Baboush Chef Yaser Khalaf on How to Make it in America (It All Starts in Lexington)
Yaser Khalaf, owner of Medina and Baboush in the West Village, traveled throughout the Middle East and Europe as a child. Then in college, he traversed America, Route 66-style, in a van in which he literally blew the engine. His life-long passion for food, culture and people helped mold him into a successful restaurateur. He's naturally good with people and tells great stories, but in terms of the business side of things, everything he is now, he learned in Lexington, Kentucky. Yes, Lexington.
Where are you from?
I was born in Kuwait City to a Palestinian family. I lived there until I was 15 years old and was fortunate enough to travel everywhere while growing up: Tunisia, Nigeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Greece, Spain, Italy, Southern France.
How did you wind up in Dallas?
Well, I wound up in Lexington, Kentucky first.
How did you wind up in Lexington?
I went to the University of Kentucky to study accounting.
How was that transition -- world traveler to a city in Kentucky?
It was very boring. It's a small town and I liked the people a lot; they're very nice. I like the southern hospitality there -- how they open the doors and say thank you all the time. It was just a slower pace of life.
Was that your first exposure to America?
Well, when I arrived I was in New York City for a few days, but then I went to Kentucky. All my friends kept telling me, "You haven't seen America yet!" And so I travelled all over the U.S. whenever I could. Every break, I would just drive. I drove completely across the country.
Where did you go?
A friend and I started in Boston, then Chicago, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, L.A., then to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. And that was just the first trip. We literally burned up the engine in the van. Literally burned it. Other times we went down to Miami and up to New York often. I learned so much about culture and food.
After all those road trips, what's your favorite city?
I love New York City so much. It's so romantic, especially at Christmas time. I love the snow, the smoke everywhere. I love the people's accents. When I got there I felt like I was a New Yorker at heart.
When I travel I also like to try the food everywhere. When I would eat somewhere, I wouldn't order just one thing, I'd order 15. I wanted to try it all.