Hailing from the Finger Lakes region of central New York, Celebrity Chef Julie Taboulie is the “Queen of Lebanese Cuisine.” She is also the star of her own national PBS cooking show, “Cooking with Julie Taboulie.” We sat down with her for five minutes to dish about everything from her new show to what she eats during off hours!
Tell us a little bit about your background?
I am full-blooded and first-generation Lebanese-American born in the United States to an immigrant Catholic Lebanese family. My whole life I have been surrounded and supported by my large and loving Lebanese family and…of course…food! I have been immersed in learning, making and sharing Lebanese cuisine and culture all my life. I was born and raised in the Finger Lake region of central New York with a rich sense of my region, my community and my culture. I started cooking at very early age helping my Mom in the kitchen to whip up fresh and fabulous Lebanese feasts for our whole family (and our lucky neighbors too!). I learned my culinary craft from the apron strings of my Mom. She is my master chef, mentor and my best friend. There is no way that I would be here without her. She is my inspiration for my love of Lebanon, which I hold close to my heart, soul and spirit as I share our cuisine and culture with others on my television platform. I feel as though my food is my birthright and has been bestowed upon me to carry on our legacy of Lebanese cooking not only in my own family but to share now with the world.
Tell us about your show?
My show “Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen” is a creative and colorful culinary celebration of the cuisines, cultures and customs of Lebanon. I warmly welcome the viewers into a whole new wonderful world of wholesome foods. I strive to invite, invigorate and inspire my audiences to live a light, lively and luscious life! I showcase and share the phenomenal foods from my culture and spotlight my heart-healthy, nutritious and delicious dishes. On the show, dishes range from the famous “Mezze” small plate staples like my “heavenly hummus,” “blissful babaghanoush,” “magical muhumarrah,” to my street food stars such as falafel and shawarma along with the very best of Lebanese-style home cooking. Other favorites include my home-made Lebanese yogurt “Laban and Labneh,” oven-baked dough-pies like “Manoush” topped with olive oil and Za’atar spice, sensational soups, stews, side dishes, fresh fish and luscious Lamb meat meals. We also showcase mouthwatering meatless meals with lentils, beans, greens and grains and of course highlight my signature and sumptuous sweets. I work to demystify the seemingly mysterious Lebanese cuisine while sticking true to tradition. While I do put my own spin to the dishes, I also share a timeless treasure chest of twists, tips, tricks and techniques for my viewers to successfully recreate my authentic recipes right at home.
My show is set in the Greater Syracuse area, located in the famous and flourishing Finger Lakes region. This scenic setting plays a pivotal and starring role not only as the beautiful and breathtaking backdrop for my series but also serves as the sources for my inspiration and ingredients. I take the viewers along with me to my Mama’s glorious garden then onto frequenting farmer’s markets, strolling along pristine lakes and plush landscapes and rich rural farm-lands, to winding through wonderful award-winning wineries while stopping by unique urban attractions and “Salt City” landmarks located right in downtown Syracuse. I am so proud to share my culture and community with my audiences across America and Canada nationwide on PBS and Create TV. I am also writing my highly-anticipated debut cookbook by the same name scheduled to be released Fall 2016 and I can’t wait!
What is your favorite dish to cook?
I must say that Taboulie is! Not just because it is my nickname/stage name but because it truly is one of the best salads in the world! Every time I cook and taste Taboulie it is like making and tasting it for the first time. It is a tidal-wave of freshness! It also hosts my all-time favorite fresh ingredients in one big bountiful bowl including: fresh flat-leaf parsley, spearmint, spring-onions, bulgur wheat, fresh lemons, good quality olive oil and sea salt. It’s taste-bud-tantalizing!
What is your favorite type of food?
Feel-good-for-you-foods! Top on my list are greens and grains that make me feel good from the inside out. I absolutely love to cook and eat my glorious greens that I gather right from my Mama’s garden along with my array of ancient grains (today known as “super grains”) such as bulgur wheat, freekeh and farro, quinoa and wild rice. I blend these beautifully with my greens such as Dandelions, Swiss chard, Spinach, Arugula, Amaranth, Kale, and a vibrant variety of other types of wild greens that we grow right here in the Finger Lakes. Lebanese, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures have been cultivating and cooking with greens and grains for centuries so thankfully this is the way that I have been eating my whole life. It also allows me to offer some luscious Lebanese recipes in my repertoire that are unlike any others out there. These ingredients are inspiring to cook with, taste incredible, and instantly energize me to take on my long work days.
Where are your favorite places to eat?
Greater Syracuse, New York and the Finger Lakes region really do offer some reputable restaurants and talented chefs all around the area so it is hard to select a few but my favorite places to eat are often French-inspired fare. I also love to enjoy fresh fish and seafood sourced locally at some seasonal spots.
Tell us about your cooking philosophy?
“Fresh is best!” My guiding food philosophy is all about cooking, eating and living an overall healthier, happier and harmonious lifestyle and this all starts with my fresh food point-of-view. I feel that my “fresh is best” food philosophy promotes a positive outlook on life. My approach is refreshing, rewarding, and a reflective way to live. I put my fresh foot forward locally sourcing my ingredients right from my Mama’s garden, farmer’s markets and farm stands throughout the Finger Lakes region. This fresh food philosophy not only makes the distinctive difference in the taste of my final dishes but it also makes me feel good knowing that I am supporting my local farmers. This “fresh is best” food philosophy also stems centuries ago from my Sitto (grandmother) in Lebanon who never settled for anything but the best, freshest and quality ingredients that she could find. Whether it was harvested from our own farmland and gardens in Lebanon or from other farmers around her, my Sitto believed that freshness should come first and foremost. She spread this fresh perspective within my Mother and my Mom ingrained it into me. I can’t imagine cooking any other way but fresh!
My Mom always says to me “health is wealth.” When you have your health, you have everything.
Is there a special ingredient that people may not know about that is a hidden treasure?
My Lebanese signature secret ingredient for sweets is my Orange Blossom Water, which is called “Mazaher” in Arabic. It allows for such a lovely, light and lingering aftertaste that makes you long for more. This is the slightly citrus scent and indescribable taste in my Orange Blossom Water syrup “Attar bi Mazaher” which I use to finish off my Lebanese sweets. Breathing in the fresh and fragrant distilled orange blossom water will make you feel as if you were right in the orchards amidst the opulent orange trees as they are flowering and in full bloom with their dainty and delicate white beautiful buds.
For my savory cooking I would have to say that sumac spice “Sumaq”, pomegranate molasses that we call “Dibis Rahman” and Seven Arabic Spice “Baharat” are some of the special treasures from my Lebanese kitchen.
Photo courtesy of Wainwright Photography.