HORECA marks resilience of Lebanon's hospitality industry

Date: Wednesday, April 22, 2015
By: Susan Wilson
Source: The Daily Star

BEIRUT: As visitors walk through the crowds at HORECA this year, during the 22nd edition of the hospitality trade show, they wouldn't be able to tell that Lebanon's food industry has been taking a hit of late as result of the crusade of Health Minister Wael Abu Faour.
Given that the industry had already been impacted in recent years by the lack of tourism, Abu Faour's campaign against poor health and safety standards could be seen as another blow to Lebanon's reputation in the region.
Not so, insists Joumana Dammous Salame, who founded Hospitality Services, the driving force behind HORECA, with her father back in 1993.
"Although things are going through a difficult moment in the country they are not as bad as we think they are," she told The Daily Star, gesturing to the packed exhibition halls.
(The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
"As you can see, the show, it's bigger, there [are] more positive vibes, positive energy, positive ambiance, so this is very good.
"We have a beautiful show, 350 participants, with all the sectors covered, competitions everywhere ... It confirms the role the country and Beirut [has] to play in terms of gastronomy, in terms of design, in terms of good food."
HORECA is one of the biggest trade shows in the region and is billed as a meeting place for industry members to gain advice, network, discover new talents and products, and work together to toward growth.
Visitors at the show launched Monday at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure center and running through Thursday have the opportunity to taste and talk to producers of Lebanese brands, along with representatives from across the region and Europe.
HORECA is also hosting a number of competitions and culinary showcases, including the National Extra Virgin Olive Oil Contest, the Bed Making Competition, Lebanese Baristas and Bartenders as well as live cooking shows by chefs both local and international.
(The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
Dammous advises visitors coming to the last two days of HORECA to not miss the award ceremonies, meeting with judges and chefs, visiting the design spaces such as Tawlet by Rana Salam and the Lebanese terrace by BLEU and of course gaining free advice from all the experts available.
Such advice includes regular 10-minute training sessions by G.W.R consulting, who wrote the new health and safety guidelines adopted by the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Night-Clubs & Pastries – though the team on duty admitted things had been slow so far.
Maya Bakhazi Noun, who last year became one of the first women on the board of the syndicate since its establishment in 1946, is positive about the industry moving forward.
"The syndicate is making a lot of effort on food safety, having free training sessions, free assessments for restaurants, this is one of our targets," she says.
"Despite of everything that is going on in the region we still are seeing people coming here to buy franchises, to get consultancy, to get new ideas. Yes, there is a lot of hesitation, things have slowed down, but some people still believe in the future of this country."
Tawlet parties with Rana Salam design. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
Proof that the industry is still taking off is relative newcomer Cup and Roll, conceived as a healthy take on pastry. The company delivers their savory and sweet creations across Beirut and are due to open their first outlet in Hamra at the end of May.
"We are more focused on online marketing so when we participate in an offline event like this we see a lot of good orders ... it's very exciting, it's really always new people and we're glad that a lot of people are still discovering our concept," says Wassim Haddad, partner in the company.
It's not just Lebanese brands, however, that are seizing the opportunities presented by HORECA, according to Fatmeh Deriss, who was representing Iran's Golrang Industrial Group.
"HORECA is a big event in the Middle East and I think that our place is in HORECA absolutely, this is the first year we shift our concentration from the CIS countries to the GCC countries," she says, explaining GIG's first appearance at the show.
It seems then that Dammous' belief in the hospitality industry's resilience is well-placed.
HORECA is running until April 23 at BIEL in Downtown Beirut.
Chef Frédéric Anton talks success and mankousheh
Chef Frédéric Anton. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
The guest of honor at HORECA this year is France's Frédéric Anton, a three Michelin starred chef, former celebrity judge on France's Master Chef and the head chef at Le Pre Catelan in Paris.
Anton began his career in 1984 at the Capucin Gourmand in Nancy, his place of birth. Career highlights include working for 7 years with chef Joël Robuchon (1988-1996) at Jamin, receiving his first two Michelin stars in 1999, followed in 2000 by the title of Best Craftsman of France, and his third Michelin star at the age of 47 in 2007.
Speaking to The Daily Star at HORECA, Chef Anton, who first visited Lebanon 10 years ago, says the country has always been welcoming.
"My visits to Lebanon have been very good, very nice, because everyone has taken care of me and given me all the help I need. We have had the chance to visit many nice places and taste very good Lebanese food; and we made friends which is priceless."
Lebanese cuisine, in part because of the widespread Lebanese diaspora, can be found the world over, but having the chance to taste "authentic" Lebanese food, with the "colors, and the textures and the history," was an enjoyable experience for the French chef. 
Asked about the trend toward modernizing Middle Eastern cuisine, he agreed this was an important step for Lebanese food, like French cuisine before it. His personal view is that Lebanese food can be quite heavy, and one way to modernize it would be to make the dishes lighter.
Speaking of his own success, Anton said that chefs need to be themselves and be consistent.
"The way to have three stars in France is to have your own personal style of cooking that allows you to express yourself and not be like all the others.
"The most important thing to having Michelin stars is to keep your [quality] consistent."
As for his favorite Lebanese food, Chef Anton will find himself in agreement with many with his choice of mankousheh with zaatar.
The art of making your bed
Bed Making Competition at HORECA (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
While some might have felt vindicated at scientific studies that suggest the unmade bed is healthier – a poorer habitat for dust mites – for those in the hospitality industry, making the bed is more than just a mother's scolding.
"[The bed] should be very appealing, and for a bed to be appealing he [the housekeeper] should make it in a certain way so that when the customer comes in he feels the warmth. 
"Sometimes small details can make this difference; you cannot see it but you will feel it when you enter the room and either you will feel it's very welcoming and asking you to jump in the bed [or not]." 
So says Nicole Abdallah, vice president of Reva, House of Sleep, which is sponsoring the first bed making competition at HORECA. 
"The best hotels [are taking part] and they are trying to see who makes the best bed," she explains, going on to describe the criteria involved in judging the contest. 
"I'll tell you some very picky things, like if they take the quilt and put it half on the floor, half on the bed while putting it on, this is a catastrophe and should not be allowed in a hotel because it will take up all the dust from the floor." 
Other rules of the event seen on the judging sheet by The Daily Star included placing the mattress protector evenly on top of the mattress, using only plain pillows and, of course, no running around.
The 37 contestants taking part will also be judged on their technique, timing – "For the competition it is 7 minutes. It's not the fastest, he should be doing it in 7 minutes perfectly. If he takes more he is definitely a loser, if he does it in that time or less it is the [end] result which will judge him." – overall impression – including humor, manners and self-control – and, last but not least, cleanliness and neatness.
While many of us might dread making the bed in the morning, Abdallah says the secret is to enjoy the task. 
"Love what you are doing, enjoy the process. Everything you do, if you enjoy the process of doing it rather than the result, it becomes excellent because life is the process, the result is [just] minutes of life.
"So if you teach your employees to enjoy doing the bed … when they do it with such a pleasure the end result becomes excellent, it cannot be otherwise."
The event is open to hotels and hospitality students, and already has been drawing a crowd, with cheers heard across the hall during one contestant's particularly impressive flourish of a bed sheet.
The winner of the bed making competition will be announced in an event Wednesday from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. at stand M 13.

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