While this operation continues under the leadership of Mr. Mouzawak’s partner, Christine Codsi, Mr. Mouzawak is rebuilding in France, with Tawlet Paris, a canteen-grocery store which opened this month in the 11th arrondissement.
During the restaurant’s opening week, Mr Mouzawak spoke of his journey from one market to several, his feelings about leaving Lebanon – a former French mandate – and how food can unite.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What was your goal when you created Souk el Tayeb?
I was trying to change the world. I always want to change the world! It’s not that I decided to do it, I just followed a stream. Nothing I’ve done in my life has been planned for the long term. During the war, Lebanon was divided into small parts, each inaccessible from the others. But when the war ended, the whole country opened up. I traveled for more than a year to write a guide to Lebanon and I discovered this country that I had heard of, but never been able to visit. I was not only amazed by its natural beauty but also by the connection between the people I met. Whether we were Christians, Muslims or Druze, we were all the same. I went to meet people with open arms, and they had even wider arms. Then I wrote about travel and food, I discovered macrobiotics and slow food, I joined the board of directors of the Slow Food organization for several years and I knew that food was the way to unite.
Why a Farmer’s Market?
I have always dreamed of a farmer’s market for Lebanon like the one I visited in Trabzon, Turkey, with only women farmers. They bring everything they have in their garden or have foraged. It’s very simple. Everywhere I go, I visit farmers markets because that’s where you meet people. The products would not exist without the people who grow them. It was the same idea with Tawlet. What’s behind a restaurant? Humans who grew the ingredients, brought them to you, cleaned them, cooked them and served them. Everything I do is about inclusive human development and betterment.
Why do you think he took off?
Maybe because we talked about something that people lacked: simplicity, authenticity and truth. It was food, without all the storytelling and marketing. He’s a person who sells his food and that’s it. Also, we have never stopped running Souk el Tayeb, not even during conflicts. For us, the resistance was not the fight, the resistance held the farmer’s market no matter what. Because if the producers didn’t sell on Saturday, they had no money for the coming week.