Lebanese-Syrian cookbook author Anissa Helou has won the Foodics Icon Award by Mena's 50 Best Restaurants. The award celebrates individuals who raise awareness and drive positive change.
A variant of the World's 50 Best group, Mena's 50 Best Restaurants made its regional debut in Abu Dhabi last year. The second annual list will be announced in the UAE capital on January 30.
In the run-up to the ceremony, the group reveals the recipients of its various F&B awards, including naming Palestinian-Jordanian chef Salam Dakkak, founder of Levantine restaurant Bait Maryam, as Mena's Best Female Chef 2023 last month.
Helou follows in the footsteps of Lebanese food activist, entrepreneur and restaurateur Kamal Mouzawak, who won the Icon Award last year. Helou is the author of books including Feast: Food of the Islamic World (2018), Levant (2013) and Mediterranean Street Food (2002). She began her culinary journey by writing books about street food traditions in Morocco and around the Mediterranean.
Today, she is regarded as a culinary and cultural preservationist owing to the emphasis she puts — as a food writer and cookery teacher — on celebrating and preserving the food and traditions that unite communities across the region.
For her latest book, Saudi Feast (2022), Helou worked with the Culinary Arts Commission of Saudi Arabia to standardise traditional and contemporary recipes collected from cooks across the country.
Chatting to The National during the launch of Feast: Food of the Islamic World, which spans the Islamic World from North Africa to South Asia, Helou said she has always been struck by how strong the culture of food is among Muslims, even those who no longer speak Arabic.
“I always have Arab-Americans who come when I’m teaching, and sometimes the only Arab thing about them is their love for the food. Some of them haven’t even visited the Islamic world, but they’ve eaten [the cuisine] at their mother’s or grandmother’s. The memory of the food, and the food itself, is sacrosanct."