Bethany Kehdy describes herself as someone that you can’t really put in a box.
She’s not wrong. Just a cursory scan through her vast list of achievements is proof of that.
The American-Lebanese entrepreneur grew up in Beirut during the Civil War, and went on to compete in the Miss Lebanon pageant, which led her to represent the country in the Miss World 2002 pageant.
She then worked in real estate in Florida, launched a blog to share her love for Lebanese food, has penned two cookbooks, and launched Taste Lebanon, an organisation that takes tourists on culinary journeys across the country, in 2009.
And now, Kehdy is all set to add yet another feather to her cap with the launch of Dayma, a Levantine food delivery kitchen in Dubai. Stemming from the Arabic word that loosely translates to "time and again" or "always", Dayma will serve up some of her signature dishes. On the menu are recipes that celebrate the flavours of the region, such as carrot mutabal, chicken musakhan and sour cherry kibbeh. It is scheduled to launch on Tuesday, September 1.
"The food is going to be a high quality, contemporary take on authentic dishes," explains Kehdy. "So we're going to have hummus, but it will be a zataar pesto hummus with sun-dried tomatoes. This is not going to be your average mezze place."
Covid-19 made Dayma a reality
When Kehdy first thought of launching Dayma, it was as a restaurant in Downtown Beirut, but plans were put on hold due to the revolution.
The plan morphed even further when she took a trip to Dubai earlier this year to visit family,
"It was supposed to be for three weeks," Kehdy laughs. "Then suddenly news was constantly breaking and airports were shutting down. I've been in the UAE for over five months now. So I've kind of been displaced, but in a very comfortable way."
Meanwhile, the pandemic showed her just how popular delivery food concepts could be, which in turn inspired Dayma.
“If you had asked me before Covid-19, if I would ever launch a delivery concept, I would have said no,” says Kehdy. “I had to change my mindset. Delivery is great. This is a lifestyle trend that is growing. I saw a niche I could fill, high-quality Levantine dishes for someone who doesn’t want to go to a restaurant but wants similar dishes at home.”
The kitchen will be in Barsha, with deliveries taking place across most of Dubai. Depending on its reception, the brand may expand to other markets like Abu Dhabi.
In many ways, her latest concept captures her journey across the region, and aims to educate people about the many nuances of Levantine food.
"Take tabbouleh for example; people assume there's just one, the green tabbouleh. But there are actually variations across the Levant region. One of them is made out of cabbage – we call it tabbouleh baidah," she explains.
It's not the only dish given a remake. Sfiha, popularly known as a meat pie, will be made with aubergines. The menu even includes a prawn sambousek inspired by a historical recipe in a ninth century cookbook.
“These are some of my favourite recipes, the things I love to eat,” says Kehdy, who grew up on a farm in Lebanon and has a special love for quality produce. “In the Levant, people love to sit down at the table and spend hours over good food, entertainment. It’s that tie between sustenance and socialising that makes the experience really special."
Kehdy was in Dubai when the Beirut port explosion occurred, devastating the city and injuring thousands. The incident left her shocked, but also overwhelmed by the love and support she received from the many people who had visited the country as part of Taste Lebanon.
“People from all over the world were calling and asking what happened, what they could do to help. That’s what happens when you visit Lebanon, it becomes a part of you,” she says.
Kehdy herself has been busy since the incident, raising awareness and funds. She was recently one of the five chefs who came together to create charity dinner Cook for Beirut, organised by Gates Hospitality. All proceeds from the dinners have been donated to the Lebanese Red Cross.
“I think the most important thing at the moment is to keep the financial support coming. This has been like an apocalypse, an entire city has been wiped out. It’s hard to grasp if you’re not on the ground,” she says.
“We need to keep talking about it because the healing and rebuilding will take much longer. We need the international community to keep us in their thoughts and prayers. We are all interconnected these days, after all. Things that happen across the globe will impact the way you live. Just because you’re not seeing it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”