The Algerian hip-hop artist turned celebrity chef Rabah Ourrad is the creative mind behind the menu at new Beirut concept, Dirty Laundry. Here, he talks pushing boundaries, channeling passion and the power of a simple salad
Chefs working today need to recognize that a plate is a blank canvas for creating something with a wow factor. Customers also want to be served fresh, local produce and to be surprised by texture and taste.
On coming to Beirut and Dirty Laundry’s menu… I’d dreamt of coming to Beirut as I love the Middle Eastern culture and have a lot of Lebanese friends. I really loved the city, especially the mix of occident and orient. I wanted the style of cooking to be instinctive and focused on local ingredients, so spent time eating out, especially street food. The menu features local products, such as wild thyme, 'za’atar', 'kataife' and local avocado, but I also incorporated ideas from my North African heritage and travels. Dishes include Beef Cheeks, Prawn Ceviche and Spinach Risotto.
On moving from hip-hop to cooking… As a teenager growing up in Algeria in the 1990s, rapping for me was a way of making a political statement, but when I moved to Paris, I felt it was time for a change. I wanted to do something with my hands, so cooking was, in many ways, a logical step. I love that it’s also a universal language. On his mother’s cooking When I was training in Paris, I’d try to recreate the dishes that my mother and sisters made back home in Algeria. However, it felt like I’d achieved only about 10 percent of the taste, which was frustrating. It took me seven years to realize that you have to make dishes with love, not just ingredients. Of course, you need the skills, but you need to think that you’re feeding souls and not only stomachs.
On dining out… I eat out a lot as I believe it’s important to know what other creative chefs are doing. However, I love simple plates too. Not much beats a fresh, ripe tomato, served with white onion, olive oil and sea salt.
On the future… There’s another season of Master Chef Algeria planned for late September and other television work. I’m currently working in Palma de Mallorca on a large-scale project for the UK Michelinstarred chef Marc Fosh. I wanted to get out of the TV studio and back to the kitchen sink for a while. It’s a bit like sport - you have to keep training to stay sharp.