Celebri­ties In the Kitchen

Taste & Flavors - - CONTENTS -

Mis­bah al Ahdab heats up Cen­trale

Gre­gar­i­ous and blok­ishly charm­ing, Mis­bah al Ahdab pre­pares a Le­banese take on lin­guini with pesto as he talks frankly about his love of cooking, his se­cret to re­ju­ve­na­tion and the toll lead­er­ship bat­tles took on his beloved Tripoli

He cooks, he sings, he’s an of­fi­cer, a gen­tle­man, a knight, a fa­ther, a hu­man­i­tar­ian, a pa­triot, a politi­cian and a bril­liant mind – and, he’s also easy on the eyes. For­mer MP from Tripoli, Mis­bah al Ahdab, gets our vote for the per­fect man. For this edi­tion of T&F he heats up the kitchen at Cen­trale restau­rant in Gem­mayze, with Ex­ec­u­tive Chef Michael Gant­ner - two chefs, two dishes and one very happy ed­i­to­rial team.

As he sips Hen­nessy VSOP co­gnac and Sch­weppes soda with a splash of or­ange juice, singing along to a beau­ti­ful melody, Mis­bah pauses to say, “You must fill life with th­ese mo­ments.”

Born on April 1, 1962, he holds a de­gree in Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion from the Euro­pean Busi­ness School in France, and an­other de­gree in Eco­nomics from the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics. In 1992, he was ap­pointed as Hon­orary Con­sul of France in Le­banon un­til 1996, when he was elected for his first term in Par­lia­ment. As Pres­i­dent of the Le­bane­seI­tal­ian Friend­ship As­so­ci­a­tion, he earned the "Or­der of Merit" of the Ital­ian Repub­lic, as Knight Com­man­der and of the French Repub­lic as Of­fi­cer. “I’m an Ital­ian knight and a French of­fi­cer,” he says with a smile.

His typ­i­cal day starts early morn­ing and fin­ishes very late. “Thank God I have atyp­i­cal days where I can take time to read, lis­ten to mu­sic, take care of my three chil­dren and cook.” Sun­day morn­ings, he wakes up as early as he does the rest of the week, to wel­come his fel­low Tripoli­tans and lis­ten to their prob­lems and con­cerns. “Peo­ple who come to visit me stay for lunch – not high so­ci­ety cou­ples, no - or­di­nary cit­i­zens from re­mote vil­lages come and join me on my ta­ble.”

As Chef Gant­ner takes over the onion cut­ting du­ties, Mis­bah con­fesses, “I can cook when I’m hun­gry, when I’m not, I don’t know how to cook. I see what’s left­over in the fridge and that gives me ideas, or depend­ing on the fresh pro­duce I find in the mar­ket. For in­stance, I wasn’t plan­ning on mak­ing a cran­berry sauce at a re­cent din­ner, but when I saw fresh cran­ber­ries, I said let’s try it.” His wife of 28 years, Mona, cooks as well, but ac­cord­ing to Mis­bah, she’s un­happy when he says he taught her how to cook. “She says it isn’t true, but I know that it is.” His ease and ex­per­tise in the kitchen doesn’t prove oth­er­wise, as he in­structs us on how to get a creamy pesto sauce with­out the cream – just add some boiled pasta wa­ter – in­ge­nious!

Chef Gant­ner’s tuna tar­tar - which Mis­bah helps pre­pare to­day - ranks high on his list of fa­vorite dishes along with wara­henab, stuffed vine leaves, pre­pared the Tripoli­tan way. “I’m very lucky, I love eat­ing so I have amaz­ing meals all the time,” he says. But, ev­ery now and then, it’s im­por­tant for Mis­bah to cleanse his body of tox­ins, es­pe­cially the in­testines, where most ill­nesses take root. “Once or twice a year, I go on fast­ing trips where [I] don’t eat for ten days and con­sume only liq­uids and vi­ta­mins. I started around 20 years ago in Ger­many; then shifted to Turkey where they also have ex­cel­lent pro­grams.” Is this the se­cret to his youth­ful glow, we won­der?

The sec­ond glass of Hen­nessy was the spark that ig­nited a pas­sion­ate dis­cus­sion on his home­town of Tripoli. It wasn’t pol­i­tics per se; it was the fact that pol­i­tics seemed to be pre­vent­ing a so­lu­tion to the real, un­der­ly­ing prob­lem and caus­ing a di­rect con­flict. Mis­bah’s pa­tri­o­tism was ev­i­dent as he ex­plained that “the lo­cals are as­phyx­i­ated, where ab­so­lutely no devel­op­ment is al­lowed, but Tripoli has an amaz­ing cul­ture. The ur­ban fab­ric is still there, you have the old souks – the only one on the eastern side of the Mediter­ranean that’s re­mained in­tact, beau­ti­ful Ot­toman fa­cades, the port of El Mina where you can al­ways get fresh seafood. I love Akra (Al Koura Square, 06 438500) restau­rant, where you have the best hum­mus and foul in the old souks. There’s also a place I like very much, close to Tripoli in Enfeh called Samket Gerge al Dayaa (Enfeh sea­side road, 03 127693). The fish­er­man who owns the restau­rant cooks his daily catch. Th­ese peo­ple have sur­vived, de­spite the cir­cum­stances. This is not pol­i­tics – you main­tain his­tory and cul­ture even if pol­i­tics change.”

Be­fore the end of our meal, we had to ad­dress the ele­phant in the room – how did Mis­bah feel about his unof­fi­cial ti­tle as the most hand­some politi­cian in Le­banon? “They said that I won the elec­tions in ’96 be­cause of my good looks,” he says with a shy smile. “Since I lost in 2009 I think it’s un­true, oth­er­wise women would have voted for me and I would have stayed in Par­lia­ment. This frankly used to bother me be­cause peo­ple used to cut me down say­ing I won elec­tions be­cause of my looks, but now, know­ing that I’m 53, I’m re­ally very happy and very proud to hear it.”

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You must fill life with th­ese mo­ments...

I re­ally loved the tuna to­day, it was ex­cep­tional

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