In an enlightening talk with Mirette Aly, the Co-founder of The Lemon Tree & Co., she shares insights far beyond the culinary scene as we know it. Determined, vivacious and full of passion; Mirette has put all her heart and energy in creating an original concept of upscale dining focusing on the elements of consistency and genuineness. Being the daughter of the dazzling actress, Shereen, and with her extensive experience in the fashion industry, she brings together her aesthetic side and her passion for food into executing culinary art of unrivalled finesse.
1.First, we would like to know about your culinary journey. How did it all begin?
There was a lot that I have done before embarking on that journey and choosing this career; between modeling, acting, media management and a little bit of real estate. Being in the fashion field, mainly modeling, took place during university days and was part of my studying process. I carried on with modeling after graduation. I loved it and honored it while it happened, but at the end of the day, I always knew that modeling would be on the side. I decided to leave all that in pursuit of something I have grown up passionate about.
We all have a story behind where we are today, and mine began with my grandma’s food. While I was 12 years of age, I dreamt of having my own five-table restaurant and used to tell my grandma how I imagined it to be like. From the seating, the overall ambiance, to the type of food; the picture was so vivid and so close to being real. When my grandma fell sick, I wasn’t happy with the assistance we had from the household cook, the taste wasn’t just the same. I didn’t know I can cook until I had to interfere and that is when I began to get into the kitchen.
Later on, when my husband and I met, he was in the process of renovating and reinventing one of his places into a new brand concept. I offered to help with the menu. Sooner than I thought I found myself working with chefs and learning more techniques. I did this with all my heart and it was such a beautiful transitional phase in my life. I learned that being a chef isn’t a profession, but rather a way of life. Despite how challenging, hectic and fast-paced this period of my life was, it was spectacular in every way. This journey has built a lot of things in me, I discovered tolerances I never thought I had, and opened my eyes to a new version of who I am.
2.Cuisines around the globe undergo regular change and have evolved affected by other cultures. Do you believe that there are also trends when it comes to food?
Food is highly influenced by cultures and the fact that there are very fast means of communication, has made the ethnicity of food easily accessible by people of different cultures. From here began the notion of food trends. Information now can be passed easily and effortlessly. So accordingly, people began to notice that some recipes have evolved using new and different ingredients. Previously, countries were only exposed to limited cooking techniques like let’s say French or Italian, as well as being limited to certain ingredients.
The culinary scene in the past 20 years have skyrocketed all over the globe, especially that people have become more interested to travel to different spots around the world and to learn more about different cultures and cuisines. Let’s take for instance the Japanese influence on the Peruvian cuisine that has resulted in the emergence of the Japeruvian cuisine which is now considered one of the best and most favored around the world. Worth to mention, in the early 2000s sushi wasn’t popular in Egypt, but nowadays and due to the easy accessibility to other cultures, sushi has become commercial food in Egypt. If anything, this proves that food also can be either fashionable or outdated.
One of the biggest trends nowadays is the Zero Km Food concept adopted by the renowned Chef Anna Roche. The concept denotes the food that is produced, sold, and eaten locally travelling zero kilometers. I believe that this is the kind of trends that should go contagious around the world. I wish that we resort back to nature and let it do its magic as opposed to our dependence on processed food.
3.What was the main concept behind The Lemon Tree & Co.?
Basically, we didn’t want The Lemon Tree & Co. to be yet another dressy seated restaurant with the same playlist going over and over again. We wanted to build a harmony intertwining delectable dishes and delightful company in upscale casual setting. Our objective was to bring different elements together in an experience that is far beyond being just a bar. The Lemon Tree & Co. is about creating a memorable experience that stimulates your five senses. We like to position ourselves as a venue that guests would crave going back to.
When it comes to food, our ideology is to honor Mother Nature and respect the seasons. While I’m here doing what I love, I like to honor this notion through the recipes and menus. We put a lot of effort in creating menus based on the food resources available in every season. This is our 64th menu, and that’s how The Lemon Tree and Co. revolves around the idea of creating food based on the seasonality of the produce.
4.It is a very competitive market out there. In your opinion, what makes The Lemon Tree & Co. stand out, and the elements behind its strong positioning?
I believe it is because we aren’t built on the concept of being a trend. Our secret relies on the way we keep things consistent. As much as it can be very difficult, I think this is our biggest achievement. When I speak about consistency, I refer to consistency of creating an unrivalled experience for guests to relish every time they visit. I also believe that one of our strengths is that we are not focused on comparing and competing with what’s happening around us. We only focus on where we are today, the types of challenges we face, and how we can improve and progress.
5.The kitchen’s operations can be among the most challenging aspects. What is the secret behind managing a successful staff and a team working in harmony?
Everything that I stand for revolves around respecting the people around me and supporting me. I believe that my team gives me the power to do more. The key to becoming a true leader in the kitchen will always be respect. When you treat people with respect and humility, they will do everything in their power to keep you satisfied.
6.How do you regard the dining scene in Egypt currently in comparison to the past years?
The culinary scene in Egypt has tremendously grown. There are several entities that currently master this industry through their exquisite dining menus, immaculate service, and ravishing ambiance. I believe that the ones who will stay throughout this vicious marathon are those who stand out with their identity.
7.How would you describe working with your life companion?
We are complete opposites at work and this is what creates balance in the outcome. My husband, Ahmed Hanafi, is a real genius and when that is combined with my dedication and persistence, miracles happen. Working together is definitely not easy, but I couldn’t have ever imagined working with anyone else.
8.Besides your career, what are you passionate about?
I love music; I can’t even begin to explain how music has a significant impact on my mood.
9.Based on your experience as a model, how would you define fashion?
Fashion as a notion is how you use trends and apply them to your life in a way that reflects the best image of yourself and not by being someone else.
10. 5 words that best describe you?
Stubborn, loving, honest, sometimes grumpy, and productive.
11.And how would you sum up your life philosophy?
The better you are on the inside, the more good will happen to you. Don’t fool yourself, stare at that person in front of you in the mirror and be true to who you are. No one is perfect and we are not meant to be perfect, just try to be the best version of yourself. Be the kindest that you can be, be the most patient that you can be, and don’t hang your problems and drawbacks on other people’s shoulders.