Baboush Chef Yaser Khalaf on How to Make it in America (It All Starts in Lexington)

Categories: Interviews

After earning your accounting degree, where did you go?
Well, my cousin's friend worked at a great Italian-Sicilian place in New York, so every summer I would go there and learn how to cook.

Accounting was out the window then, huh?
Yes, because it just wasn't me. I couldn't sit all day in an office and look at numbers. I need people. I like to visit with people.

How did you get to Dallas?
I finished school and opened a couple of restaurants in Lexington. But then I met my wife and she was in Dallas, so I moved here.

I first opened LA Gourmet Pizza on McKinney (then sold it two years ago). My second restaurant was Medina with my partner Sam, and that's where I got introduced to Moroccan food. I loved the art of balancing all of those flavors. That's always been amazing to me. How to get them to all taste good together.

What do you think about the Dallas food scene?
It's changing. It's very acceptable to new cultures and type of foods. The people here enjoy trying different things.

Where do you eat when you go out?
My wife, son and I like to try all the new places that open. Then, we have a game. Afterward we all ask, "Would we come back here?" Then we all vote. So we like trying new places, but my wife also cooks a lot, and she's an amazing cook, so we eat at home a lot.

Do you have many rules for the kitchen here at Baboush?
Rules? This many (arms spread open wide). We have an entire sheet everyone has to sign. I don't care what they learned before, they have to know the rules here.

You designed the menu and have created most of the recipes, but you don't actually cook. So, what do you look for in a chef?
They have to have the basic skills. Not necessarily have had to go to school, but they have to know how to cut. I can give them a bunch of parsley and I can see if they care or not. It's that simple. If they take the stems out, I like them. If they don't, they need more training.

I also look at cleanliness. That's very important to me. Everything has to be really clean, from the front of the house to the restrooms and especially in the kitchen. It tells a lot about who you are. I even look at everyone's fingernails in the mornings. It really frustrates some people, but I don't care.

Are you hard to work for?
Yes. Very.

Is that okay?
Yes, it's 100% okay. Because I take care of my customers.

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