Hoda Kobeissi still recalls the first time she made a dish and people enjoyed it. A love and passion for food was ignited which, a few years down the track, prompted her to audition for MasterChef Australia 2018.
Not only did she make the cut, she finished just outside the top 10. She is now branching out on her own, hosting pop-up dinners, while launching her very own dessert brand called Halawa (sweetness).
Hoda is also on board for the inaugural Lake Macquarie Food & Wine Festival at Speers Point Park on October 14 where she will host cooking demonstrations with fellow MasterChef contestant and close friend Aldo Ortado.
Growing up in a food-orientated family in south-western Sydney, Hoda says family celebrations were just “constant layers of food”. As a teenager she began cooking for her family while her parents worked long hours, starting with a simple stir fry.
After graduating from university she worked at a not-for-profit organisation, helping find employment for people with mental health issues, then focusing on early intervention for children with poor mental health. She completed her Masters of Social Work in 2016.
Somehow she found time to marry husband Kamahl in 2005 and have two children – Hassan in 2011 and Mariam in 2014 – and to answer a few questions from Food & Wine.
You have a no-nonsense approach to cooking backed by faith in your abilities. Who taught you to cook and gave you that confidence?
Thank you very much. I learned how to cook from my Mum. I used to watch her in the kitchen and she had a similar approach, and would experiment a lot. I would do all the odd jobs in the kitchen and would ask her questions regarding what ingredients were going into the dishes she was making.
What does cooking and food mean to you?
Food in general is a big part of who I am, and definitely my culture. It brings us all together to socialise and catch up while grazing. My approach to food is to keep it simple and real. I do enjoy creating fancy things from time to time, but I am more interested in achieving the same results for a complicated dish with minimal and everyday ingredients.
What do you enjoy cooking and what ingredients do you like using?
I enjoy cooking a range of sweet and savoury food. I’m interested in modernising Middle Eastern sweets as well as playing around with recipes to make desserts that are a bit more healthier and nutritional while still achieving decadence. My favourite ingredients to work with are definitely cornflour and mastic.
How has MasterChef changed your life?
MasterChef has definitely changed my life, it’s opened a lot of opportunities for me both with food and social work. I will always be a social worker at heart and I actually don’t want to completely move away from it as I think there are a lot of people and communities out there that require support. I’m looking at the different ways I can effectively make food and social work collide. I’m looking at ways to make my ultimate food dream happen and that’s to teach disadvantaged communities how to cook with minimal ingredients and on a budget and reduce food wastage.
You have a real opportunity to expose people to dishes and ingredients they may not be familiar with. Is that something you would like to do?
Yes I would definitely like to showcase different Lebanese and Middle Eastern dishes that are not usually found in restaurants. Our cuisine is more than dips and meat skewers and I would love to showcase the vast variety of food we have.
What will you be doing at the inaugural Lake Macquarie Food & Wine Festival?
I will be appearing with my partner in crime and fellow contestant Aldo. We will be demonstrating on stage an entree each. Aldo is taking care of demonstrating mains and I’ll be doing a dessert.
Bob’s Burger Bar is up and running at Winnie’s Jamaican (21 Darby Street) every Tuesday, 11.30am to 2.30pm. Chef Jamie Thomas said the first two weeks had been “great”, with all burgers just $10 with sweet potato fries. Options include jerk fried chicken, a cheeseburger, hot fish burger and the rasta burger. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets are catered for and you can pre-order by phoning or texting 0421 007 767.
The Happy Wombat is hosting a long lunch on October 13 – The Boozy Bluesy Batch Banquet – with Marrickville’s Batch Brewing Company. Tickets $85 at trybooking.com.
Restaurant and bar Vault 73 has opened at the corner of Hunter and Bolton streets – the former home of a bank and Le Passe Temps.
Chef Stuart Murrell quietly opened Vault 73 six weeks ago. Originally from the UK, he moved to Newcastle six years ago and spent six months working at Acquazul before taking on the role of head chef at Paymasters restaurant.
The menu is modern Australian with an Italian influence and features a lunch menu, bar snacks to share and dishes “from the stove” or “from the grill”.
“Everything we make is from scratch,” he said.
“We didn’t make a fuss when we opened because we wanted to make sure we did it right. It’s great to be doing what I want to do, cooking what I want to cook – this isn’t about making money. It doesn’t feel like a job, really.”
Stuart and his wife Jeni have two small children and understand what it’s like dining out as a family, so created a play area on-site to keep the young ones entertained. There are daily $12 lunch menus and baked goods to enjoy with coffee.
Win this book
New York: Capital of Food is all about New York’s food cultures and signature recipes, set against the backdrop of the city that never sleeps.
Part recipe book, part foodie travel experience, it brings the flavours of the Big Apple into your kitchen. Start the day with a caramel roll, the type you’d get in a cosy coffee shop in Greenwich Village, then cook a corn chowder or authentic Chinatown wings and sip a Long Island Iced Tea while you dream of New York’s skyline and its stylish rooftop bars.
New York: Capital of Food, by Lisa Nieschlag and Lars Wentrup, is out now though Murdoch Books, RRP $39.99. Food & Wine has a copy to give away. To enter, send the words “New York” with your name, address and number to firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries close on Monday (September 17) at 9am.