Chef Michael Lee Rafidi mines inspiration from his Palestinian, Lebanese and Jordanian roots for his first restaurant.
After cutting his teeth as an executive chef, 2018 RAMMY Awards Rising Star Chef finalist Michael Lee Rafidi tells us about debuting his inaugural restaurant, Albi, this summer.
What is it like to open your first solo restaurant? MICHAEL LEE RAFIDI: It’s a labor of love, which is an apt description because Albi means ‘my heart’ in Arabic. I’ve dreamt of opening my own place for such a long time. I am really enjoying the research and development, whether it’s traveling through Lebanon, dining at restaurants that explore Middle Eastern cuisine, or cooking with my Palestinian grandfather.
How is it different from working as executive chef? MLR: Being an executive chef helped me develop my technical skills, my culinary creativity and my ability to lead a kitchen team, but owning a restaurant lets me bring my vision to every element of the dining experience.
What has surprised you about helming a restaurant? MLR: A really cool experience has been the outpouring of support from other chefs along with the opportunity to host preview dinners in other kitchens, like the pop-ups we did at Spoken English.
Why Levantine cuisine with Mid-Atlantic ingredients? MLR: I grew up eating flavors of the Levant region with my family. As far as Mid-Atlantic ingredients, to me it’s a given to use products sourced as much as possible from local producers, artisans and farmers.
Favorite menu item? MLR: I’m really excited about the veggie-forward dishes. Vegetables will have a starring role on the menu.