A touch of spice
by Kylie Walker
MELBOURNE is lucky to have Greg Malouf. Lucky that he grew up here eating the traditional Lebanese food of his mother's kitchen; that he abandoned a possible career as a surveyor to become a chef; that, after working in kitchens from Austria to Hong Kong, it was to Melbourne that he chose to return. Lucky, especially, that this award-winning chef has survived two heart transplants.
Most of all, it has been a blessing for the city's food lovers that Malouf has embraced the flavours of his heritage. During his time at restaurants including O'Connell's and Mo Mo, Malouf brought his own touch to traditional Middle Eastern dishes.
His cooking - and his influence on the young chefs who have passed through his kitchen - has seen modern Middle Eastern food become a stylish and exciting dining option. Today, sumac, za'atar, burghul and labneh are common ingredients on the city's menus; Persian fairy floss decorates desserts from Balwyn to Brunswick.
Malouf has also shared his passion for the tastes of the Middle East in a series of books.
After successful collaborations on Arabesque (1999), Moorish (2001) and Saha (2005), Malouf and his former wife, writer Lucy Malouf, earlier this year journeyed to Turkey.
The result is Turquoise , a mouth-watering exploration of the country's extensive coastlines, mountainous heart, rural villages and sprawling capital. The pair taste and travel from bazaars to butchers, home kitchens to city restaurants. They sip wild thyme tea, over-indulge in raki (a potent local brew), admire the ballet-like grace of a team of young pastry makers and inhale the heady aromas of Istanbul's spice bazaar.