In the kitchen with: Vivace Cuisine’s Khaled Alkhatib

In the kitchen with: Vivace Cuisine’s Khaled Alkhatib

Restaurant a top 100 in Ohio

By Amy Eddings

 

Vivace Cuisine. The restaurant in downtown Lima has an Italian name, meaning “lively.”

Khaled Alkhatib. The name of Vivace’s chef is Middle Eastern. He’s Syrian by birth, but Palestinian by heritage.

So, where does that leave the hungry person who comes to Vivace Cuisine for dinner?

It leaves the diner with a happy array of mouth-beckoning dishes to choose from, dishes with pedigrees that draw from Jerusalem, Rome and middle America.

Customers can expect a very American amalgamation of cultures and influences. On the menu are classic Mediterranean dishes such as marinated chicken or beef kabobs, baba ghanoush and creamy hummus, but also a caprese salad of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil.

There’s shrimp cocktail, an American steakhouse staple, but also crostini topped with seared beef tenderloin, a gyro platter with warm pita and tzatziki sauce, and fettuccine seasoned with Mediterranean herbs and topped with fresh roma tomatoes, asparagus, sweet peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese.

“That was, like, the first dish I did,” he said of the pasta. “I was 14 years old.”

He learned most of his cooking skills from his grandfather, who was a chef in Paris.

“He cooked Mediterranean, but my brother and I, we twisted it a little bit,” he said. “We came up with our own recipes and that’s how it started.”

It also leaves the diner very satisfied. Vivace Cuisine was named one of the top 100 restaurants in Ohio last summer by The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, as determined by reviews on Yelp.

“The best lamb gyro my tongue has ever wrapped itself around,” declared Nina S. from New York City. “Yes, you read correct.”

“The baba ganoush [sic] in particular has a rich, smoky flavor that has tons of depth,” wrote Matthew W. of Zanesville, Ohio. “I could devour this stuff all day long.”

The photos posted on Yelp show beautifully plated dishes, with vegetables artfully arrayed, fresh basil leaves balanced on stacked filets of tilapia, and olive oil and balsamic vinegar spooned into a perfect arc around a little mound of olives and a tiny ball of fresh mozzarella.

“From the time I started, that was a big thing,” he said. “It had to look five-star when it went out. The eye eats before the mouth.”

Chef KK, as his staff calls him, exudes confidence and cool. The 33 year old has a beard, trimmed neat and close; his short hair was brushed forward. He wore a white T-shirt with a silkscreened image of two grizzled musicians on it, stonewashed gray jeans, a silver chain, several leather bracelets and white sneakers with no socks. He spoke softly, his English thick with a Middle Eastern inflection.

“I’m the son of a Palestinian mother and father,” he wrote later in an email.

His parents’ families left Israel because of the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, immigrating to Syria and, later, Algeria in search of new beginnings. In 1983, his mom and dad and their growing family returned to Syria. He was born there that same year, and lived in Syria until 2005, when he followed his peripatetic family to the States, to Lima. He was in his early 20s.

“I moved to America to start my dream and I wanted to start early,” he wrote. “With the help of my family and the city of Lima and a few friends, I was able to do so. I’m now an American citizen and the process was not difficult. I only had to learn about the history of the country that I fell in love with.”

Why Lima?

“The reason we chose Lima is because my brother, Ahmad Alkhatib, was a neurologist at St. Rita’s [Medical Center],” he said.

His brother and the rest of Alkhatib’s immediate family later moved to Arkansas. There, in Bentonville, brother Sal has a restaurant that’s also named Vivace.

This time, Alkhatib did not follow them.

“I decided to stay in Lima to continue my dream as a chef,” he wrote.

In the kitchen at home, Chef KK said he doesn’t pay as much attention to presentation, “unless if I have friends over, then I do.”

He tends toward vegetarian items.

“And I love spicy food,” he said. “Everything I make to myself has to be spicy.”

Spicy. Lively. Vivace.

VIVACE HUMMUS

Start to finish: 15 minutes

Serving: 10

Ingredients:

6 cups chickpeas, cooked and drained (2 cups dried chickpeas, or four 15-ounce cans chickpeas)

5 cups water, room temperature

1 cup tahini sauce (tahini, or ground sesame seeds, can be found in most grocery stores in the “World Foods” section)

1 level tablespoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

4 tablespoons plain yogurt

Directions:

Blend all the ingredients together in a standing mixer until creamy. Serve with hot, fresh pita bread or with a crudité plate of carrots, cucumber, cauliflower and sweet red bell peppers.

Salt Magazine