New online portal links world’s lovers of Lebanese cuisine

Date: Sunday, June 10, 2012
By: Martin Armstrong 
Source: The Daily Star
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BEIRUT: Sitting in a minimalist but comfortable conference room in Hamra, Hussam Kayyal, a serial entrepreneur with a background in the telecommunications industry, explains the idea behind his latest project – “Cook and Eat Lebanese.”
“We are pursuing a holistic approach to Lebanese cuisine,” enthuses Kayyal. “The website is a portal providing a platform for people to connect using Lebanese food as the vehicle for expression and bringing people together.”
Cookandeat-lebanese.com is a comprehensive website offering connoisseurs of Lebanese cuisine the opportunity to submit and share recipes, as well as locate Lebanese restaurants and markets selling Lebanese produce – whether they are in Lebanon, America, Australia, the United Kingdom or even Mali.
Since the website went live in November 2011, it has attracted over 4,000 regular visitors in 140 countries. The majority of those who visit the website are living outside Lebanon – notably in the U.S., Egypt, Australia, the U.K., the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
“This is not merely a Lebanese community; it is a global community,” he boasts.
The “Cook and Eat Lebanese” website features over 350 recipes submitted by users. On hand are traditional classics such as shish tawouk, baba ghannouj, and fattet hummus, but there are also modern innovations such as fettucini tawouk and a tabbouleh dessert dish made with strawberries. If users are unable to find a particular recipe, they are asked to write to the Cook and Eat team, which will hunt it down.
Such a user-centric approach was appreciated by Sarah Adlouni in California: “I posted a question on Twitter about what ingredients are used in a Lebanese dish and they answered me. How could I not like them?”
“There is something special about being able to submit a recipe to the website and see it used and appreciated on the other side of the world,” reflects Kayyal. “Establishing the website sets the ball rolling, and then the users take over. This is the beauty of interactivity.”
A similar sentiment is expressed by Haslynda Zainol, currently living in Singapore, who discovered the Cook and Eat Lebanese website when browsing Google for some inspiration: “The recipe-sharing culture on the website brings a form of closeness, like a shared interest or common values among the Lebanese community as well as non-Lebanese who are interested in its cuisine and culture – I know my Lebanese husband feels this way.”
The website also includes a section promoting both famous and up-and-coming Lebanese chefs, with plans under way to introduce a system whereby users can ask their favorite chefs for cooking tips and advice.
“It is part of the holistic approach,” explains Kayyal. “It adds a further dimension to the portal and enhances the user’s experience.”
Program Manager Nadine Chalhoub explains that every month the website organizes competitions to encourage user participation. One such example is the video recipe competition in which users film themselves – à la Gordon Ramsey minus the profanities – preparing and cooking one of their specialty dishes.
Monetary rewards provide a strong incentive to participate, with cash prizes of $1,000 for the most popular recipe (judged by fellow users) and the best recipe (judged by the Cook and Eat team). A similar competition is run on the Cook and Eat Lebanese Facebook page, which has over 1,700 followers.
Coming from a background in telecommunications, Kayyal has an acute awareness of the value of social media in promoting the company and expanding its user base. In addition to the Facebook page and the website, the Cook and Eat team has a considerable Twitter presence and its own YouTube channel.
The next step for Kayyal and his small but ambitious team is to develop an Arabic version of the website to further tap into the Middle Eastern market. They plan to have the Arabic-language website up and running by mid-July. This would be before Ramadan, for which they plan to offer a surplus of mouthwatering recipes for both lavish and modest iftar meals.

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