Farming for Health Podcast #31: Chef Reem Assil

Farming for Health Podcast #31: Chef Reem Assil

In this fascinating interview, Chef Reem Assil shares her story: from living in Oakland, California where she felt like a stranger in a strange land because of her Palestinian-Syrian heritage to winning a prestigious award for her cookbook, Arabiyya—and plenty in between.

Reem was always baking, and perhaps that was because of the fascination she felt with the scientific work performed by her mother. Through alchemy, different ingredients turned into something magical: in her mother’s work and in her baking.

Then, through her passion for social justice, Reem went to Lebanon in 2010 where she worked as an activist and community labor organizer. She wanted to give voice to people in the neighborhoods where development was leading to the displacement of people instead of an investment into them. It was hard to mobilize the communities, though, because they didn’t yet have a vision of the jobs and housing they could fight to have.

Reem then spotted a street corner bakery in Lebanon, and she quickly realized how this symbolized the resiliency of the many generations of people in the Arab world as they endured war, drought, and famine. Because bread—a food that all cultures have in some form—was born in the Arab region of the world, this served as a celebration of the journey: for her, personally, and for the people in the community. So, she ended up bringing back this experience for people in the Bay Area of California. 

In 2022, Chef Reem published Arabiyya: Recipes from the Life of an Arab in Diaspora. Named as one of the top best cookbooks of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle and one of the best cookbooks of the year by Food & Wine, Los Angeles Times, Saveur, and Epicurious, the book also won a prestigious 2023 IACP Cookbook Award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals. 

To hear more about Chef Reem’s inspiring story, listen to our Farming for Health podcast titled “Bread, Celebrating Community, and the California Approach.”

Past Episodes of our Farming for Health Podcast

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