Anissa Helou, the author of numerous award-winning cookbooks, has been named the winner of the Foodics Icon Award by the Middle East & North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants organisation. Helou will be presented with the award at the second edition of MENA’s 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, taking place in Abu Dhabi on 30 January 2023. In presenting this accolade, the 50 Best organisation honours outstanding figures in the food industry within the Middle East and North Africa region and celebrates an individual who has used their platform to raise awareness and drive positive change.

Born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, to a Syrian father and a Lebanese mother, Helou is as well versed in Mediterranean cuisines as only a native can be. Her first book, Lebanese Cuisine, was nominated for the prestigious André Simon Award and was named one of the best cookbooks of 1998 by the Los Angeles Times, following its reprint. Mediterranean Street Food, described by The New York Times as “a marvellous book”, won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award 2002 as the best Mediterranean cuisine book in English.

Helou was one of the first to write about Middle Eastern food and educate the world about its rich culinary culture and traditions. In Lebanese Cuisine, originally published in 1994, she dedicated detailed records of Lebanon’s vibrant history on every page and the book garnered enough critical acclaim to be considered one of the most authoritative catalogues of the country’s cuisine ever produced in English at the time, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A tireless researcher and constant traveller, she went on to write books about street food traditions in Morocco and around the Mediterranean, and eventually she came to cooking with the eye of a cultural preservationist, placing emphasis on celebrating and preserving food and traditions that unite communities across the region. Helou was listed in 2013 in the Arabian Business magazine as one of the “100 Most Powerful Arab Women” and one of the “500 Most Influential Arabs”.

In recent times, Helou worked with the Culinary Arts Commission of Saudi Arabia to standardise traditional and contemporary recipes collected from cooks across the Kingdom, bringing an experienced cookbook writer’s hand to the preservation of foodways to produce Saudi Feast, which was published in 2022. She has also featured in TV cooking shows in the Middle East and Italy, runs culinary tours in various countries and teaches cooking classes, while currently dividing her time between homes in Sicily and London.

William Drew, Director of Content for 50 Best, comments: “Anissa Helou’s relentless efforts in documenting historical culinary traditions serve to both educate and highlight the cultural nuances as well as the shared connectivity of different customs in the age of food globalisation. The impact her research and work has had on preserving food communities makes her a most worthy recipient of the Foodics Icon Award.”

Helou says, “It wasn’t until I started researching and writing my first cookbook, some 30 years ago, that I realised that food is culture, and that through cuisine and foodways, one can come to better understand a country or a region and its people. Food has always been a passion but until it became a profession, it was a hedonistic rather than a cultural one. I am honoured to receive this award and grateful to see my work acknowledged by such an esteemed group of colleagues, experts and foodies!”

The Middle East & North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, will be hosted in the UAE capital on Monday, 30 January 2023, in partnership with  Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT).

The Middle East & North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants event programme, including the awards ceremony and unveiling of the list, provides a unique opportunity for chefs, gourmets, and food and travel media from all over the region to gather and celebrate cuisine and hospitality, whilst also promoting the culinary strength and diversity of the region to a global audience.

The final pre-announced award in the lead up to the inaugural event and reveal of MENA’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 will be announced on 19 January, celebrating up-and-coming talent with the One To Watch Award.

The Voting Process

The list is compiled by the Middle East & North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy, an influential group of 250 key leaders in the restaurant industry across the region, each selected for their expert opinion of the Middle East and North Africa’s restaurant scenes. The Academy is divided into six regions: the Gulf; Saudi Arabia; Levant-plus; Israel, North Africa (East) and North Africa (West). Each region has its own panel of members including a chairperson, called the Academy Chair, to head it up. The panel is made up of food writers and critics, chefs, restaurateurs and highly regarded gourmets. For the 2023 list, each MENA Academy member voted for seven restaurants, with at least two of these located outside the country where they are based. None of the event’s sponsors has any influence over the voting process.

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