For Anissa Helou, the author of nine cookbooks and an authority on Middle Eastern foodways, the best representation of a culture is not its critically acclaimed restaurants, but the homes where cooks prepare small meals loaded down with love.
"As soon as you’re invited into homes, you have a different perspective of a culture and cuisine," says Helou, a London-based author currently in the U.S. promoting her latest cookbook, "Feast: Food of the Islamic World." She'll be in Charleston for a special dinner on Nov. 7.
"You can eat on the street and that’s a really nice way to get into the culture," continues Helou, who wrote the book on such fare with "Mediterranean Street Food" in 2006. "But being invited into someone's home and watching them cook and eating the food is an invaluable experience."
When Helou invites people into her home, she generally cooks something she's working on for a cookbook. "In Sicily, I can buy baby lambs and I have an oven big enough to roast them in," she says of her part-time home. "Sometimes I do it the Sicilian way, but sometimes I will make biryani rice or stuff it with Iranian rice."
For her upcoming dinner at Butcher & Bee, there probably won't be a baby lamb, but there will be flatbreads and mezze. Helou has collaborated with chef Michael Zentner for the Middle Eastern menu that will rely on recipes from her new book. The dinner will be served family style.
Helou says she was invited to either Nashville or Charleston by Butcher & Bee and chose Charleston because she had heard so much about it.
The dinner is scheduled for Nov. 7 and costs $50. Reservations must be made via Resy. Copies of "Feast" will be available for purchase at the event.