Kamal Mouzawak has been variously hailed as Lebanon’s most high-profile culinary activist, the food czar of Beirut and the creator of a new model of social entrepreneurship with food at its foundation. After being at the forefront of gastronomic progress in his country for nearly 20 years, Mouzawak is recognised with the inaugural Foodics Icon Award for Middle East & North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022, cementing his work to date and setting him up to continue breaking barriers through his culinary projects.
Born into a family of farmers, Mouzawak studied graphic design and later worked as a food and travel writer and TV chef, exploring Lebanon widely and putting his name to various guides. But it was his work alongside Lionel Ghorra at one of Beirut’s first cultural centres that would change his life path. Here, he saw how people from all over the country came together for concerts, poetry readings and exhibitions, united beyond their religious, political or ethnic differences.
The idea for Souk El Tayeb – Lebanon’s first farmers market – came to Mouzawak in 2004, when he was asked to curate the food corner of a garden show. Seeing how the producers’ organic, traditional food products acted as a magnet to attract guests, he made a resolution to start a permanent market. Within a few weeks, the first Souk El Tayeb in Beirut became a reality, providing opportunities for farmers to sell their produce at fair prices, while also promoting organic and sustainable agriculture and educating urban communities on traditional food preservation techniques.
In 2007, Mouzawak started organising food festivals in rural areas of Lebanon, giving local home-cooks – especially women – the chance to showcase their heritage recipes. In 2009, he started bringing the cooks to Beirut with the creation of the first Tawlet, a communal table restaurant with a weekly changing menu created by village women, displaying their local area’s dishes, recipes and traditional preparations. Tawlet provided crucial working opportunities to women from rural villages, often changing their and their families’ lives by giving them a steady income, while also preserving culinary techniques at risk of being lost.
Since then, the Lebanese foodpreneur has expanded the network with Tawlet restaurants in Ammiq and Deir El Qamar, often accompanied by Beit - guest homes created to promote the traditions of hospitality of each town. He also initiated Dekenet, a permanent shop selling farmers’ products to the public, and Matbakh El Kell, a community kitchen serving 2,500 free meals daily to people in need in Beirut, founded following the port explosion in the city on 4th August 2020. The next frontier for Mouzawak is the world, with a Tawlet restaurant opening in Paris, France in January 2022.
Through his pioneering work, Mouzawak has introduced countless diners to the diversity of Lebanese food traditions, promoted the switch to organic methods of agriculture and preserved the nation’s rich culinary heritage. Beyond all his achievements, he is most proud of how his projects have brought a fractured society closer together to see beyond differences and unite in front of a plate of good, local food. For Mouzawak, food is a gateway to peace.
Read the article with Kamal Mouzawak and watch the video:
The Foodics Icon Award – MENA celebrates an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the restaurant industry worthy of international recognition and who has used their platform to raise awareness and drive change. The award is voted for by over 200 independent restaurant industry experts and well-travelled gourmets from across the region.