For David Bouziane and his father, Lebanese cuisine represents generations of history.
“Lebanon is a very small country, but it’s also as old as the Bible,” says David “Davey” Bouziane as he ladles spicy ground lamb onto a circle of homemade dough, the base for sfiha, a sort of Levantine pizza. “Cooking Lebanese food for family and friends is what the Bouzianes have done for hundreds of years. And they still do today in Lebanon.”
And now the Bouzianes it, too, in Southwest Florida, where Davey, 35, and his father, David, 66, regularly treat family and friends to multi-course Lebanese meals rich with cinnamon and allspice, sumac and thyme, lemon and mint grown by an uncle in Virginia. These are the flavors Bouziane’s father was raised on, and ones this Sarasota attorney learned himself through decades of watching his father cook.
After a few minutes, Davey removes the toasted sfiha from the oven and adds dollops of cool yogurt sauce, made from the same starter that his Lebanese grandfather brought with him when he passed through Ellis Island in 1912.
Though Davey, like his father, has never been to Lebanon, that family history, like the food itself, flavors his life beyond the kitchen, too. He’s learning Arabic, and he hopes one day to visit the substantial clan of Bouzianes who still live in and around Beirut—although he admits those relatives are currently less than impressed with his culinary efforts. “I send them pictures of this stuff, and they laugh, ‘Cousin, you’re using too much mint, you’re not using enough allspice,’” he says with a smile. “Everybody does it differently.”
In Lebanon, women tend to handle the cooking, but here the Bouziane father/son pas de deux unfolds like artwork, the two men moving back and forth, chopping and seasoning as though choreographed. In Lebanese culture, David explains, “A lot of things happen in the kitchen. A lot of decisions are made there.”
Next year, Davey will become a father himself: He and his girlfriend are expecting a son this spring. Will the little boy grow up in the kitchen learning how to season lamb and cultivate yogurt? “Oh, of course,” he says.
For now, though, Davey, like so many home cooks around the world, defers to the previous generation for culinary approval. After he tops the sfiha with its final touches—toasted pine nuts, a garnish of fresh parsley—he invites his father over for a taste, explaining, “It’s not done until he’s tried it.”