Q&A with Chef Altaye Mihrete

A woman of many talents, who’s cooking has won all of our stomachs, and who you need to know. From who inspires her to her favorite spice, the Chef behind our food tells all.

How did you learn to cook?

I actually did not attend culinary school…I apprenticed with 2 amazing Chefs: Joel Findlay of 302 West in Geneva Illinois and Francoise Sanchez of Emilio’s Granada.

You start prepping in the kitchen in the wee hours of the morning, what helps you kick-start your day?

To kickstart my day: I like to drink water, take my Fish oil pills and do a little stretching. Coffee or Tea Coffee definitely, I am Ethiopian at the end of the day. Ethiopia is where coffee is from.

Where are you from?

I was originally born in Ethiopia. My father was the Chief Communications Officer for the Peacekeeping missions in the United Nations, so I was a diplomat’s daughter. I grew up in Ethiopia, Egypt, Pakistan, Cyprus, Syria and Iran.

Five ingredients you can’t live without?

Garlic, Salt, Pepper, Berbere, Ginger

Savory or sweet?

Savory

What is your favorite thing to cook v. dining out?

My favorite thing to cook is grilled seafood on a summer day. But when I’m eating out it’s Kitfo: Ethiopian Steak Tartare made tableside.

The Chef you admire the most?

Paul Khan from the now closed Blackbird restaurant in Chicago.

Describe your cooking style in three words.

Healthy, Global, Bold

Have you ever opened a restaurant?

Yes! I was hired by Chef Maher to go to Lebanon Beirut to open Otium as its Executive Chef. We were to stay there 6 months. But, I stayed 6 years.

I continued to open restaurants from ground up: designing kitchens, choosing equipment, hiring staff, setting up purveyors. Though I spoke Arabic, this was definitely a challenge as at this time the restaurant industry was not established. I usually worked with small farms and fishermen that visited me every morning: I would then create my menu for the evening. Items like chocolate were flown in twice a week from France as were the wines.

In the 6 years I lived and worked in Beirut Lebanon I opened:

  • Otium (Contemporary Fusion)
  • Campo Ceviche (Ceviche Restaurant)
  • Bar Louie (Jazz Tapas Restaurant)
  • Food Yard (Contemporary American Cuisine)
  • Strange Fruit (Night Club with Lounge and Late-night Eatery)
Written by Occasions Caterers