Souk el Tayeb Founder Kamal Mouzawak Named Prince Claus Laureate 2016

Precisely one year ago, I received an email from the Netherlands which I nearly discarded as spam. It originated from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, which since 1996 has been supporting cultural activities and outstanding cultural practitioners and organizations.

According to the email, the Fund had received a confidential nomination and wanted to solicit my input, based on my experience via Beirutista and formerly Beirut.com, on the work of a Lebanese chef and entrepreneur. 

Who, I asked with great intrigue? 

Kamal Mouzawak.


Kamal Mouzawak pictured inside his kitchen concept Tawlet in Beirut
(photo source: http://www.dotwnews.com/)


For those of you who are not aware, Mouzawak is quite easily responsible for the organic food movement across Lebanon. In 2004, this food visionary founded Lebanon’s first farmers market “Souk el Tayeb” (Arabic for “the good market”). The aim is to share knowledge of food as a basic and important common denominator.

His candidacy for such a prestigious award was unquestionable, and I was thrilled for the opportunity to champion his efforts in a broad social and cultural context. Here’s what I wrote in his defense:


Mouzawak believes fractured communities can put aside their differences—religious and otherwise—by uniting around a mutual respect for food, land, and agricultural traditions. The farmers market endeavors to pass down timeless food conventions and the culture of small farming, with the hope of sheltering these individual producers from industrial giants especially in the face of passive governmental involvement.
In 2008, Mouzawak partnered up with a successful corporate strategist named Christine Codsi. The two extrapolated the Souk el Tayeb concept in November of 2009 to Tawlet, not a restaurant per se but an iconic meeting point where cooks, many belonging to the Souk el Tayeb family, prepare the foodstuff of their ancestral hometowns. Often these chefs are women who are homemakers and passionate about their respective villages’ specialties and cuisine.
Tawlet, Arabic for “table,” is an open kitchen where every day over lunch, a different “producer,” or cook, prepares food representative of the region from whence he or she originates. The philosophy? There are many stories to tell, and why not do it through the language of food?


Tawlet producers showing off traditional foods from their regions
(Photo source: http://www.jodyeddy.com)

In 2012, Mouzawak opened another Tawlet restaurant in the fertile village of Ammiq, in the Bekaa. Like the outlet in Beirut, farm to table foods are served by locals, engaging the community in the harvest of its land. Unlike the original Tawlet, this is an eco-friendly environment, where the building has a high environmental performance rating, a thermal envelope, naturally-assisted cooling, solar water heating, and 80% less energy consumption than a conventional construction. All waste is sorted and recycled. Tawlet Ammiq is part of a regional program funded by the Swiss Development Agency and implemented by the Royal Society for Conservation of Nature.
Tawlet often invites budding winemakers and beer brewers to introduce their products to guests dining in the space. Book signings also take place here, as do campaigns for environmental health, ecological awareness or food waste NGOs. Guests can enroll in thematic cooking classes at Tawlet to learn hands-on how to prepare a particular cuisine.
So it is easy for one to see how deep of an imprint Mouzawak has made on the food fabric of Lebanon. Not only has he empowered small farmers whose yields may have otherwise gone unnoticed, he’s brought women – traditionally housewives – into the communal kitchen to show off their culinary prowess and shed light on their village’s cuisine. His projects pay homage to the environment, and he aims to take homegrown products beyond the local frontier and into the international spotlight. It’s no wonder Anthony Bourdain invited Mouzawak to guide his own food adventure upon his first visit to Lebanon in 2006.

Kamal Mouzawak along with five other award-winners went on to be selected as a Prince Claus Laureate and was honored at a ceremony in Amsterdam on December 15, 2016. I was invited to take part in the festivities but was on the other side of the world visiting family in North America. 

Here's a short video that was prepared to introduce Mouzawak at the ceremony:





At length, it gives me great pride when I am able to shed light on a Lebanese visionary’s cause. This is in fact one of the major objectives of Beirutista, to spotlight and uphold hard-working artisans who are making real change in Lebanon’s social and cultural spheres. It’s never just about the food—behind each dish spun with passion is a diligent craftsman, or activist, or chef, or restaurateur, each with a noble tale to tell.

Who will stop and listen? Who will advocate for them? Who will spread their stories?

Yours truly and humbly, Beirutista.

Congratulations, Mr. Kamal Mouzawak!


Kamal Mouzawak is presented with the Prince Claus Award 2016
(photo source: http://www.princeclausfund.org/)


Comments

  1. Not to take away anything from Kamal, I am certain the power and eloquence of your words have made a big difference in making it happen. You're a great messenger. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the words of Sir Isaac Newton, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

      Thank you so much dear Samir for your continuous support and faithful readership of Beirutista. It is genuine folks like you who make all the effort, this entire journey so to speak, worth its while.

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