The story behind the story - Part 1


To trully understand where Babel comes from, and what our food is about, we need to go back to the roots, to those who inspired me to found Babel.

Here is their story.

Let's start with my grandfather I call Baba.

My Baba was one of the most respected and incredible farmer of his generation. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the soil, seeds, crops and everything related to farming.
He was the first - and for a log time - the only adult I knew who trully loved his 'job' and did it with the same unaltered passion untill he left us.

I remember telling him about my new life in London where I had recently moved to. The conversation quicly evolved around food, a topic our big, extended family always circulated back to. I mentioned the trend of the farm to table concept that I started to hear about.
How can people be disconnected from the source . Well start with the people aroun you that how I started suppers

He loved anyone and anything connected to his land: us, his livestock and the people who worked for him. He gave names to the cows. Aida was his favourite. He favoured traditional farming and the harvest was glorious.

He was a foody like no one. The butchers, producers and fisherman of the region greated him with respect and the best produces.
He will bring fresh catch of the day straight from the small daily boats. Honey came from the mountains where bees fed from Za'ater and other wild herbs.
There was absolutely no place for processed food. He reluctantly ate what he called "industrial bread".
As sourdough bread was daily baked by my grandmother or aunties in a traditionnal clay oven called Tabouna. The flour came from the crops grown on the farm. A delight.

We would sit around him at meal time and he would explain why we should eat vegetables and free range eggs instead of street food so we grow strong and healthy.

During holydays my cousins and I would follow him all day long on the farm. Checking if things have been done properly and answering a lot of "why ?".

We learned so much about farming, nature and good produces but also about making our own fresh butter and fermented vegetables with my grandmother.

If my grandfather was the king of all things farming, my grandmother was the custodian of an old and precious culinary savoir-faire.

Story for next time.

The story behind the story - Part 2

The custodian

What is the first image that comes to your mind when you think about your grandmother?
Mine is related to food, obviously.

Her name was Baya. We called her Omi Baya, "mummy Baya". She had Amazigh symbols tattooed on her face and she made her own butter, milled her own flour, rolled her own couscous grains and built her own open fire to cook specialties in terracota dishes because it makes them taste the way it should.

Welcome to my world.

One of my favourite thing to do when I was a child was to attend the 'Oula'. An ancestral culinary tradition of preparing all kinds of food and preserves to be used for the year ahead till comes the summer where the same ritual is performed again.

We are talking sun dryed tomatoes, pepers and figues. Homemade and hand rolled couscous grains. Fermented lemons and carrots. Artisanal Harissa. All sorts of spices and herbs for culinary and medicinal use. Kadid- dried mutton meat and spices. And many other nutrients packed and abolutely delicious specialties. And all of this ? I owe it to my grandma.

Shaking freshly milked milk in a terracota vessel to make butter is almost casual for her.

Food was celebrated. Women would gather from every corner of the village to make the Oula together while singing old mystical songs. And my grandma had the place of the queen.

All those years I had been the preveliged witness of something extraordinay and did not know it. This heritage cannot be lost.

Well then, the thing is my grandma had six girls. Her ancestral knowledge was passed down to her daugthers. Six amazing women, amongst them my mum Jameela.

Our very own Executif Chef.

To be continued...

The story behind the story - Part 3

Where is the bay leaf?

The first proper Tunisian dish I cooked was a pasta called makruna made of a moreish spiced salsa and meat. It was a surprise for mum who was coming back from a trip.

I made a paste of garlic and homemade spices in the traditional copper mortar and pestle. I called the butcher the day before to order the special meat cut.
"I am nailing it".
I was in the kitchen when I heard the door opening and mum shouting "You are cooking makruna? You forgot the bay leaf!".
How did she know. Just by smelling it?

She asked me to go get some fresh air and come back. "I will put the bay leaf, you will understand".
I obliged. On my way back and even before I reached the door it hit me. The bay leaf adds a whole other dimension.

That's my mum, our executif chef.

My mum has something that makes her food exceptional.
There is a belief in the Arabic world that some people have what we call "nafas". As the formidable Reem Kassis puts it "it refers to a mysterious factor that renders some people’s cooking exceptional".

A kind of spiritual gift that makes anything you cook crazy good.
It's one beautiful soul poured over a meal.

Experience and skills matter of course but without nafas food is "just" good never exceptional.

My mum leads cookery classes and gives her recipes whithout holding any secrets. She even provides her homemade ingredients. Yet it doesn't taste the same. Anything cooked by my mum tastes exceptionally good.

She has an immense knowledge in all things vegetable, herbs and spices. We would not expect less from someone who grew up at the farm. She learned from the best. As her mum did before, she also makes her own 'Oula'. Pretty much every ingredient used is homemade.

Slow food is a real thing not a hype. Things take their time in her kitchen.

I grew up surrounded by great cooks but my mum's intuitive cooking and her obbsession for the best produces is what made me fall in love with cooking.

That and the way she cooks for her guests. She makes people feel trully special.
Mum's cooking is a celebration. We celebrate the food as much as the people sitting at our table.