JOSEPHINE "ZUZU" GHALEB
Captured by The Recipe Hunters in Lebanon
Josephine Galep is originally from Tripoli. Her friends call her Zuzu and she has a passion for cooking that is rare to find. When we met Josephine, she was cooking at Tawlet, but just the day before she fell on her head and went to the hospital for a scan. Except for a bump and a bad headache, Josephine was fine, but her sons, friends, and family urged her to take a rest and cancel tomorrow's cooking at Tawlet. She told everyone, “absolutely not! I love Tawlet it's like my home, it’s like I invited people to my house, so how can I cancel at last minute.”
How did Josephine begin cooking?
“I remember when I was 13 years old, I begged and pleaded with my mom to allow me to make my first cake from a cookbook I bought. She finally agreed as long as I promised to do all the cleaning up afterwards. I remember following the recipe, adding each ingredient to the bowl and feeling so satisfied with my beautiful cake. After that, I haven’t stopped. Instead of dolls, I would buy cookbooks so I could teach myself new recipes and I would cook all the sweets for my family. My mother was such a great Lebanese cook that I started to teach myself international recipes so that my family could enjoy my cooking too. My favorite dish that she made was a kibbeh “sandwich” comprised of two pieces of kibbeh with onions in the middle. Now I cook for my three sons; they love my cooking, and each son has their favorite dish: one mulukhiya, one sayadieh, and one can’t decide between the mograbieh or warak arish.”
Why do you love cooking?
“Years ago, I was dealt with a very difficult personal problem, which forced me to leave a loved one. To deal with my pain, I found comfort and peace in the kitchen; I soothed myself through my cooking. My friend came to me and told me I was an inspiration, because rather than being sick in bed, I was curing myself and clearing my mind through cooking. When I cook I know I will be appreciated for what I do. I cook everything based on feel while forgetting outside influences and living in the moment!”
Josephine's Sèlek Bi Loubiyeh
aka Swiss Chard with White Beans Recipe
What is the most important aspect of cooking?
“I cook with so much love. I believe that if you do something and it does not have love, it will not be good. To cook with love is to not be obliged to cook, you are cooking because you love it and nothing else.
How did you start cooking at Tawlet?
“My friend Maria always comes to my place to eat because she enjoys my cooking. When Tawlet was developing, Maria told me I’d be a waste if I don't cook at Tawlet to share my cooking with others outside of my house. I kept saying no, no, no because I was busy with my kids and because I was nervous of the challenge. BUT Maria was persistent. Since I knew about the great reputation of Souk el Tayeb and Kamel I was eventually convinced by Maria to prepare some dishes for them to taste test. Since that day I have been cooking at Tawlet and I absolutely love it!
What have you learned from your experience at Tawlet?
“Most importantly, timing. I learned how to prioritize, organize, and manage my time with food. The first two or three times I came to Tawlet, I was hoping they would tell me that my food is bad; I was so stressed cooking for 60 people that I thought it would be a lot easier if I were fired! But, as I stood at the buffet watching the guests enjoy my food telling me that they love it, all my stress dissipated. I couldn’t imagine not being here now!
What does Tawlet mean to you Josephine?
“Tawlet changed my life. It made me feel that I can now accomplish something outside the house. It gave me confidence. As an "amateur" I can now share my food with others to enjoy despite not having a “professional” education. Just working at Tawlet gives me a stamp of approval on my CV; I was offered a job to work in Saudi for a high salary, although I said no, it was an opportunity that I never could have dreamt of occurring before Tawlet. When I started working at Tawlet, my mom and children told me that it’s too much work and that I don't need the money, but I resisted and told them I don't care about the money, I want to do it for myself.” When I go to the mall or anywhere, I am not attracted to clothes or other products, I am attracted to the cooking utensils. I don't sell food or have a catering business, I only work at Tawlet. However, I just started giving cooking lessons in a kitchen lab in Gemmayze because I love to teach and I teach for free.”
What’s dish are you most known for?
The best thing I make is Samke Harra' (spicy fish) with fish, tahini, coriander and spices!
If you were living on a deserted island and could only bring one kitchen appliance, one meal, and one spice what would they be?
A food processor as my utensil, lebneh as my meal and cumin as my spice but I’d act quickly to make a fishing rod!!