Lunch Date with Dina Hamzeh
Why do you love Caramel?
There’s so much to love about Caramel. To start with, there’s the lovely atmosphere, the décor and the overall positive vibe, which starts with the smiling and professional staff. I really appreciate good service. And I love the food, of course. I’m always in a good mood before coming to Caramel, because I know that my palate is in for a treat. My favourites are the Caesar salad and the delicious TNT shrimps. These dishes could be considered as appetizers, but when we eat at Caramel, we order two of each and share them as main courses.
What is your desert island dish?
It would have to be chocolate cake, of course. As co-owner of a chocolate company, it comes as no surprise that I love chocolate, I’m sure. I adore chocolate cake so much that our chef has created the perfect indulgent, rich and creamy chocolate cake, and named it ‘Dina’s Cake’. That’s the actual name of it! It’s a cake made up of layers of chocolate sponge and chocolate ganache. My favourite thing is heating it slightly in the microwave (just enough for the chocolate to start melting) and eating it with a couple of scoops of ice cream.
What is your top guilty food pleasure?
It has to be ice cream. I have a freezer full of different flavours and I like nothing more than enjoying some ice cream by myself, while unwinding at the end of the day. It’s my very own guilty pleasure.
Do you have any extra special food memories?
I have some pretty great memories of restaurant outings in Beirut where I grew up with my dad. We used to go to this amazing steakhouse, Myrtom House, every Sunday. It was always such a nice outing as it’s a very authentic and really cosy little restaurant.
Who is your food inspiration?
My mother has always been my inspiration. Growing up, she cooked incredibly tasty dishes. She was never too original in her preparations, and her dishes were always quite simple, but they were delicious and comforting. I think I have that same cooking style where I don’t like to over-complicate my dishes and keep them tasty and simple. And I’m always more than generous with the ingredients.
What is the most unusual thing you have eaten?
I’m not too adventurous when it comes to food, so I usually don’t like to try something that looks unfamiliar. For instance, although some people eat it on a weekly basis, I personally don’t like foie gras. I find the concept slightly disturbing. That said, I have had it before, so that’s probably the most unusual thing I’ve eaten.
In your opinion, what makes a perfect dining out experience?
I enjoy my food so much more when I am in pleasant company; the company makes all the difference. For a memorable evening, all I need is my family and close friends.
What do you like to cook at home?
I cook traditional Lebanese food for my kids – very healthy vegetable-based stews mainly. But what I really enjoy is experimenting and cooking new recipes that I find in my recipe books, that’s always fun for me. I look forward to having friends over for dinner so I can show off my hidden talents.
Who taught you how to cook?
It may sound like a cliché, but my mom did, and I learned from recipe books, of course. I have such nice memories in the kitchen with my mother. I learned by watching her cook, while growing up. As for recipe books, I learn so much by reading them. I actually have quite a collection at home. I would say that it is almost a favourite hobby of mine, and a truly relaxing experience.
What are your all-time kitchen cupboard must-haves?
I probably shouldn’t reveal this, as the owner of a chocolate company, but my son loves supermarket-bought chocolates, so my cupboard is always full of them for him to enjoy every few days. Otherwise, a must-have for me is pomegranate syrup, which is widely used in Arabic food, from fresh salads to rice dishes. In my family, we all love it.
What is your foodie dream?
I have three children who need to be fed, and although I enjoy cooking for them, my hectic schedule doesn’t allow me much time, so I would love the luxury of having a live-in three-star Michelin chef, who would cook wonderful dishes all day long. I would then probably never want to leave the house again!