Something about Lebanese cuisine already gets me excited. Considering how much I love Middle Eastern food in general, Lebanese food holds a special place in my heart, probably because our awesome wedding caterer was Lebanese, and everyone raves about the glamorous buffet of Lebanese specialties to this day. At the same time, something about Paris just makes me swoon, though regrettably, I have yet to visit the beautiful city. Knowing these two facts, just imagine the excitement I felt to discover a blog that combines the two – Lebanese food made in Paris, with an undeniable French influence!
That’s why when we came across Chicho’s Kitchen, the online culinary diary of Lebanese food blogger Chérine Yammine, who currently cooks out of her kitchen in Paris, we were smitten, and reached out to her for an interview. Read on to discover what drew Chérine to the world of cooking, what she likes about living in France, and her biggest challenge in food blogging. We always feature the interviewee’s favorite recipe, and Chérine surprised us with one that doesn’t scream sophistication in the form of sauce reductions and French pastries; she chose to feature a recipe so simple, you can make it with almost nonexistent culinary expertise.
– Heba of midEATS
Interview with Lebanese Food Blogger Chérine of Chicho’s Kitchen
What inspired you to start blogging about food? Have you always been into cooking?
I’ve always had a passion for food and cooking. I’ve been blogging since 2009 after I moved to Paris in 2006. Being away from home pushed me to write this blog in order to keep track of all the food from home that I longed for as well as all the recipes I was discovering in the new city. An added bonus I thought about was that writing a blog would save on scrappy pieces of paper that were floating around our tiny apartment! And when I started reading food blogs the inspiration to create in the kitchen intensified.
Chicho’s Kitchen features some delicious traditional recipes from around the world. Do you mostly stick to the original recipes, or are you wild about adding a ‘dash of this and a dash of that’ to make your own versions of these recipes?
Sometimes I love to put my own spin on some traditional recipes. Adding ‘a dash of this’ and ‘a dash of that’ allows for versatility. It’s always nice to try and add flavors, spices and herbs in order to make the dish even more outstanding than the last time I remember having it. After all, that’s how recipes evolve, right?
Living in Paris – the sophisticated food capital of the world – must be a blast! What is the best thing about living there, from your perspective as a food blogger – and what’s the most disappointing thing (if any!)?
France was the place where I fell in love with food; it’s where I discovered my love for cooking. When I moved to Paris, I started a running list of the things I wanted to try: the macarons, the pains au chocolat, the cassoulet, the foie gras … and that list has never gone any shorter.
I can say I am quite in love with French food, both the salty and the sweet. Sometimes standing in the cheese aisle at a French supermarket is enough to remind me why I love living here, and learning the ins and outs of French cooking will be a lifetime pursuit for me.
What is your favorite food or cooking-related memory?
One of my best memories is learning to cook from my mother. I remember the day when we used to gather one week before Easter to make tons of ma’amoul (Middle Eastern cookie pastries) and we used to spend long hours doing them. I loved making those pastries, handling the dough perfumed with rose water. Back then, I was only a helper, it was fun to fill the molds and knock them out on the baking pan. We were around 8 people gathered around a table helping, sipping hot coffee and gossiping… (yes, we do gossip a lot in Lebanon!)
Lebanese food is absolutely delicious and everybody knows it! It might be hard to pick just one, but what’s your favorite traditional Lebanese recipe?
Our national favourite – kibbe bel sayniyye. Can’t explain, I guess it’s a Lebanese thing!
As fun as it is to blog about food, there might be some not-so-fun things that go along with it. What are your ‘pet peeves’ in blogging? But it’s still worth it to you – why?
Ever since I started my blog, a lot of time was devoted to food styling: “that plate – should it be here or there,” and “this spoon or knife, where should I place it?!” Food photography involves a lot of artistic trial-and-error, and the hesitation that goes along with adding all the props just right and snapping the picture while the light is hitting the plate just so – it’s really a lot to coordinate! Speaking of lighting, I really try to capture that ray of sunshine – from the front, from the left, from the right … and by the time I find the right spot for that spoon, the sun is gone and it’s pouring rain! Yes, shooting food isn’t as easy as it looks, but I’m always excited to learn the techniques that will really make my food creations ‘shine’, though the learning really never stops.
