Celebrities In the Kitchen
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.”
You must fill life with these moments...
I really loved the tuna today, it was exceptional