Cookbook Q&A with Chef Wadi

Yena Lee

(Image via Sameh Wadi)


Not every accomplished chef gets to byline a cookbook.

For local chef and restaurateur Sameh Wadi, of Saffron and World Street Kitchen, the timing was right, so he took the plunge. It took a year to gather his thoughts and write an all-encompassing Mediterranean cookbook.

Chef Wadi took some time out of his busy schedule and chatted with A&E about the love of his life — his cookbook.

The New Mediterranean Table is to be released on April 14. Copies of the cookbook will be available at both of his restaurants, bookstores and online.


What’s the book like?

SW: The main thing I wanted to focus on for this book is making really unique food and flavor profiles accessible for the home cook — ranging from the intermediate to the avid home cook.


How is it organized?

SW: The recipes are broken down into sections that flows like a typical meal. It starts with mezzes and small plates, or pre-appetizers, and [goes] into appetizers, salads and such. Then it goes into big plates, which are entrees and sides dishes, and then it finishes up with desserts, drinks and the larder — or the pantry.


Why write a book now?

SW: I’ve always thought about having a cookbook. The main thing was wanting to do the “Encyclopedia of Palestinian Cuisine” as a cookbook, which I didn’t end up [doing]. I figured that it was a large commitment on my hands if I wanted to revive that book and try to do something with it. So I started thinking, “Well what can I do that is more modern and within the time of what we’re doing right now,” so my take on the cuisine was the main driving force for the idea, and the time was the right time. I’ve talked to multiple publishers throughout the years, and it was just the right person, the right publisher, the right time for me, personally, so it was great.


What was the publishing process like for you?

SW: The entire project went on for close to a year: the writing, the editing. I fully submerged myself into the process and really gave it my all, where I took several months off from work to sit down and work on the content. The thing is, a lot of the recipes that we had, either at the restaurant or things I’ve done in the past, [are] things that I like to eat, so it was real easy for me to come up with the table of contents and then write the recipes for it, if I didn’t already have the recipe for it.


What was it like to work with a publisher?

SW: The publishing house that I chose to work with was a smaller house with a very small core focus, in terms of the book that they have. They do less than 20 books a year total, and the majority of them are cookbooks. So they are able to spend a bit of time on each product that’s going out. The most exciting thing for me was that they gave me creative freedom to do whatever I wanted, and didn’t say, “This recipe needs to be in there,” or “We need to see more chicken recipes.” They said, “Just do your thing,” which was amazing.


How are the recipes developed?

SW: A lot of the recipes that I had came from an idea. It’s almost written in the same way that the recipes for the restaurants are done, where we come up with an idea, a large concept, and we go in and we start testing out the recipes and the ingredients that are in there, and making sure that it’s perfected.


What’s your favorite recipe?

SW: Sigh, that’s like asking who’s your favorite child, you can’t ask that question. It’s very difficult. From each category, there are some favorite recipes that connect with me. But because it is very seasonally inspired, it’s very difficult to say, here’s my all time favorite recipe. That’s a tough question, I can’t answer it.


Is there a dish that you’re particularly proud of?

SW: There’s a few dishes that are stand outs in terms of flavor combinations or techniques that are really exciting. One of [the recipes] that really jump out at me is the braised chicken with prawn, sherry and paprika. It takes surf and turf to a whole different level, where we take chicken thighs and they get seared and then braised with aromatics, like garlic and pimenton (which is a smoked Spanish paprika), and we finish it with sherry vinegar and sherry wine, and cinnamon stick, and it cooks for a very long time until the chicken just [falls] apart. Then we cook the prawns in that broth. So that’s a unique recipe that I’m excited about. And it was a recipe that we just came up for the book, it’s not one that we’ve ever tested before.


Which recipe should be made at least once?

SW: One that is very unique and that lends itself to the seasons, is my “farrotto” recipe. In the book, we have a spring farrotto, which is a risotto that is cooked with farro. The one that is in the book is a blueprint for different farrottos that you can substitute seasonal vegetables as you’d like. But the spring one is really exciting because to me, it’s exactly the flavor of the spring — it’s really bright. It showcases the natural flavors of the spring. So that one is really exciting.


If you could have anyone read your cookbook, who would it be?

SW: My late father.


If you could describe your cookbook in one word, how would you describe it?

SW: Distinctive.