When was the last time the owner of your business or your supervisor, asked if you’d like to take a trip abroad to discover the food and culture of a region?
Many of my friends belly ache about business trips. They complain that they don’t get to venture outside of their hotel or they’re forced to eat conference food — legitimate reasons to piss and moan. I don’t think you’ll hear any complaints coming from the Tiqa staff who took a trip overseas in January. Together Deen Haleem and Carol Mitchell, founders of Tiqa, Executive Chef Bo Byrne and General Manager Patrick Morang, explored Bethlehem, Jericho, and Jerusalem. They had also intended to visit Amman, Jordan, where Haleem has family; however, they were turned away at the border; the necessary visas they were told they could acquire were not attainable. Perhaps a sign of the times?
Despite a hiccup or two, the trip was a tremendous success and Tiqa diners will continue to reap the rewards and I will tell you why.
Deen explained why he and his wife Carol thought the trip was a good idea. Haleem and his family are Palestinian. In 1972, his father thought it would be prudent to join family that had already emigrated to the United States; Haleem and his immediate family moved to Chicago. Carol has a Lebanese background. “We wanted to taste the old and the new, street and elevated, traditional and inspired. In addition, we wanted to learn about the culture and get ideas on how to evolve our menu.” Taking their chef and general manager to experience the Middle East was generous and enlightening.
Chef Bo spoke about what he saw with great enthusiasm. “I still can’t believe that I got to stand in front of the Wailing Wall (Western Wall) in Israel, and to actually be in the place where the last supper was served.”
Bo was of course referring to The Room of the Last Supper on Mount Zion, just outside of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. My guess is that Bo is happy to talk about something other than food occasionally; after all, he is immersed in the culinary world day and night. Although I enjoyed hearing about the sights and sounds of the Middle East, I was especially interested in Chef Bo’s thoughts on the food he tasted on the trip.
“It was 2017 there; the food today is an interpretation of the food of the past, but it’s updated as well. It was difficult to find dishes prepared the old way. I expected to see more of the old world and less of the new. I wonder if tourists wouldn’t rather see more of the old world — that’s what I think a traveller has in mind when they go there.”
Chef Bo told me that he thought the food was better in Tel Aviv. A Middle Eastern friend of Bo’s shared that, “Jerusalem is for praying, and Tel Aviv is for playing.” Meaning that Tel Aviv was more alive with robust flavors and a rich culture. Bo became extremely animated when sharing his Tel Aviv food experiences.
“I was hoping I’d come back a better chef; more authentic and better educated,” Chief Bo said.
Tiqa is marketed as a tribute to Pan Mediterranean dining. Purveyors supply the restaurant with hand-selected and sustainably-raised and sourced meats, seafood, cheeses and produce. Bo has already started making small changes to the menu, however, the big changes won’t come until spring. He shared that he and his fellow travellers had hummus many different ways. It made Bo feel good and confident about his own interpretation of hummus; having it be similar to those he tasted, but with its own unique flavors. Deen told me that the bread will stay the same. However, they’ll be serving it whole rather than slicing it — noting that breaking bread was part of every meal where they travelled.
Improving on dishes that are already celebrated and delicious will be quite a feat. Still, I’m looking forward to spring and not just because of the change of weather. Few owners expose their staff to the origin of the cuisine served in their restaurants. Authenticity comes from going right to the source and tasting it for yourself. Chef Bo’s enthusiasm for and his experience in the Middle East will not be wasted. He will long remember the tastes and culture of the places he visited. I salute Deen Haleem and Carol Mitchell for their commitment to authenticity, and I know those eating at Tiqa, now and when the new menu is revealed, will join me in celebrating one of Portland’s finest.