As a freshman in college, I joined my roommate in fasting during one week of Ramadan. I did so as a gesture of solidarity since we were fast becoming close friends and I figured she could use some company in, um, not eating. Quite a silly assumption when you think about it that given that with more than a billion Muslims worldwide (not to mention a thriving Arab population at our university) she was hardly alone in her religious observation. But I was eager to be friendly as well as curious about what it would be like to eat and drink nothing from sunrise to sunset, and she graciously accepted me as her fasting companion.
Abstaining from food and drink for nine-plus hours in a row was definitely challenging and at times, as you would expect, not so much fun. But I'm glad that I fasted for a short while with my roommate for a number of reasons (too many to outline fully in this post), one of which was I was introduced to the pleasurable customs around breaking fast at night and at the conclusion of Ramadan. To mark the end of this most holy month, Muslims traditionally celebrate with a feast known as Eid-al-Fitr.
To say it's a good time, is perhaps the understatement of the year.
Which is why when I found out that an enterprising young chef named Hassan Obaye and his staff at the Four Seasons were planning their Eid-al-Fitr celebration, I giggled with glee, cleared my calendar, and hoped no would judge this lapsed Irish-Italian Catholic gal (too much) for joining in on the fun. And, of course, I was curious about the menu. Chef Obaye was kind enough to meet with me last week to give me some more details about the event and how he came to the Four Seasons.
Born and raised in southern Morocco, Hassan Obaye honed his culinary expertise in a number of different environments, beginning in his mom's kitchen, where he served as as a sort of sous-chef, doing prep work for family meals. "My mom," Obaye notes very seriously, "deserves much of the credit for my career." His formal training occurred in the southwest of France and Germany, in various Michelin-starred restaurants. Fluent in five (yes, FIVE, that is not a typo) languages, Obaye has made a point of learning about different cultures and their cuisines throughout his career, which is why, he says, he was attracted to the diverse food scene in Houston.
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Obaye has designed and directed other large dinners, but the specific idea for the Eid-al-Fitr feast resulted from a brainstorming session between him and another hotel staff member of Syrian background. Large-scale, end-of-Ramadan celebrations are certainly common in many other parts of the world, but no venue in Houston had offered such an elaborate event open to the public in recent history. Recognizing not only that the Four Seasons had the capacity and means to successfully host a mass celebratory dinner, but also, more importantly, that H-town's substantial (and growing) Muslim community might appreciate such a celebration, Obaye got to work crafting a menu that would attend to various different culinary traditions of the Arab world.
In the course of our conversation, Chef Obaye overwhelmed me with enticing details about this Friday's Eid-al-Fitr dinner. For the sake of brevity, I have assembled my own Top 5 reasons for attending this event. Many tickets have been sold, but there's room, as Obaye says with cheerful sincerity, for everyone:
Top 5 Reasons Why I'm Going to Eid-Al-Fitr at the Four Seasons
5. A menu made from all locally-sourced, seasonal, (and halal!) foods and ingredients. 4. Fresh squeezed and sparkling juices in various flavors such as mango, berry, cantaloupe, melon and yogurt smoothies. 3. Authentic Moroccan tea service complete with traditional glassware shipped in for the event. 2. Multiple interactive stations serving traditional Indian, Middle Eastern, and North African dishes such as as harira, schwarma, ras el hanout rubbed lamb, chermoula salmon, za'atar chicken, mezze, gourmet cheeses, fresh breads (lavash, pita, etc.), tangine, baklava, date ma'amoul, petit fours...oh my! 1. The chance to push the boundaries of my culinary comfort zone, shock (in a good way) my taste buds, and indulge in an eating experience that promises to engage all the senses. Also, unlimited baklava.
Who's with me?