I traveled to Israel and the West Bank last winter with a group from TIQA. We went on a fact-finding, experiential cultural and culinary immersion. It turned into a wonderful recipe development excursion. It was an amazing experience, for lots of reasons, and when I returned to Maine my mind and notebook were full of ideas about how to apply what I had discovered.

As a side note, you should know that I grew up cooking with my mom and eating big family meals. There was always a lot of talking and fun at the table. So I was naturally drawn to the special place that food has in social interactions in Israel and in the West Bank. Meals are laid back affairs and sharing is the norm. It is a really wonderful way to eat.

I made some changes right away after returning to  TIQA. First I reimagined one of our most popular dishes, our mezze. On the trip I noticed that mezze are typically not served on a single plate. Instead, the presentation is on individual plates. This encourages sharing and interaction. I knew it needed to be put into play right away at TIQA.

Sharing, relaxing and really interacting during the meal is a wonderful tradition and exactly how I want our guests to feel.

Since returning to Maine some of our recipes have changed. For instance, the cauliflower, which was eaten many times on our journey… fire roasted, boiled in milk, fried… is now served with a more authentic labneh. The recipe is strained Greek yogurt, with mint leaves, chives and white balsamic. The textures and flavors add to the dish, in the best ways possible.

Another menu edit is the addition of a kabob platter. It too is designed to encourage sharing and interaction around the table. Ours is an assortment of coffee marinaded beef kabobs; onion and herb marinated chicken; and lemon garlic shrimp. It is stacked high and served with side dishes that really bring out the flavors. The kabob platters really give a true dining experience.

For the fall 2017 menu, I am working on slow-cooked meats like braised lamb shoulder, shank and short rib. Also I will be pulling in rich flavors from root veggies, like turnips, sweet potatoes and rutabagas. I am developing simple sauces that will bring out the truest essence of our food. My goal is clean, fresh tastes and flavors that are not overdone— food that speaks for itself.

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you soon!
Bo Byrne