Meeting Dallah was definitely one of the highlights of the last month, as we sat down to talk about food philosophy and how community comes together over this shared passion we can all enjoy.
Dallah's recipes are special - inspired by memories and flavours of his childhood. Read on to learn about one of our favourite emerging food talents here in Vancouver - you'll thank us later, we promise. His food is just that good! Thank you Dallah for sharing these special recipes with us!
Q&A WITH THE DALLAH
What do you do for your day job?
Over the last 4 years I’ve worked in Marketing for Vancouver Tech Start Ups, first with HootSuite and since I’ve jumped around while also freelancing for mobile apps and bio tech companies. Currently I’m the Head of Marketing at Control (a payment tech company).
What drives your for passion for food?
Community. There is nothing like a crowded table of people and food. See next answer :)
Greatest food memory?
Many memories of my childhood involve my mother’s cooking and times I may have been dragged away from video games to keep an eye on the simmering milk so it didn’t stick to the bottom of the pot, or continuously stir rose water and sugar till it was a sticky syrup. Other times I remember the summers at my grandparents’ house in Lebanon. They had an open door policy during meals, each a crowded low set coffee table surrounded by futons and stools. And anyone walking by would stop in for a bite - it was a warm image of community being brought spontaneously together to break bread.
How has your home cooking evolved as part of your interest in creating beautiful images?
I’ve always had a desire to create. When it comes to food, taking that next step to set a plate so that just looking at it not only makes you want to eat it, but you can admire the intent involved in making a dish. It might be something that comes from my arabic roots, but we say something along the lines of its looks so good, it fills your eye.
What is the number one most used ingredient in your kitchen?
Lately, tahini and sumac have been the contenders.
What is the biggest challenge you face when sourcing ingredients?
Quality produce. I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the seasonality of produce. I’m getting very tired of bland tomatoes, so I’d like to start getting in the habit of appreciating seasons and cooking accordingly.
What is the kitchen tool you can’t live without?
My Japanese Santoku knife I bought last December. I traveled to the outskirts of Osaka to find a specific knife dealer. I arrived, and it was closed. I was exhausted just by the thought of having to come all the way back to the store the next day, so I looked around the building until I found a door bell and the kindest old Japanese man came rushing down. He opened the shop for me and spent an hour with me talking about the knives. He was so grateful when I decided to get one. The knife is so much more than a knife now - its a moment in time I’ll always be thankful for.
What do you eat for breakfast?
My friend lent me this cookbook from a restaurant in Copenhagen called GROD. It is all revolves around porridge, risottos, and congees. Long story short, I discovered their oatmeal porridge and caramel dish, I’ve adapted it to my tastes, and now its one of my favourite things to eat in the morning. I do have to say though, after working with wheat berries for breakfast I feel great throughout the day.
Who is your biggest influencer?
In terms of the food world, I admire many people, it would be too hard to pick one person. But, that being said, I really like Anthony Bourdain, he has such a genuine way of talking about food and the experience it can provide. I like the earnestness of Rene Redzepi, the nomadic nature of Francis Mallmann, and the confidence of Magnus Nilsson.
What do you do to re-charge?
Hiking, running, and yoga. But most of all, cooking alone with the right music playing.
Favourite food city?
Seriously, I’m weird. I don’t rank things - I think its one of the most peculiar things we do as people. It's also why I probably don’t belong in the professional chef world - I have no desire to be ranked, or starred, or to compete. But…. LA is great for food.
Have you always cooked with grains and legumes like you do now?
Always, lentils, chickpeas, fava beans, wheat, and rice are everywhere in Lebanese dishes. They are always patiently waiting in the pantry.
What is your current favourite grain to work with?
Wheat. The gluten free thing is getting out of hand. If we just source good wheat, we’ll be fine (except celiacs of course).
We feel grateful to have the support of so many amazing cooking enthusiasts in our city. What are some other noteworthy local personalities making a difference in the way you cook? Why?
I'm lucky to have friends that appreciate cooking as much as I do. Juno Kim (jun0k), who has being a rising star over the last few years, is always helping me learn more. Doug Stephen of Commercial Drive’s Merchant’s Oyster Bar is always a phone call away when I need advice for a dish. And most recently, Haitham El Khatib, a fellow Arab that just moved here from Dubai and is completing culinary training. Because of our common connection, we are able to quickly spin classic Lebanese dishes into a modern presentation.
Date & Nut Wheat Berry Cereal by Dallah
1 cup dry GRAIN Wheat Berries
1/4 tsp salt
4 cups water
1/4 cup halved or slivered almonds
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup dates, sliced lengthwise
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp rose water
Fill a small pot with 4 cups of water, and add salt and wheat berries. Place the pot on the stove and bring to a boil on medium high. Once boiling, reduce heat to a gentle simmer for around 60-70 minutes until all the water is evaporated.
While the wheat berries cook, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place nuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 8-10 minutes, until fragrant. Once cooked, remove the wheat berries from the heat and mix in sugar, cinnamon and rose water. Mix in the toasted nuts and dates.
Add to a bowl, add milk or any variation of milk you like (ex. almond milk). Serve with coffee and fresh fruit. Perfect for a morning meal before a hike.
This recipe can be used to serve up to 4 small services or 2 large servings - it is a heavy cereal. I make some extra nuts and dates to have on the side if you want to add more to your own bowl. You can store the remaining cereal in the fridge and warm it up in the microwave later (after heating in the microwave the dates become soft and melt in your mouth, kind of a treat for left overs).
A note from Dallah: "Inspiration for this dish comes from 2 things, first when I lived in Lebanon, they used to have large cauldrons of wheat boiling in the streets, which I believe was preparation to make bulghur wheat. Just before they removed it from the water, you could get a bowl from them with some sugar on top. Second, as kids we eat sugary, fun cereals, so to draw from the idea of a treat for breakfast, this cereal borrows flavours from traditional baklava."
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Abdallah (Dallah) El Chami is a Lebanese Canadian versed in the world of countryside Lebanese food. He is partial to crowded tables, dim lighting, and good conversation. Dallah currently spends his time between startups and developing #thedallahmenu. Follow him on Instagram @thedallah or visit The Dallah Menu.