When Barbara Massaad this week arrives from Beirut to start her on-site work as menu consultant to Mamnoon, a Lebanese restaurant opening across from Melrose Market, she'll be bringing more than her expertise.
Owner Wassef Haroun's mother "gave me a tray to cook the kibbe in," Massaad says. "She's very involved. It's a family thing, it's their roots."
Haroun and his wife Racha, former Microsoft employees, decided to open Mamnoon after years of showcasing their native Lebanese cuisine at successful dinner parties. They hooked up with Massaad through a consulting firm in Beirut: She's never before worked on a U.S. restaurant project, but her father briefly owned a Lebanese restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.
"When I was 15, my dad opened a restaurant, and now my son is 15," Massaad says. "It's like a cycle. It's meant to be."
When Massaad turned 18, her father decided to return to Lebanon. "They Lebanese, they always feel like they have to go home," Massaad says. "It was so difficult for me because I was like the all-American girl."
Back in Beirut, Massaad continued cooking: She spent over a year in a Lebanese restaurant kitchen, and plotted to travel to Italy so she could write a book about traditional Italian dishes.
"Then I woke up and I was like, 'what an idiot'," she recalls. "'You're living in a country where you can write so much.'"
Massaad wrote Man'oushe, the first cookbook dedicated to the seasoned flat bread known as Lebanese pizza. While the pies are sold on the street in Lebanon, Massaad says man'oushe will be in the bakery case at Mamnoon, along with other snacks and sweets popular in the Middle East. The restaurant will serve various mezzes and grilled meats.
"We won't say Lebanese 100 percent, because (Racha's) mother is Persian, and the chef has Armenian blood," Massaad says. "It will be interesting to see how he translates these recipes."
The Harouns have visited Massaad in Beirut, and they've stayed in close contact through phone calls and e-mails, but Massaad says she's looking forward to a full month of cooking in Seattle.
"The restaurant is the Harouns' way of saying 'we want to show you our flavors'," Massaad says. "They were welcomed in Seattle, and they want to leave a trace. I can't wait."