He’s no chef, but he does know how to cook and it tastes pretty good. At least that’s what we were told… Actor, director and writer, Joe Kodeih, stars in his most complex role yet, the one critics are calling a masterpiece – the crazy mixed up life of ‘The Chanklish Maker’
All jokes aside, we had no idea what to expect, waiting for Kodeih at Liza Beirut restaurant in Achrafieh. We knew he had chosen to make chanklish salad with Chef Johnny Nadaf, but from all the elaborate Lebanese dishes on the menu, why did he pick this one?
We were intrigued.
A mild mannered gentleman approached, who surely couldn’t have been the controversial playwright we had heard of. A man who has made an art form of non-traditional performances with his unique brand of observational humor, quickly adapted to the stage beneath his feet, by turning into a sous chef.
Chef Nadaf took the lead, impressing us all with his meticulous knife skills.
The second Kodeih took hold of the knife, the comedic actor sprung to life. He spoke candidly about his complicated relationship with food, a Liaisons Dangereuses if you will.
Have you ever tried to cookin the past?
I’ve tried many times but it was a failure. I used to make crepes a long time ago. They used to be good. I cook excellent pasta! No one eats it but me. I can do steaks, sandwiches, but that’s it.
Give us a funny story about food from your childhood.
During the war, I was in an all girls’ school. The nun asked my friend Roy and I to make a cake called a savarin (like a baba au rhum). So Roy and I attempted to make the cake under the supervision of our moms, but it didn’t turn out quite as well as we had hoped. The next day we tried to scare the girls in our class with the ‘thing’ we had created. The girls all came with very sophisticated looking
cakes – they looked pretty and ours was a scary thing in a nylon bag.
When the nun came and tasted all of them, she said the others were very
nice cakes, but the only real savarin was ours.
I love Lebanese cuisine because you can eat it and get fat or you can eat the same thing and maintain your figure – it depends on how much oil and how much bread you use. My mom’s hummus is definitely my favorite dish. I also love Armenian cuisine (my mom has Armenian origins by the way). There are
so many good Armenian dishes, but my favorite is itch (Armenian tabouleh). My favorite restaurant in Beirut, with all due respect to all the other restaurants is ONNO in Bourj Hammoud. The place is very nice and the food is amazing. When Anthony Bourdain came here, ONNO was one of his favorite restaurants. I did two episodes with him. In 2011, when he came back to Beirut, we went to Le Chef.
I know how good a Lebanese restaurant is by its hummus. The hummus and the warak arish are the thermometer of a Lebanese restaurant. Even though we live in a very small country, you can find Lebanese cuisine everywhere in the world. Sometimes, you’re amazed when you eat abroad and find that it’s even nicer than in Lebanon. It happened to me, once in Paris – though there are many restaurants there that are uneatable and very expensive – and once in Canada.
Proudest theatrical achievement?
In 2003, I was lucky to be the first Lebanese director and writer to perform on a Broadway stage at Lamama ETC with “The Middle Beast”, co-written with Elie Karam and Marc Kodeih. It was a comedy about the conflict of religions, performed by Mario Bassil, Elie Karam, Jack Maroun, Nadine Labaki and Taranasha Wallace. The play was acclaimed by the New York audiences and critics. It was readapted and written in Arabic in 2008 in Beirut, and scooped for a long period at Monnot, Monroe and Beryte theatres.
Since 2008, I’m more known for my one-man shows. What I do is funny, but people have to find it funny. I don’t always write funny things. When you talk about something that bothers you or hurts you, but highlight it in a different way, people find that funny. My latest play is called ‘Liaisons Dangereuses’, a game of love, seduction and revenge.
What topics do you cover during your shows?
I talk a lot about food and restaurants. I binge on food. I love food. Sometimes I try to be very Californian with the idea that ‘I don’t eat carbs and I juice in the morning and I’m going to the gym and I love my yoga……’ Actually, I’m very weak. I love good burgers, sandwiches…… Like a light burger – there’s no such thing as a light burger – nothing is light in a burger. Even when you say the word burger, you gain weight. Say it twice and you gain one kilo.
It’s because of a friend of mine. He’s a musician named Emile Aouad and his first CD was called “Shankleesh”. It’s a mixture of things – a potpourri of elements that come together and you finally have one flavor, one taste. It’s sour a little bit, it’s not a cheese, it’s not lebni; you don’t know what it is! It has zaatar, it has oil…… And, today I learned about adding new ingredients like basil. By the way, I’m stealing the idea.