Seven Shelves Culinary Boxes: Bringing World Flavors (Including Lebanon's!) Into Your Kitchen
Saint Augustine once said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” But during this unusual era of the Covid-19 pandemic, our collective mobility as a society has been severely impaired. Face it. When was the last time you traveled carefree? When was the last time you were able to board a train, or hop on a plane, or embark on a ship, to transcend country borders? Can you remember when you last ambled about freely and explored an exquisitely different culture and cuisine?
Acting upon this realization, the savvy gourmands behind Key 16 – a Belgium-based enterprise that organizes culinary trips, events and tastings – launched Seven Shelves. The idea is rather simple. If you can’t roam the world for new tastes and flavors, why not bring the world into your kitchen? No need to sail the seven seas. Just tap into a treasure trove of high-quality products sourced from farmers and producers in adherence with fair-trade practices.
And thus were born the Seven Shelves boxes, themed around a particular cuisine or food concept and incorporating carefully selected ingredients, spices, and herbs, among other things. For example, the Italian box boasts olive oil, nutmeg, tomato sauce, a Parmesan knife, and a gnocchi board to elevate the in-kitchen experience of cooking enthusiasts and experts alike. Lebanon has recently been added to the box lineup with not one but FOUR mesmerizing arrangements:
✔Mezze: inspired by Chef Barbara Massaad and her eponymous cookbook spotlighting the traditional Lebanese spread. Social impact organization: Ayadina.
✔Man’ouche: also inspired by Chef Massaad and her first cookbook, centered on the versatile Lebanese zaatar pie. Social impact organization: Food Heritage Foundation.
✔Kanz: inspired by Chef Youssef Akiki, founder and owner of the nature-based eatery brut. Social impact organization: Beit el Baraka
✔Dekenet: in collaboration with Tawlet and Souk el Tayeb. Social impact organization: Lebanese Food Bank.
Each box was unveiled separately in a meaningful event and manner, orchestrated by the social calendar gurus at Lebtivity. I had the pleasure and privilege of attending the launch of the Kanz box in Beirut in October, at the scenic (and enchantingly secret!) garden Blue House Tea tucked away on a side street in the historic Gemmayze district. Kanz, which literally translates to “treasure” in Arabic, is a tribute to a fine selection of Lebanese delicacies curated by Chef Youssef Akiki, who is a culinary genius in his own right (if ever a Lebanese chef were awarded a Michelin star, it would undoubtedly be Akiki).
|The Kanz box by Seven Shelves, curated by Chef Youssef Akiki|
The Kanz box revisits the traditional taste of home with natural products that aim to support the rebirth of a self-sustainable economy. Care for a sneak peek at what’s inside?
✔Extra virgin olive oil flavored with wild Lebanese herbs (250 ml) from Bkarzla Akkar
✔Sage water (250 ml) from Baklush
✔Pomegranate molasses (250 ml) from Abbassieh Tyre
✔Tomato kammouneh (200 g) from Qana South
✔Thyme with mixed nuts (115 g) from Abbassieh Tyre
✔Carob molasses (360 g) from Jeita
✔Fleur de sel (115 g) from Anfeh
✔Middle Eastern Spices (50 g), a blend developed by Chef Youssef Akiki
|Contents of the Kanz box|
At the launch, guests were treated to a slate of dishes prepared by Chef Eric Humbert, founder and managing partner at Key 16, assisted by Elissa Abou Tasse. On the menu? A pineapple carpaccio made the rounds, festooned with crumbled feta, pomegranate seeds, extra virgin olive oil and pomegranate molasses. Also featured was zaatar spread inside phyllo reminiscent of a savory baklawa. Several other delectable plates, each integrating one or several elements from the Kanz box, were presented to attendees.
|Pineapple carpaccio topped with crumbled feta, pomegranate seeds, extra virgin olive oil and pomegranate molasses|
|A unique zaatar blend sandwiched inside phyllo|
I cannot adequately emphasize just how appealing the contents of the box are. Not only are these handcrafted delicacies rich in flavor and packing in a strong punch, but each are subject to a production process that takes into consideration the people and environment from which they originate. Sourcing from the origin highlights the “terroir” of these elements, adding a layer of edible luxury, creativity and intense flavor to one’s cooking. And by partaking in these products, the consumer in turn is supporting a healthy value chain. This is the underlying social impact Seven Shelves achieves in empowering and creating market access for local small-scale producers spanning rural Lebanon.
|Chef Eric Humbert prepared a slate of dishes incorporating ingredients from the Kanz box|
Currently, boxes can be shipped to customers across Europe (shipping can be arranged globally exceptionally, but customers must bear the steeper costs associated with international delivery). Consult the complete list of boxes here, and be sure to nab the Kanz if you seek an otherworldly gastronomic experience.
For although Lebanon may be inaccessible to many at the moment, the fruits of its fertile soil can still find their way into your pantry and onto your table. And that makes for the ultimate culinary excursion.
|Yours truly at the Kanz box unveiling in Gemmayze, Beirut (October 2021)|
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