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Five kitchen essentials with Tony Kitous of Comptoir Libanais

Five kitchen essentials with Tony Kitous from Comptoir Libanais

Name five essentials you always keep in the kitchen:

Gosh… Five? It's like asking me, 'Who is your favourite son?' It's difficult. I could tell you 20, and that's only the first 20 that come into my head – you have tahini, sumac, za'atar, rose water, orange blossom, pomegranate molasses, pomegranates, meat, halloumi cheese, feta cheese… I can go on forever.

Did you have a role model growing up?

My mother, she's very special in my eyes. Obviously everyone's mother is very special – don't get me wrong here – but every person has a specific reason why they feel that their mother is special. First of all she has 7 of us, and now I consider myself as a little kid as... maybe a little devil – and I'm being nice to myself, but also my mother is deaf. She had meningitis when she was 6 years old and she lost her hearing. To bring up seven wild kids, one after another... we were always in trouble with neighbours, with friends, sometimes with the police. I don't know how she went through it. She was independent, and she never took her lack of hearing as a handicap. A lot of people would look at her like 'poor her', and back then in the 40's it was more common for people to withdraw themselves, but my mother never did that. She's a very strong, positive woman.

Name a dream dinner party guest:

In our culture we don't invite one or two, there are lots of people I'd want to invite, each for different reasons. Someone like Muhammed Ali – the guy is incredible, what he managed to achieve in and outside the ring. For me, that's are the kinds of people you want to meet, and discuss their life and experiences. I love to understand the personal experiences; people choose to see what they see from the outside, but they don't see what goes on behind the scenes. Alex Ferguson, He's a great mentor, great coach. At the age of 75, he still thinks about other people. I think he's incredible. And Zinedine Zidane of course.

What's your earliest food memory?

I could never wait, not only until they finished cooking, but until we all ate together. All I remember is stealing cakes and sardines. I was like a dog or a cat, whenever someone turned around I just took the food. Whatever I ate as a kid, I ate in a hurry.

What do you cook when nobody's watching?

Sometimes I like to cook a huge bowl of pasta with anything I can find at home on top, plus one and a half kilos of cheese. Then a huge pot of ice cream.

Do you have a favourite sound or smell in the kitchen?

I love garlic. I love the smell of garlic and fried onions. Back home we have old remedies, you know – olive oil if you have a headache, or a toothache, something like that. Once I had an infection in my foot, it was really painful. I remember I was crying and my mum went to the kitchen, and she was frying onions to make a bandage. I said, "Stop it there, I'm better." And I ate the fried onions. I love fried onions so much, it made me forget the injury.

What's your favourite single ingredient?

Extra virgin olive oil.

What's your favourite restaurant that we may not have heard of?

One of the best I've ever been to, not just because of the food. When you go to a restaurant the food has to be… I have to love it. But it's also about feeling right in the space. There's a restaurant in Beirut called Al Falamanki. It feels like you're in someone's courtyard, old furniture, old crockery, old tables, old sofas, and you feel like you're eating in your grandparents house. It's amazing.

You're stuck on a desert island, and you can only eat one dish forever, what is it?

I can't choose one thing, it depends on the spur of the moment. I'd like to get good man'ousha, freshly baked in the oven. I'd make a big man'ousha, but with loads of toppings.

If you're licking your lips thinking about some delicious Lebanese, visit the Comptoir Libanais page to see if it's available in your area!

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