Profile Details

Name

Michele Kayal

My hometown

Grew up on Long Island (Huntington Station). But spiritual home is Prague, CZ, with Honolulu running second

Where I live now

Arlington, VA

Roots: Tell us a little about yourself

The first food I remember loving is hummus. My grandfather (paternal) was from Aleppo, Syria and my grandmother (also Syrian) was the first in her family to be born in the U.S. My Sittau (Arabic for “grandma”) always served it with kubbis (Syrian bread), fresh from Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. My grandfather would take me to the bakery on Sunday mornings after church. The puffy loaves came out on a long conveyor belt, and the baker would let me punch them down with my tiny fist while he and my Giddau drank thick, sweet coffee, and spoke a language I didn’t understand.

What is your family’s culinary heritage?

sorry. See above.

Best family recipe? Share it!

Two favorites: kibbe nayeh. And kibbe lebaneyeh, which I make every Christmas Eve.

Favorite childhood food memory

Besides the hummus, I remember my mother’s creamed chicken. Which sounds weird, right? But my mom is of Irish-German decent, and only one generation ahead of my dad. My father’s family were Christians, so in the U.S. they went to Catholic schools. So did my Irish mom. You’d be amazed at how many Syrian-Irish marriages there are (the other half of the Syrian family married Italian Catholics). But anyway, my mom made this amazing creamed chicken, which had nothing to do with Ireland, but spoke to the bland, comforting nature of the food she’d grown up with. It has vanilla and egg yolks. It was my birthday meal for the first 20 years of my life.

Favorite dish to share

When I have company I like to make big, bubbling pots of comfort food. Spare ribs/pot roast (when the spare ribs are too expensive), tomatoey fish stew, and for a while I made this killer chicken with vinegar dish. I’ve discovered it doesn’t matter much what you feed people as long as you really took the time to enjoy cooking it. It shows up in the food.