MistralKitchen’s Taylor Cheney Does Her Homework

A food-finding trip to Egypt gives the restaurant’s Monday night Arabesque meals an injection of authenticity.

By Jessie Wesley April 13, 2012

Taylor Cheneys newest menu for Arabesque nights at MistralKitchen takes her right back to Egypt.

One of Taylor Cheney’s favorite meals to cook at MistralKitchen is the one she serves long before diners arrive. Cheney relishes preparing preshift staff meals—an opportunity for cooks to get creative and show their coworkers what they’ve got as everyone prepares for a night of hungry customers. After arriving at Mistral February of last year, Cheney began laying out decadent spreads of Arab-inspired eats. Her efforts were so successful that after a few go-arounds, chef and owner William Belickis asked her to devise a Monday night menu for the restaurant. Since then, Cheney’s kitchen forays have made their way to the dining room via her weekly Arabesque meals. Platinum blonde, blue-eyed Cheney may not seem the likely party responsible for the shorba semak and lamb koffa coming out of the kitchen, but says she’s always enjoyed eating Middle Eastern food, so why not teach herself how to prepare it?

A few months into the menu, Cheney decided that it wasn’t enough to just cook Arab-inspired foods: She had to visit the region herself to see how it was done. With Belickis’s support and an Egyptian cooking contact courtesy of Mistral pastry chef Lucy Damkoehler, Cheney went on a two-week adventure to Egypt, more than 6,800 miles away, with an eye on perfecting her molokiah. Restaurant dining turned into hookah bar visits, sticky-sweet desserts, a reality check on what constitutes authentic chicken shwarma, sipping tamarind juice in the afternoons, experiencing legendary restaurant Abu Sid (which inspired the addition of a lamb sausage to the menu), and to work it all off: a climb up Mount Sinai. In summary, Cheney ate, and ate, and ate, climbed a mountain, and then she took time to cook.

With the help of her culinary guide, Cheney learned to make an authentic Egyptian breakfast (including, an array of salads, flatbreads and cheese and ful medames), and expanded her repertoire to include some dishes she had attempted to make previously, like molokiah, but had “kind of failed” in the past. Upon her return, Cheney tweaked her tasting menu to reflect her culinary adventure. MistralKitchen’s newest Arabesque spread, which includes communal dishes like the mezze (a spread of salads, zucchini, and ful medames), and a perfected molokiah according to Cheney, better reflect “the spirit of Arab hospitality, which is probably one of my favorite things about the food.”

Next up for the rotating menu Cheney wants to incorporate juices, which she says are all the rage in Egypt.

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