The bodyguard who became a chef

Joe Barza is bringing Lebanese cuisine into the 21st century.

Peter Iantorno October 7, 2014

After escaping a life of violence as a personal bodyguard to a major player in the Lebanese civil war and becoming a popular TV chef, one thing nobody could accuse Joe Barza of lacking is character.

Now known for co-hosting the Middle East version ofTop Chef, Barza is instantly recognisable by his ever-present goatee beard and eccentric collection of hats.

As well as his television commitments, the Lebanese personality also finds time to promote the cuisine of his beloved home country all over the world, and he recently launched a brand new menu at Marjan on the 16th floor of the Waldorf Astoria, Ras Al Khaimah.

Taking inspiration from all over the Middle East, Barza has given the classic, centuries-old recipes a modern twist, juggling colour, flavour and presentation to present a new take on Lebanese fare.

We caught up with the man himself and found out what makes him tick. Here are the excerpts:

You used to be a bodyguard. How did you go from that into being a chef?

The man I used to work for passed away, and so I decided to change fields. Therefore, I got back to it because it brought me peace, it was my passion from the beginning. Chef Joe Barza.

What’s your biggest achievement?

My biggest achievement is being recognised not just locally but regionally, in the Middle and the Near East. I am proud to say I was able to spread my culture through introducing our spices and our flavours.

And your biggest regret?

I don't have any regrets.

Tell us about your style of cooking…

I don't have a specific style of cuisine. My cuisine comes straight from the heart to the pallet. It is an inspiration and a feeling.

What do you think of the general standard of cuisine in the region?

I believe that our unique cultural history has helped to make the Lebanese cuisine the most popular of all Middle Eastern cuisines. Lebanese dishes are a craft, they become a culinary art “par excellence”. Now it's spreading worldwide and is becoming a tourist attraction.

What other cuisines as well as Lebanese do you like to eat?

Cuisine is based on culture, and I respect all culture. If I had to choose one cuisine that I love to eat as well as Lebanese, well, that would be Italian.

If you listen to your intuition and feel free, you might come up with something great.

Tell us about the new menu at Marjan…

The Marjan restaurant has a unique and exceptional concept. That is why I took this project and created their menu.

Have you got any cooking tips for the modern man?

My advice to all men is to get more involved in the kitchen. If you listen to your intuition and feel free, you might come up with something great.

If you had to pick a final meal, what would it be?

If I had to pick one last dish, it would be Fish Sayadieh.

What’s your biggest ambition for the future?

My ambition is to continue on this path, and I hope I will be able to keep on sharing my passion.Marjan restaurant, Waldorf Astoria. Details: visit Waldorfastoria3.hilton.com