BEIRUT: Buttery vanilla cake, stuffed with chewy, tangy qamareddine, packed with crunchy almond topping and oozing white chocolate cream sauce: The cake by Mohammad Nacacche, known as Chef Mood, might be too sinfully indulgent for a Ramadan treat.
The up-and-coming chef has unveiled two specialty cakes inspired by traditional Ramadan flavors: qamareddine – the sugary peach-preserve chew – and dates. The cakes reflect the young chef’s creative style, giving traditional Lebanese ingredients a modern touch.
At 30 years old, Chef Mood has already attracted a loyal clientele of modern Beirutis who appreciate his contemporary spin on popular dishes, his clients say. He presents his two Ramadan cakes as part of a recent move to promote his dessert talents in addition to his private catering work.
Humble and soft-spoken, Chef Mood sat by as The Daily Star was treated to the second taste ever of “La Luna Rossa,” his white-chocolate, qamareddine Ramadan cake. The second seasonal cake is a dark chocolate torte with nuts, dates and a touch of lemon. Both cakes will sell for $30 by special order.
Chef Mood’s love for cooking began as a teenager when he learned the basics of preparing traditional Lebanese cuisine at home, he said.
“When I was young, I loved being in the kitchen with my mom,” Chef Mood said. “I never thought it would turn into a job.”
Indeed passion turned to profession. But while others prefer to take a break from work, cooking is still a hobby and a joy for Chef Mood, he said.
“When I am sad or depressed, I like to be in the kitchen,” he said.
In his home in Hadath on the outskirts of Beirut, Chef Mood cooks as the sound of mournful romantic classics bellow from his laptop – Fayrouz in the morning, Umm Kalthoum and Edith Piaff, he said.
The chef, who studied cooking at C&E American University, doesn’t use meticulous formulas or drawn out culinary experiments. Many of his recipes come to him in the spur of the moment, while he is driving in his car or throwing ingredients together.
This inventive spirit leaves Chef Mood’s clients coming back for more, Dalal Chemsedine said.
Chemsedine regularly orders catering for her dinner parties from Chef Mood. “It’s classic food with a modern touch,” she said.
“If I have a dinner, I order from him. His presentation draws a lot of good comments from my friends.”
Chef Mood’s presentation also mixes old and new.
In one dish, the chef set buttery, lemon-seasoned chicory greens in clean perfect orbs and surrounded them with a mixture of traditional and inspired toppings such as crunchy baked crackers instead of the typical pita chips.
In one of his signature salads, pieces of ripe, pink grapefruit pop from a plate of iceberg greens and dark brown dressing. Tough luck for those interested in the precise ingredients, Chef Mood’s bashfulness is matched by his secrecy.
Nijad Abdul-Massih, a friend who’s taken on Chef Mood’s marketing, said he protects his recipes so vigilantly that he’s known to bring the simplest homemade dressing to parties pre-made.
Although he fills all his orders from home, he and his team of help can accommodate orders of any size.
Clients typically contact him three or four days in advance to build a menu, followed up by a taste test, Chef Mood said.
Most clients ask for Lebanese favorites mixed with a few international dishes, he added.
His self-professed favorite cuisine to cook is Italian. But don’t expect him to play by the rules. Whether Lebanese or Italian, every dish includes a touch of the unexpected.
Rich cakes aside, he and his clients said he uses minimal butter and oil, minimizes fatty ingredients and works with organic vegetables.
Chef Mood prefers to shop at Souk al-Tayyeb, Beirut’s farmers market which offers organic produce and locally made goods, he said.
This focus on healthy food is not just for his clients. Were the chef stuck eating one dish for the rest of his life, he would choose veggies steamed rather than fried, fish rather than steak or even something vegetarian, he said.
“This is food for the modern woman who may not know how to cook,” Abdul-Massih said.
“She still wants to serve something different and delicious.”
The chef formally stepped into Beirut’s dessert scene in late June, when he presented his “Metis” cake at Busy Bee Design Gallery, owned by Abdul-Massih.
The cake, made of rich dark chocolate, stuffed and topped with white ghazl al-banat (cotton candy) and loaded with pistachios, launched successfully to a crowd of zealous chocolate lovers.
“We made only 30 cupcakes. The women wanted to buy seven or eight each,” Abdul-Massih said.
“We had to start telling them they could only buy one.”
As he explained the taste of “Metis” and the many other creations, Abdul-Massih struggled for words.
“The word I kept coming up with was sensual,” Abdul-Massih said. “Chef Mood is an artist.”
To place your orders at Chef Mood Catering, please call 03-050-408.