18 Jun 2018
Beirut, Lebanon
Organic Food and Agriculture

Once thought of as a disease that primarily affects westerners, the instances of celiac disease are on the rise in North Africa and the Middle East. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that results in damaging the small intestine when people eat gluten, which is found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. It’s estimated to affect one in 100 people worldwide. One entrepreneur is trying to provide healthy options to people suffering from the subtle disease, while providing healthy, organic food for people with other allergies.

Imad Khairallah was working in finance in Paris when he first spoke to his brother, Dr. Walid Khairallah, an endocrinologist and specialist in functional medicine, about his symptoms. He had always shown minor signs, like ear infections on a quarterly basis, the flu, seborrheic dermatitis, and feeling bloated and sleepy after lunch.

“My brother believes in healing people with food,” says Imad. “He told me I was probably intolerant to gluten and dairy products and that I should change my diet and eat organic and unprocessed foods. So I did that, and it changed my life. I became another person. All my symptoms went away.”

During that time, Imad moved back to Lebanon and started speaking more with Walid about gluten and dairy intolerances. Walid told him over 80% of his patients were gluten-intolerant, and that there was a movement in the country to eat organic, sugar-free, and less processed foods.

“Then my mother started transforming our favorites foods into organic, gluten- [and] sugar-free options,” says Imad. “Both my brother and I are entrepreneurs, and my mother is a great, passionate cook, so we opened a small shop.”

That’s how Kitchen Confidential began in 2013. Kitchen Confidential was named after the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s memoir. Bourdain, a beloved chef, passed away June of 2018.

“Like most people, we were very sad when we heard the news of his death, as he inspired so many people and changed how they perceive food,” said Imad.

Kitchen Confidential’s start:

The first few years Kitchen Confidential was in operation, it functioned out of a small, 75-square-meter kitchen with delivery and takeaway options. Imad and his family trained a small staff to cook recipes developed by his mother.

“I have a Bachelor’s in commerce with a specialization in finance from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and then I got my MBA at ESA-ESCP-EAP, a French business school in Paris,” says Imad. “I’ve always worked in finance, asset management and management consulting, so building a business was not very hard for me.”

Kitchen Confidential was entirely funded by the family and won a competition soon after it opened, in 2014.

“We won a startup competition called Grow My Business hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” says Imad. “We won due to our innovation and social impact, beating other companies seeded by venture capital funds or incubators.”

The business continued to grow, and in 2018, it expanded into a full-fledged restaurant.

The growth of Kitchen Confidential:

Kitchen Confidential is now a bustling restaurant in the heart of Beirut, with the old facility now as a bakery. The restaurant is a big success so far, with tourists and locals alike flocking to eat gluten- and dairy-free foods, that are all made out of organic ingredients and are free from additives.

“We have a variety of foods because people with allergies and intolerances usually don’t have many foods to choose from,” says Imad. “We have burgers, pizzas, pasta, [and] superfood salads. We have local Lebanese food, things like hummus, baba ganoush, and other staples. We have fajita wraps that are either vegan or with chicken. We have eggs benedict, avocado toast and desserts like tarts, muffins, brownies, and paleo brownies. We also produce our own gluten-free/yeast-free bread, plus our own ketchup and mayonnaise.”

Kitchen Confidential also does catering for clients who have special dietary preferences like vegan, paleo, ketogenic or for people with diabetes.

Besides all these healthy and organic offerings, the entire restaurant is non-toxic – workers avoid toxic paints and cleaning products. The building was renovated with water-based paint, and all packaging is made out of vegetables, making it compostable.

“Since we started 5 years ago, we’ve never used anything plastic or anything that could damage the environment,” says Imad. “Even our detergents in the kitchen and the soap we use are eco-friendly and non-toxic.”

The growth of Kitchen Confidential has been explosive, even without marketing efforts.

“People trust my mom and trust us,” says Imad. “We passed this knowledge to the team, and now we have a big team and people think my mom is sitting in the kitchen cooking even though we have a team now handling all the process. Sometimes, she does work in the kitchen still.”

Caroline Chammas is one of Kitchen Confidential’s most passionate customers. She said before the restaurant’s arrival, it was really hard finding healthy, organic food in Beirut.

“My brother is a vegan, and it’s the only place he can go to in Beirut. The food at Kitchen Confidential is made with love and every ingredient is sourced from the best places. They have so much precision and attention to detail. It’s not like walking into a restaurant, it’s like seeing an experiment or going into a classroom. They explain everything about the food you are eating, and then you eat with so much respect and recognition for the effort they put into their product,” she says.

She says in Lebanon, it’s hard to change people’s attitude about food, and Kitchen Confidential is a good start.

Kitchen Confidential’s hopes for the future:

Imad’s dream is to be able to franchise Kitchen Confidential, and open restaurants all over the world that cater to people who want to eat organic, gluten-, dairy-, and sugar-free foods.

He says bringing these foods to the people is his passion, and stems from his upbringing in Lebanon.

“My parents are big foodies and are very picky about ingredients. As kids, we never ate processed foods. My mom was such a passionate cook and is very talented. My dad used to own his own restaurant, which was destroyed by the war in 1978, the same year when I was born. It’s funny we opened a new restaurant in 2018, 40 years later.”

 

 

 

Learn more about Kitchen Confidential through their Facebook page.

Photos: Courtesy of Kitchen Confidential.

Kristin Hanes is a journalist who has a passion for the environment, sustainability, and science. She loves telling stories about people who are making a real difference in the world.Kristin Hanes
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Kitchen Confidential Organic Food & Agriculture
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