James Walters, co-founder of Arabica Bar & Kitchen in Borough Market in London and supplier Arabica Food & Spice, tells Neil Gerrard why his business is raising money for the Soup for Syria campaign, where he finds his inspiration and why he decided to change Arabica's falafel recipe after 14 years
Arabica is raising money for Soup for Syria. Can you tell us about this campaign?
Soup for Syria is a cookbook and humanitarian campaign to raise awareness and funds for the Syrian people. It is the brainchild of Lebanese food writer and photographer Barbara Abdeni Massaad. She forfeited her weekends during the winter of 2014 to fill her car with ingredients and drive across the Bekaa Valley to a Syrian refugee camp. She cooked soup for families crowded into plastic tents who were falling ill from hunger.
She gathered material from these visits to the camp, sourced recipes from chefs and food writers, and came up with the idea for Soup for Syria.
How did you get involved?
I spent two months travelling across Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Israel last summer, getting inspired, hunting out new products, visiting suppliers, topping up vitamin D levels and collating images for a cookbook I hope to publish in the future.
On my return to London, a friend called me. She understood first hand the reality, hardship and challenges of leaving one's homeland, and as the current migration crisis continued to intensify, she wanted to do something to help.
It struck me that the quickest way I could do something was to support the Soup for Syria initiative. I launched the Soup for Syria campaign in January at Arabica Bar & Kitchen and we have raised £1,600 so far through soup sales.
Following your recent trip you changed your falafel recipe after 14 years. Why was that?
It was partially spurred on by consuming my fair share of late-night falafels and feeling like it was time for change! The original Arabica recipe was made with chickpeas, onions, parsley and roasted cumin. The new Beiruti-inspired falafel is a more complex blend of chickpeas and broad beans with fresh garlic, bell peppers, green chilli, coriander, parsley, cumin and sesame seeds.
Are there any dishes that you'd like to put on the menu but haven't been able to?
It is hard to find a non-commercially produced kokoreÁ§ on the streets of Istanbul, but even harder to source the raw ingredients here. We played around last year with the some goat offal from Cabrito, but we struggled to get the intestines.
What other plans do you have?
We're hunting for restaurant sites and looking to expand the foodservice side of our business by supplying more retailers, hotels and caterers with fresh meze. And I'm always on the lookout for the next ingredient to add to our Arabica Food & Spice range.
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