Palestinian chef Michael Rafidi wins prestigious James Beard culinary award in Chicago

Owner of Michelin-starred Albi restaurant in Washington dedicates prize to 'Palestinians all over the world'

Chef Michael Rafidi was named Outstanding Chef at the James Beard Foundation awards ceremony for his Washington restaurant Albi. AP
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Palestinian-American chef Michael Rafidi has dedicated a prestigious American culinary award to Palestinian people “all over the world”.

The owner and chef at Albi restaurant in the US capital Washington received the Outstanding Chef award at the annual James Beard Foundation ceremony in Chicago on Monday night.

Rafidi was recognised for his dedication to the Arabic and Levantine cuisine he serves at his restaurant, which he established in February 2020. He dedicated his win “to Palestine and to all the Palestinian people out there, whether it's here or in Palestine or all over the world”.

The James Beard Foundation is a non-profit organisation dedicated to celebrating and supporting the people behind America’s food culture.

Rafidi has been nominated in the same awards category twice before, as a semi-finalist in 2022 and a finalist in 2023, only to miss out both times. In May 2022, his restaurant Albi was awarded a Michelin star in recognition of Rafidi, who “takes inspiration from his family’s roots in Ramallah”.

Rafidi also helms Yellow, a cafe in Georgetown, which serves Arabic-inspired bites and dishes with a French slant.

The chef, who grew up in Maryland, previously told The National that he had little interest in cooking his ancestral food at the beginning of his career, instead favouring French dishes and modern cuisine. However, after travelling around the Middle East, he changed course.

“I decided I should get back to my roots,” he said. “I thought: ‘I want to open my own restaurant. It should have Palestinian food as the star and it should incorporate everything I've learnt in this business.'”

When he opened Albi – from the Arabic word for “my heart” – in 2020, Rafidi dedicated the restaurant to his grandparents, saying: “I am not trying to do verbatim Palestinian food. I grew up here in DC, so this is an American restaurant, but from a Palestinian view. It's really my interpretation of Palestinian food.”

Rafidi has been vocal about his love for Palestine and is passionate about representing his ancestral homeland through food.

In November 2023, Rafidi announced on social media that Albi had retained its Michelin star rating, writing: “Our journey through Palestinian cuisine has only just begun. We’re honoured that Albi has retained its Michelin star … Some welcome light amid such a dark time for the world.”

He told The National: “It was a huge risk when we opened, and I thought most Arabs would hate what we’re doing. But I think there's a soul to Palestinian food. I really wanted to showcase the food I grew up eating, because it's incredible, and pay a tribute to my grandparents, my family and Palestinians all over the world who eat this food.”

Updated: June 11, 2024, 7:38 AM