Nabil started cooking with his mother, from the age of 10: “It’s been my hobby since then”. Hobby: a modest word which reflects this Syrian man’s quiet strength.
Former IT manager in the banking sector for “e-money systems”, particularly at the CSC Bank of Syria and as a consultant for CSC Europe, he also gave a hand at “Plus”, a restaurant in Damascus, for big events. Wedding parties or large family gathering of 250 people, he is used to thinking big, which I can also guess from his reference to his former 80-square-meters kitchen.
Past his first fried eggs, he quickly moves on to more complex and traditional recipes like “yabrak”. Rolling these rice and lemon beef stuffed vine leaves requires a particular meticulousness: “It takes two minutes for a piece to be properly rolled, the technique is complicated because the rice must stay inside the leaf when it’s being cooked. And you need 20 or 25 pieces per person”.
It seems Nabil’s patience and appetite for big challenges are not new.
“I always do what is not done wherever I find myself: in Syria, I used to cook in the European way. Now that I’m here, it’s the opposite: you should do something people are not used to.”
This marketing rule speaks to Nabil, not for the rule in itself, but because following it allows him to satisfy his need to learn new know-hows. Besides, as Susanna points out joyfully by his side: her husband does not make one particular thing more than another. Other than charcuterie and cheese, maybe: “I owned a cellar where I fermented home-made cheddar, camembert, brie or gouda. And now, I make Syrian cheese here in Orléans!”.
Being on the astounding menu Nabil proposed at Inaro during the Refugee Food Festival (charcuterie, muhamra, moutabal, mama ghanouj, pistachio warbatt…), his fresh cheeses can be divided into three categories: the first as an artisanal braid, the second is closer to mozzarella and made with a kind of black sesame, and the third is close to halloumi, a cheese from Cyprus and Crete.
Once he is done explaining the specific procedure for the making of each cheese, Nabil grabs his phone to show me pictures of all the spice-smoked meats and mutton ham he recently made in Orléans, where he lives. An activity that goes hand in hand with a few tiny frustrations: “With the Syrian butcher’s shop, I could order the pieces I wanted over the phone. They would prepare the muscles of my choice. Here, I can’t do that, it’s more difficult”.
About this mere “hobby” of his, I ask the obvious question: how can he know all of this? “Reading, reading and more reading!”, he says calmly, behind his glasses, “several reference books and I am a part of many online forums”.
From sushis to coq au vin, from biryani to home-made fresh Sicilian-style pasta, from ratatouille to fish “en papillote” and even pop-corn, which he finds amusing, Nabil knows no limit: he even seems to enjoy going beyond them. And as he tells me about steam-cooked Indian dishes, I can see a childlike emotion in his eyes.
In France since the end of 2015, this humble man with gargantuan culinary talents has recently opened his own restaurant in Orléans: Narënj.
If it is true that some palates sometimes can’t go beyond the culinary culture they are used to, we can also say that Nabil’s hands are expert ambassadors.
With the Refugee Food Festival
Following this experience, he launched his catering service and became the first chef at La Résidence (the Refugee Food Festival’s restaurant), before opening his own restaurant, Narënj, in Orléans.