Chef Sally Jane has worked as a private chef and caterer in New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, Amman, Beirut, and on a grand sailboat in the Mediterranean. Her clients have included royalty from various countries, several rock legends, fashionistas, Formula One champions, and many a duke and duchess.
From earning an MFA in creative writing from Columbia to receiving a Grand Diploma in Culinary Arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York, Chef Sally Jane has traversed an unusual path.
She currently lives in Beirut with her husband, a journalist with CNN, and loves “Everything Beirut”; especially, she says, the warmth of the people, the hospitality, the chaos and the climate. “The zest for life of the Lebanese and their can-do attitude constantly amazes and inspires me,” she adds.
In her culinary journey, Chef Sally Jane’s latest venture, The Pantry has become somewhat of a phenomenon in Beirut. The boutique kitchen space artfully weaves elegant meals, catering events and cooking classes. The Pantry offers a wide array of services, seeped in healthy, farm-to-table approach to cooking and eating.
Deepa Pant chats with Chef Sally Jane Hurst of Beirut’s The Pantry exclusively for bazaar, about her passion for food, global influences, ingredients that intrigue her, and her impressions as an American expat living in Lebanon.
From the publishing world to the culinary world – how did you get interested in food?
I’ve really always been interested in food! From gorging on a shrimp cocktail platter at Christmas when I was three-years-old, to inviting my family to a sit-down three course dinner that I cooked all on my own when I was just 10, it’s always been something I love sharing and preparing. I do believe strongly that watching my mother cook and her encouraging me to help her in the kitchen was a strong force in helping me get to my current career.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
I’ve moved around a lot in my life and I think this has made me interested in discovering local ingredients and recipes. My cooking adapts to the landscape I’m in, but always uses the freshest ingredients with a bit of classic French technique and lots of Midwestern heart.
What’s your favorite Middle Eastern spice?
I really love sumac.
And, on a more personal level, what is your favorite dish?
It depends on the season, how virtuous I’m feeling, where I am, if I’ve been cooking a lot or not. I will say that my Spaghetti Carbonara has always been my comfort food.
How do you see the food scene changing in the region?
Beirut is an incredibly dynamic city and the local food is delicious. I hope it and other countries in the region will not only cling to their traditional recipes, of which there are as many versions of each as there are people, but also look at the amazing wealth of local ingredients and experiment a bit. I’m starting to see that here in Beirut and it’s very exciting.
My fresh fig tart with lebneh and rosemary cornmeal crust scored a 10/10 from @justines_cakes_ at today’s #wednesdaylunch at #thepantrybeirut . Such a fun way to meet new people and share some food. #americanchefinbeirut #foodie #food52grams #foodwinewomen #feedfeed #livelivebeirut #livelovefood #lunch #achrafieh #chefsofbeirut #culinaryadventures #baking #dessert #healthyish
Why/how did you choose Beirut to settle down in?
My husband is a journalist for CNN and after a brief stint in Amman he was offered a position here, which was exciting to both of us! I had never been [Beirut] before he was offered the job so we came to check it out and I fell in love immediately! We moved here two months later.
What is your impression of living in Beirut?
I love the warmth of the people in Beirut, the hospitality, the chaos, the climate! People here often complain about how challenging life can be, but I like to remind them that there are challenges no matter where you live and the ones we have here can (mostly) be overcome. The zest for life of the Lebanese and their can-do attitude constantly amazes and inspires me.
Chef Sally Jane graciously shares her recipe for Rustic Tomato Basil Tart with the readers of bazaar.
“This recipe is delicious and light and a perfect example of how I like to cook,” she says.
Rustic Tomato Basil Tart
1kg tomatoes, cut into slices
1 ½ teaspoons salt, divided
1 cup corn kernels
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons lebneh or sour cream
1 ½ cups flour
¼ cup coarse cornmeal
50g unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 tablespoon coarse cornmeal
½ cup thinly sliced basil
50g shredded fontina
1 tablespoon chopped fresh zaatar
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon pepper
Arrange tomato slices on paper towels in a single layer and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Let stand for 20 minutes and blot with towels to try and remove as much moisture as possible.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place corn, lemon juice, lebneh or sour cream in a food processor and process until smooth. Combine 1 ½ cups flour, ¼ cup cornmeal, and ½ teaspoon salt in a bowl. Cut in the butter until it resembles coarse meal, add the pureed corn mixture to it and stir until a soft dough forms. Knead together.
Slightly overlap two sheets of plastic wrap. Place dough in the middle and cover with two more pieces of plastic. Press into a circle and use a rolling pin to roll out to approximately 35 cm around. Place in freezer for about 10 minutes. Now remove top plastic wrap and line baking sheet with parchment paper. Place dough, plastic side up on parchment and now remove remaining plastic wrap.
Combine ¼ cup basil, cheese and zaatar. Combine 2 tablespoons flour and ½ teaspoon salt. Arrange cheese mixture on dough, leaving a border. Using a sifter, sift 1 tablespoon of flour mixture over cheese mixture. Arrange half of the tomatoes over cheese. Sift remaining flour on top of tomatoes and now top with remaining tomatoes. Fold edges of dough towards the center and press to seal.
Bake at 200 degrees for 35 minutes or until crust is brown. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before cutting. Sprinkle with remaining basil and pepper.