What’s your medium?

Sharing food is a form of both love and art

Mugizil imports Turkish Baklava.
Supplied by Fadel Mugizil
Food is our sustenance. We consume to nourish ourselves, but the enjoyment we derive from the right flavour profiles hitting our taste buds keeps us coming back for certain cuisines. Like the albums we can’t stop listening to or the movies that hold a special place in our hearts, food is an art for our senses. 
For this week’s column of deciphering the excitement people draw from various artistic mediums, The Journal caught up with Tango Nuevo Chef Eric Lavryssen and Fadel Mugizil, the owner of Ali Baba Kabab. These two men specialize in vastly different cuisines and atmospheres yet find parallels in their love for delicious food. 
“I started my culinary journey rather young; my dad worked long hours and my mom wasn’t very connected to food which left me to often cook for myself and them,” Lavryssen said.
Lavryssen went to university to study kinesiology and psychology,  but realized post-grad he had more creative aspirations for his career, leading him to getting a job at the keg ten years ago. 
“My list of role models is ever evolving and extensive at times,” Lavryssen told The Journal, though he narrowed it down to a few he feels most inspired by today. 
Richmond Station’s owner Carl Heinrich, and Chef Hayden Johnson come to mind from his time living and working in Toronto. Zach Keeshig, an Ojibwe chef who has opened a pop-up restaurant in Owen Sound, is another person who excites Lavryssen in the culinary world. Keeshig is leading the way with his style of progressive aboriginal cuisine. 
“The possibilities to create are endless when it comes to cooking, and the possibility to learn is ever- present,” Lavryssen said. “Food builds community. Whether you see it as a form of sustenance as I did growing up or are a self-proclaimed foodie who enjoys experimenting with their palettes, food acts asa bridge between people.” 
Though Lavryssen is not vegetarian, he’s found his most recent niche through experimenting with the flavour profiles of fruits and vegetables. “I think vegetables should be treated with as much respect, if not more than other products in the kitchen. Protein is often the star of the show, however I do think a more plant-based future is on the horizon.”
Of his own creations, Lavryssen’s current favourite is a braised venison cooked in an Earth oven he helped dig last winter. His favourite eating experience has been khai soi he had while in Thailand. 
For Mugizil, the path looked quite different. In 2001, he immigrated from Saudi Arabia to Canada and began cooking to self-nourish. 
“I started learning about food—picking recipes and burning them half the time—and soon enough it just became a passion.” Seven years down the line and a whole lot of culinary experience later, Mugizil’s older brother encouraged him to take his skill to the next level. 
“It was my brother who suggested that food is part of our art and it’s something we could perfect,” he told The Journal. “Since we’ve opened, I live by the rule: if I wouldn’t feed [a dish] to my family, I’m never going to feed it to anybody else.” 
Opening a Middle Eastern restaurant in Kingston, where diversity levels have notoriously been low, made testing his dishes out and receiving feedback a priority for Mugizil. 
“I’m very cautious that not everything I like is something my customers may like so I make myself present and available to listen to customers and hear their feedback so we can always improve.”
The front counter of Ali Baba’s Kabab is lined with pastries—baklavas of different shapes, sizes, and colours sure to entice you as soon as you walk in. Mugizil explained the process they went through before finding the perfect supplier for this renowned delicacy. 
“These come from Turkey and then we bake them here. We tried them from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, but  we found Turkish baklava's richness in pistachio to be the most pleasing to look at and eat.” 
The community built by a reputable source of great food creates loyalties across people and friendships that cannot be replaced. For Mugizil, seeing people come back to his restaurant  time and time is what drives him as a cook and a businessman. 
When asked what his favourite dish he serves is, Mugizil couldn’t pick just one. 
“I’ve eaten almost every item I have in the restaurant—to check quality but also when I’m hungry—[so] I see every dish that leaves the restaurant as a piece of art and something I love.”
To eat the food of others is an experience of connection and community, though it may not seem so at first glance. Next time you are set to eat out with a loved one, consider trying the delicacies of Tango Nuevo or the delicious comfort food of Ali Baba’s Kabab. 

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