On Sunday, Lebanon lost Chef Ramzi Choueiri, a beloved cultural icon.
At just 52 years old, he passed away after experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.
Born in 1971, Ramzi was a renown TV chef, the author of bestselling cookbooks and the president of Al-Kafaat Foundation, a charity dedicated to providing opportunities for disabled persons in Lebanon.
As the nation and the L’Orient team mourn the loss of this legend, we commemorate and celebrate his life and the mark he left on the world.
Behind him, he has left a legacy that will forever mark Lebanon’s history and heritage.
On June 6, Chef Ramzi visited the L’Orient office for an interview. Nobody expected that it would be his last. His arrival to the office in Hazmieh was met with the excitement of the staff, many of whom recalled fondly that he was a part of their lives growing up.
He introduced himself as “Chef Ramzi,” and gave an impression of kindness and humility.
Despite visiting to be interviewed for the food series “Sa7tein,” he kindly agreed to our spontaneous request to film a short Instagram Q&A with him. He shared his jovial and generous laugh throughout.
Chef Ramzi holds the distinction of being the Arab world’s first TV chef, and his name and recipes are a part of households across the region and especially in Lebanon. He is a revered culinary reference throughout the Arab world, appealing to even the pickiest tetas (grandmothers) across the country.
Between 1993 and 2010 he hosted a daily show on the Lebanese channel Future TV which ran for more than 3,000 episodes.
Chef Ramzi also earned Lebanon four Guinness World records for the biggest portions of tabbouleh, hummus, falafel and fatteh ever made.
Despite being a world class chef, trained in France and England, he was a lover of Lebanon’s simple rural roots. He worked to preserve and document Lebanon’s rural culinary heritage and is the first prominent chronicler of the country's cuisine.
His book Min Turath Lubnan (From Lebanon’s Heritage) cataloged recipes across Lebanon’s rural villages.
Asked what his favorite recipe in the book was, he said he preferred the simple things. “Most of them are very simple recipes. Especially when cooked by families in villages. Just a very good mature red tomato with some olive oil and some sumac. Bread from a tannour. These are very simple things. Or to eat some boiled eggs with some freshly pressed virgin olive oil. People who didn’t taste these things didn’t taste Lebanese cuisine,” he reflected.
“I advise your readers to go to villages if they want to try very good Lebanese cuisine and try to go into the homes of families. You know in Akkar they say ‘hawil, hawil’ [come in come in]” he said, after learning this L’Orient Today reporter was from Akkar. “And they really mean it.”
“Do you cook?” he asked.
Becoming Chef Ramzi
While studying in France, he started working in restaurants, and this is where it all began. “I liked the job. And the idea was to be trained so that when I come back to Lebanon, I take over the catering school of deir Kafaat foundation, which my father created in 1957. The idea was just to have an idea about cooking. I didn’t know that I was going to like it so much,” he said.
“When I came back [to Lebanon] I had my BA in business and law and I had a very strong package in cooking.” A few months later he was contacted by future TV. “They were starting the Alam es Sabah sequence and they wanted me to take charge of the cooking segment. And that’s how I started to be Chef Ramzi on TV.” He was hardly 21.
Asked what his favorite thing about the show was, he said that it was the questions he would receive from viewers from across the world during the live streams.
“I was curious about the questions that would come. I would be cooking something and then someone would ask a question from Kuwait live, then from Saudi Arabia, then from Holland and from everywhere!”
“Once I was cooking oriental cream (ashta), which is very white. And there was a fly in the studio and this fly came and it got stuck in the white cream so it was like a black dot on the cream … so I took it out and I continued. One guy phoned from Morocco saying ‘how do you keep cooking, it's very dirty, you need to stop.’ Then someone from Saudi Arabia called saying ‘no! Why? The fly has a soul.’ Then it ended up as a discussion about the fly and existentialism and they forgot about the cream!”
“And then I preferred to stop. I stopped with Future because my dad was getting very ill. He had Parkinson’s disease and I preferred to spend more time with him. And then LBC contacted me for a very small program. So I just did it to do some publicity for Kafaat. I had been doing it for 20 years. And I wanted to do something else.”
After his TV career, he dedicated his time to running the charity Al-Kafaat.
Alongside this, the chef ran a restaurant in the French Embassy. He also told us of his next big project: a restaurant in Batroun set to open on July 1.
Chef Ramzi’s son Nadim joined us during the live interview via zoom, all the way from Paris, where he has been studying since September.
“Nadim does the dishes and his flatmate cooks,” Chef Ramzi joked fondly.
The father-son duo had been eagerly working on several projects together.
Nadim told us that he was working on a podcast that was to be called the Chef Ramzi show. “We’re still working on it,” he said. “It’s about food, people, culture and many more things.”
Just months before, the father-son duo won a Gourmand award in Sweden for a video they made featuring Tripoli, which was intended to be the pilot episode for a series introducing Lebanese cuisine and heritage to a European audience.
“I think Lebanese cuisine is the best ambassador for our country. And I had the honor and pleasure of being the ambassador of this cuisine,” said Ramzi.
He paused, deep in thought.
“Lebanese cuisine by itself is an attraction. It’s very rich. And I try to keep it away from religion and politics. Chef Ramzi is for all of Lebanon. You cannot divide the cuisine.”
On Sunday, Lebanon lost Chef Ramzi Choueiri, a beloved cultural icon.At just 52 years old, he passed away after experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.Born in 1971, Ramzi was a renown TV chef, the author of bestselling cookbooks and the president of Al-Kafaat Foundation, a charity dedicated to providing opportunities for disabled persons in Lebanon.As the nation and the L’Orient team mourn the...