An interview with Hanan Kattan, founder of Tabun Kitchen
by Sarah El Tayara
An interview with Hanan Kattan, founder of Tabun Kitchen, a casual dining concept bringing authentic Palestinian food to London based on Hanan’s family recipes:
Tell us about the name of your restaurant? Where did “Tabun Kitchen” come from?
As a Palestinian, tabun bread is a very big part of our culture and heritage, so is the Tabun oven. When I used to go to my grandfather’s ancestral home in Bethlehem there was always a Tabun oven outside, which is a proper clay oven. There was a lady who always baked the fresh tabun bread. Tabun reminded me of Palestine, of our culture, of growing up, and especially of these delicious smells of freshly baked bread. I wanted the name to reflect the Palestinian culture and bread is a big part of our culture.
“For us it’s very important for people to experience the authenticity of Palestinian heritage and culture in London and internationally once we grow.”
Provenance is becoming an increasingly important trend in the food industry – can you tell us about the ingredients and story behind the Tabun Kitchen menu?
Palestinian cuisine has hundreds of dishes, some are all year round and some are seasonally orientated, so we wanted to have a fixed menu as well as a seasonal menu. The most important thing is to buy from Palestinian suppliers where possible, so we buy a lot from Zaytoun, who have fair-trade Palestinian farmers that supply them with the product. So wherever we can we buy fresh, seasonal product with a message, whether it is ethical or organic – it’s important for us to have it part of the story of Tabun Kitchen.
Sharing is an important part of your menu. What is the culture around food in Palestine and how does this differ to London food culture?
Traditional European cuisine is very much one dish per person, but Palestinian culture is very much about sharing, abundance, and generosity. You would never go to Palestinian household without mountains of food, lots of starters or manaish. There is a big, big culture for sharing and it’s always been part of our tradition. We like to have lots of different interesting tastes, smells, textures, and food. In London traditionally, there has always been the traditional starter, main and dessert but it’s been changing recently and the culture of sharing has started to become part of the London scene. For us it’s very important for people to experience the authenticity of Palestinian heritage and culture in London and internationally once we grow.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I started off in toiletries and hair care and I had my own brand based on Chinese herbal therapy so it was the first brand in the premium mass market, so it sold our product to Boots, Tescos, and all the multiples and I exited and sold the company and started feature film productions. I’m still doing that as well. And then started in the restaurant business and came up with The Tabun Kitchen concept. The common thread in all of them is the creative entrepreneurship business angle of coming up with brands and things that I am passionate about, or product and stories. So it is all part of that world of creativity. It very much links to London because London is very open to different ideas, it would probably be harder to launch in other markets.
What led you to begin Tabun Kitchen and what is your long-term vision for the restaurant?
Having lived in London for so many years, Palestinian cuisine per se was not known outside of the home: we didn’t have Palestinian restaurants contrary to the Lebanese ones. Therefore people often came from all around the world to eat at our place and loved the food which was one reason that eventually led me to open Tabun Kitchen. But really why I wanted to do it was for me to share my Palestinian culture and heritage, hence introduce it through food because there is no better way to share your culture in a warm, sharing, abundant food mentality. I think people are more open to that when they are enjoying themselves. Also, London has become a food capital and to me, adding the Palestinian element to the food scene was very important.
Welcome to the Toucan family and congratulations on joining the portfolio. What do you hope to get out of this relationship for the growth of your startup?
I guess the one thing I have learned as an entrepreneur is to have a strong, solid team to make your business a success. And to me, why Toucan? First, I met Rasha who’s an incredible person because it’s rare to find people supporting creative talents and entrepreneurs, and she has the soul and capability to encourage them. Second is the extraordinary team she has with her. I mean it’s very important to have one. A success of a story: the idea, the brands, could be great but without an ecosystem of really intelligent, passionate people who back you, it makes it harder. So for me being with Toucan and the team is giving me that synergy that I’m really looking forward to taking the brand to the next level.
Which dish on your menu would you recommend?
It’s like choosing from your babies, you don’t know which one to chose! As a main dish I would choose “Msakhan” because it’s a very typical Palestinian dish which uses the Tabun Bread with the roast chicken, pine nuts, onions, and lemon: people use to eat it with their hands and share it. As a dessert, of course the Knafe and we do it with Ackawy cheese. Also, the Manakeesh are a must. I would add as well Koudsiye: “Kouds” is Jerusalem in Arabic and Koudsiye is a mixture of “foul” (fava beans) and hummus together that you can only have in Jerusalem usually. So these are dishes that are very typical Palestinian and we have many.
What food trend do you hope gets stronger in 2019?
In my opinion, in 2019, we probably will continue to see the vegetarian, vegan, healthy, organic trends, perhaps grow even stronger. And what is interesting about Palestinian cuisine is that we cater to that almost automatically without realising it; at the same time you also have the very interesting textures and tastes in each dish that are very different, you don’t have a repeat of dishes. So I think the trend will continue in that direction with a healthier, tastier, sharing concept.
What is your favorite London restaurant?
Again this is a very hard question because when you like different types of cuisine, it’s hard to say this is the restaurant because it depends on my mood whether it’s Japanese, Chinese, Italian, French, Sri Lankan and so on but I like Dishoom in terms of Indian. I think they’ve done a very interesting job, not just the food but the concept as well and that’s one of the many restaurants that come to my mind.