Food Network: Iraq-style (Ramadan edition)

Here’s a vague vague hint about what I spend a lot of my time doing….I read and watch a lot of international news. Gosh, I’m interesting, I know. To facilitate this, I have access to streaming video for local and international TV stations, which, lucky for me, don’t always play news.

In fact…

Sometimes they have cooking shows!!!

Some of you may not know, but I have a special place in my heart for overweight Iraqis (although lately this is expanding to Bahrainis) And I also love food, so any TV show that can encompass both of those loves is…just fantastic.

Chef Firas is on al-Iraqiya, the state-run TV channel. Sadly, I’ve only had a chance to watch one episode. I marveled at the aesthetically-pleasing soft lavender/blue, rounded cabinets (no shocking-white Sandra Lee, no garish Rachael Ray studio!). I appreciated the Arab flare and the gaudy presentations. Carved fruit is a-okay on my tablescape! The best thing? No, it wasn’t that Chef Firas made everything from scratch (yes, that’s another jab at Sandra Lee), although I did love that. The best part of the show was the call-in feature.

Usually I hate shows where viewers call-in. Why should I care what the average viewer has to say? But this just added to the entertainment factor of this show. I’m sure this is a relatively-unknown feature for Iraq’s blossoming TV production, and not all of the Iraqis calling in quite knew what to do. Those of you who have experienced Arab culture know about lengthy greetings and good-byes, and the callers were no different. Chef Firas, bless his heart, just wanted his caller to get to the point. My Arabic isn’t the best, but I could tell he was getting annoyed after being told hello, peace be upon you, God bless your hands (a normal greeting for a cook), blessed Ramadan, etc etc etc. I did manage to understand it when he kept repeating “Come on! Ask your question!”

The best part was when the caller couldn’t hear Chef Firas, or when they had their TV turned up, making the sound all garbled. Chef Firas would desperately motion his hands at the camera “Umm Haydair, turn down your TV! What’s your question? Hello, are you there Umm Haydair?” There was a whole two minutes where one poor woman on the phone just kept repeating “Merhaba? Chef Firas? Merhaba?” I was laughing so hard! Chef Firas just kept cooking, assuming she hung up or the connection was lost, but a few seconds later…there she was again! She probably just had a simple question about soup too 🙁 (Unless my Arabic skills failed me, it seemed that most people had questions about soup…)

Chef Firas isn’t just about funny callers and being the un-Sandra Lee, he also seems like he makes really good food! Twists on beloved Iraqi dishes, I’m sure. The episode I watched featured a tomato-based soup with okra, some sort of hummas-salad made with chickpeas, sliced peppers, and a lot of olive oil and citrus juice, and then some strange dish involving sausages wrapped in phylo dough (I didn’t quite understand that one…). The show is at least an hour long, so there are no switch-outs (like the Food Network!), and he carefully arranges everything on nice dishes at the end, making sure to throw on tons of over-the-top garnish. Flowers, mint leaves, carved peppers and watermelons, nothing is too much for Chef Firas!

Mere days after discovering Chef Firas, so did the BBC, so check out their article and that adorable picture of him!

Ramadan kareem, readers! Take advantage of your kitchen, and try to channel a bit of Chef Firas into your next dish, and as always, bake for me!!