). First Stop: Anissa Helou’s Istanbul. Retrieved from http://www.culinarybackstreets.com/istanbul/2014/first-stop-10/.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Anissa Helou (Part One) [Online].July 2018; 17(A). Available from: www.in-sightjournal.com/helou-one.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, July 22). An Interview with Anissa Helou (Part One)Retrieved from www.in-sightjournal.com/helou-one.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Anissa Helou (Part One). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A, July. 2018. <www.in-sightjournal.com/helou-one>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “An Interview with Anissa Helou (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A. www.in-sightjournal.com/helou-one.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Anissa Helou (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A (July 2018). www.in-sightjournal.com/helou-one.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘An Interview with Anissa Helou (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A. Available from: <www.in-sightjournal.com/helou-one>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘An Interview with Anissa Helou (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A., www.in-sightjournal.com/helou-one.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Anissa Helou (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 17.A (2018):July. 2018. Web. <www.in-sightjournal.com/helou-one>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Anissa Helou (Part One) [Internet]. (2018, July; 17(A). Available from: www.in-sightjournal.com/helou-one.

License and Copyright

License

In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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