THE O.P.E.N., SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS

A sneak peek at The O.P.E.N segment of the Singapore International Festival of Arts

Lebanese activist Kamal Mouzawak (above) started Tawlet restaurant in Beirut where cooks from different areas in Lebanon present regional specialities.
Lebanese activist Kamal Mouzawak (above) started Tawlet restaurant in Beirut where cooks from different areas in Lebanon present regional specialities.PHOTO: SOUK EL TAYEB

Kamal Mouzawak's favourite food is tabbouleh, the mixed dish of herbs and vegetables that can be found in homes and restaurants all around his country, Lebanon.

On the telephone from Beirut, he says: "You cannot separate one ingredient from another, but you can see the components. It's a mixture like Lebanon is."

From 1975 to 1990, the multi-religious mixture that was Lebanon boiled into a civil war that devastated the country. Mouzawak, 48, seeks in his own way to prevent this from happening again. His slogan is Make Food Not War.

The son of farmers, he started farmer's market Souk el Tayeb in 2004. Food producers from all over Lebanon, of different regions and beliefs, sell their wares there. In 2009, he opened the restaurant Tawlet in Beirut, where cooks from different areas and communities in Lebanon present regional specialities. Every day, the menu features food from a different area, telling a unique story about the country, its people and traditions.

Mouzawak says: "We don't do conflict resolution in your face, but we do a common project. These women understand they are in the same place doing things together."

The organisation has expanded to cooking classes offering training and the hope of employment to underprivileged women - and to refugees from Syria.

  • BOOK IT / O.P.E.N. INSPIRATION: MAKE FOOD NOT WAR

  • WHERE: Malay Heritage Centre, 85 Sultan Gate

    WHEN: July 7, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: With $45 O.P.E.N. Pass from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg). Registration required at www.sifa.sg/theopen/registration

Mouzawak will give a keynote address on July 7 for The O.P.E.N., a programme of public engagement which leads into the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

  • Details of highlights

  • ART AS RES PUBLICAE

    What: The audience gets to participate as 40 to 50 discussants - chosen from an open call to Singaporeans - deliberate issues of civil society. On June 28, the topic is pluralism in Singapore, aided by a scene from Eleanor Wong's 1995 play, Wills & Secession. On June 29, ageing in Singapore and the future of long-term care will be discussed. Where: 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road When: June 28 and 29, 7 to 10.30pm Admission: With $45 O.P.E.N. Pass from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg). Register at www.sifa.sg/theopen/registration

    O.P.E.N. KITCHENS

    What: Home cooks around the island will share the secrets of their kitchens and feed visitors. Volunteers sharing recipes include cookbook author Sylvia Tan, who will make nasi ulam; and bakers Nurhasana Kamaruzaman and Rusnah Sajee, who will cook vegetarian Malay food served traditionally from a communal tray. Where: Various locations When: July 8 to 30, 6.30pm (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays), 10.30am and 6.30pm (Saturdays), 10.30am and 5pm (Sundays) Admission: One entry for each O.P.E.N. Pass. Limited capacity; register at www.sifa.sg/theopen/registration

    O.P.E.N. PICNIC

    What: Chefs from Beirut restaurant Tawlet dish up regional specialities such as a salad of mixed vegetables, frikeh b djeij (smoked green wheat served with chicken) and frikeh b khodra (smoked green wheat served with vegetables).

    All are invited to this open-air picnic. Visitors are welcome to bring a picnic mat and food to share. Where: Malay Heritage Centre, 85 Sultan Gate When: July 9, 3.30to 6pm Admission: Free Info: Picknickers are requested not to bring alcohol and to be sensitive to the surroundings

His philosophy has inspired O.P.E.N. director Noorlinah Mohamed to curate cooking experiences around Singapore. People sign up to enter a stranger's kitchen and learn new recipes and why the food is important to the cook.

The Lebanese activist saw the importance of the communal table in 1991. While studying graphic design in university, he became involved in a cultural centre and was surprised to note the variety of artists and audiences coming together for readings, concerts or art projects.

"It was just the end of the war in Lebanon and I was amazed," he says. "People who were fighting because of religious differences were coming together for art and culture. I understood that if we find common ground, people would come together."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2017, with the headline 'Bringing people together with food'. Print Edition | Subscribe