What are your favorite ingredients to work with in the kitchen?
Raw, freshly picked greens and seasonal fruits.
Just for fun: Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate, definitely – no doubt about it!
French cooking is delectable but tough to get just right sometimes. What’s the most difficult French-inspired dish you’ve created and blogged about?
I don’t think there is one dish in particular that is extremely difficult. However, come to think of it – the profiteroles were not that easy to make!
MidEats is a great way to get the foodie community to discover Middle Eastern cuisine. My favorite midEATS blog posts (currently) include the Citrus Cardamom Rice Pudding, the Egyptian Lentil Soup, Pumpkin Kibbe (I love pumpkin kibbe!), and Muhammara.
What is the biggest dream you have for Chicho’s Kitchen?
Honestly, I had no expectations when I started Chicho’s Kitchen that it would turn into anything more than a fun hobby. My dream is simply for my blog to become a place where people visit often and come to learn about food!
Featured Recipe from Chicho’s Kitchen: Chicken Wings with Pomegranate Molasses
It’s hard to choose a favorite recipe from Chicho’s Kitchen. I don’t know whether it’s the Lebanese influence or the fact that I know that these recipes are being made and tried in Paris – whatever it is, there is undeniable appeal in Chérine’s cooking. When we asked Chérine which of the many fabulous recipes on her blog that she’d like to feature, she chose a simple one that to me evokes memories of watching football games with friends, and relaxing at home after a day’s hard work. She could have picked ma’amoul or pistachio meatballs with tahini sauce, or any of the other sophisticated and complex recipes on Chicho’s Kitchen – but she instead chose chicken wings with pomegranate molasses.
Apparently, tossing chicken wings with garlic and coriander is a traditional Lebanese specialty: London-based food blogger Bethany of Dirty Kitchen Secrets shares this in her post on ‘Lebanese style’ chicken wings, but Bethany opts to add pomegranate molasses for extra flavor. Chérine also adds the molasses in this recipe. I guess pomegranate molasses is like a ‘magic wand’ ingredient – transforming the traditional into exceptional. Brenda of midEATS would definitely agree!
Though it might be easy enough to pull off in about half an hour’s worth of work in the kitchen, the taste sure beats the “barbecued American chicken wings” you find as an add-on to many pizza delivery services. The mixture of garlic, allspice – and the unique flavor of pomegranate molasses – makes these wings memorable and their intense zesty-garlicky flavor deliciously Middle Eastern. I’m looking forward to trying it myself at the next sports get-together. Enjoy!
Chicken Wings with Pomegranate Molasses
Prep Time: 5-10 minutes
Cook Time: 15-20 minutes
- 2.2 lb (1 kg) chicken wings
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp coriander
- 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 1/2 a lemon, juiced
- a handful of coriander, finely chopped
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Season the chicken wings with salt and pepper. Then add the spices and mix well.
- In a heavy bottomed pan, heat the olive oil. Add the chicken wings and saute for about 10 minutes on each side, until they’re nicely browned and done.
- Once cooked on both sides, add the minced garlic and the chopped coriander and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes . Finally add the lemon juice and the pomegranate molasses, mix well and let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving.
About the Cook
My name is Chérine. I am Lebanese, and I came to France some years ago. Before coming here, I was a graphic designer, with a full time job. But one day, destiny and love brought me to France! Little by little, I started learning and experimenting with food. I literally taught myself to cook by trial and error, and over time, each dish started turning out a little better than the last. I decided to document my culinary successes in a blog that I called Chicho’s Kitchen (after my nickname, Chicho!).
A few times a week in the mornings, I would go to the market – like most French – and get fresh, seasonal ingredients brought in by the local farmers. The pleasure of walking around the market is a unique experience filled with distinctive flavors, bright colors, and tantalizing tastes. I learned to pick ripe fruits and choose vegetables depending on when and how I wanted to cook them. And there, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the market, my love for food grew!