Mervat Shaheen.. After translating the language, I translated my cooking hobby into a book

“A Taste of LEBANON” preserves the legacy of Lebanese recipes

It is almost impossible for anyone to succeed in the kitchen unless the first and last ingredient in their dishes is the love and passion for cooking. The taste of food prepared by hands with a passion for innovation and cooking is enough to be the most delicious that can be tasted at all.

From the chefs’ love, to the kitchen, to the culinary enthusiasts, who translate their love for food and traditional and contemporary recipes in books, each word is crafted with an idea based on memories and sharing of recipes with others for their families.

Mervat Shaheen is a Lebanese mother who immigrated to London during the civil war in Lebanon, to settle with her family in London. Her father, the well-known calligrapher, Mahmoud Shaheen, worked for the newspaper “Al-Sharq al-Awsat” during its founding. Since her childhood, she has been fond of cooking in all its forms and shapes, as well as her passion for reading. She worked for many years in the aviation field, and due to health and social conditions, she was forced to devote herself to raising her son and daughter.

Mervat Shaheen from studying translation to translating her love for cooking in a cookbook

This did not prevent her from developing her capabilities and passion for reading, and continuing to study translation, where she obtained a master’s degree, hoping to get a job that suits her conditions, but that was not an easy thing.

In the middle of last month, Mervat celebrated the launch of her first book, “A TASTE OF LEBANON.” Asharq Al-Awsat met Mervat while signing her first book, and our conversation began about the birth of the idea that led to the birth of the book that she chose to write in English, and Mervat said that when her son moved to study At university outside London, she took advantage of the opportunity, and began to think of translating her love of reading and cooking into a book, in an effort to fill the void created by her son’s absence for long periods of time from home, so she began the journey of writing about cooking. Mervat adds, “Writing gave me a daily routine and regular work, which I was looking for, which made me feel very comfortable despite the many challenges I was facing due to my health.”

Regarding the challenges she faced while working on the book, Mervat says that she was exposed to many challenges, but her insistence on continuing gave her the courage to complete the project, by following the daily routine that she set. She added, “I used to start my day with physical exercises and swimming, which took a good amount of time every day, and it was one of the factors that enhance self-confidence and raise morale, in addition to the fun that this sport provides.”

What distinguishes the book “Taste of Lebanon” is the stories associated with the recipes of each dish. Each recipe in the book has a personal story, a joke, a historical story, or some of the customs and traditions accompanying it. Mervat tried to use her love for translation and humor to add some humor sometimes, and to stay away from rigid language as much as possible. Style is also important, and it is one of the elements of suspense to read.

On her question about choosing the English language for her book, she replied: “Because it is directed to foreigners first, to inform them of some customs and traditions in addition to recipes, as it is directed to Arabs who prefer to read in English, such as my children and others who were born in expatriate countries and English became their mother tongue.”

Mervat Shaheen chose the English language for her book to convey the traditional Lebanese recipes to the West

She added: “Writing this book was not an easy experience, and I faced many difficulties, as I said, health and others. But my passion for reading and my love for translation, as well as family support helped me a lot in overcoming these difficulties, not only preparing for cooking, but organizing this process, and repeating often, which drains the great effort mentally and physically.”

The love of cooking is usually related to an important person in the life of the chef and also the recipe writer, so we wanted to get to know the inspiration of Mervat Shaheen in the kitchen, and we found that her mother was the first inspiration for her. She loved to cook, and her food was very special. For her, every stew was a painting that she flaunted in front of her neighbours, family members and neighbors in defiance of all the women around her. She inherited this passion from her mother, who passed away early, and it had a huge impact on her life.

It is known that the Lebanese cuisine is an essential component of the heritage of its people and people, and it is one of the oldest international cuisines. Despite the distinction of Lebanese cuisine and the spread of many Lebanese cookbooks, it does not gain the fame it deserves, with the exception of specialists in the culinary world. This is briefly the opinion of Mervat, who said: “From this point of view, I found that there is a great opportunity to contribute to the delivery of this kitchen to the world by adopting a new method and facilitating the method of preparation to suit everyone, and how to use or replace materials (Ingredients) and cooking tools that are not available.”

Baba Ghanoush traditional recipe

As for the people who played an important role in realizing the dream of writing and launching this book in its first version, Mervat says that she worked with a young man, Andrew Room, a Cambridge University graduate, who was helping her daughter during the official exams, so I asked him to read some of what I was writing, and he had Liked it very much. Then I sent the materials to him for review, and then assembled them, and chose the most appropriate one.

She also hired Alistair Hilton, a professional photographer, to photograph the dishes, and this craft is very important in a cookbook, because the pictures play an important role in presenting the recipes in a good way.

However, due to the fatigue and exhaustion that the continuous work takes, in cooking and the accompanying preparation, preparation and purchase of materials and others, and due to her health condition, it was necessary to seek the assistance of an army of volunteers, the first of whom are her two sons and her sister Mona, who is considered a first-class chef, in addition to some friends .

Mervat pointed out a very important point about the reason for the West’s interest in cookbooks, saying: “There is always a place for a book of recipes, especially in Western countries, and it is considered one of the most important gifts on holidays and family or public occasions.”

The book most often tells the background story of the meal, its history, or its personal relationship with the writer. This information is not always associated with YouTube clips, Tik Tok and other similar digital platforms. In addition, the book is considered a source of private information, as it generally reflects the culture of the country, and satisfies the desire to learn about the life of this writer through the cookbook.

Mervat stressed the point that all of this does not prevent the cooking education programs spread on TV and YouTube videos from being able to benefit from cookbooks and ways to make different dishes, which contributes to the spread of these books.

She concluded her conversation with us by saying: “Despite the traditional competition between the two worlds of the word (the book) and the image (illustrated programmes), they can also be complementary.”