In times of hardship, food brings us together. That’s the theory behind Beirut Box, a fund-raiser created to help Beirut in the aftermath of the Aug. 4 explosion. It uses “the almost universal love of Lebanese cuisine as a link to bring people on board to do something for Lebanon,” as cofounder Diala Ezzeddine puts it.
Beirut Box is the brainchild of two local couples with Lebanese roots: Ezzeddine, CEO of Airbase Breathing Company; her husband, MIT School of Architecture and Planning dean Hashim Sarkis; Habib Haddad, managing partner of MIT Media Lab-affiliated E14 Fund; and his wife, Hala Hanna, managing director of community for MIT Solve, which works to overcome world challenges through innovation. They have collaborated on fund-raising efforts regularly since the 2006 Lebanon War.
Nine restaurants have signed on, with more in the works. Al Wadi, Anoush’ella, Cafeteria, Fairouz, Moona, NuBurger, Oleana, Sarma, and Sofra are all offering their takes on Beirut Box. The effort will run through September, and possibly longer. ”What’s beautiful is each chef is creating their own version, so the creativity of the chefs really shines through,” Hanna says. “They’re taking inspiration from Lebanese cuisine and translating it.”
For instance, Anoush’ella’s Beirut Box includes beef or lamb kebabs with lentil rice, grilled eggplant, hummus, and more, while Al Wadi has several versions, including pumpkin kibbee krass, pumpkin puree dumplings with spinach and onions, and Lebanese wine to go. Aceituna, Committee, Commonwealth, and other restaurants will soon join the list. Proceeds go to the Beirut Emergency Fund, which works with vetted NGOs on the ground.
"I just moved back a year ago from Lebanon," says Nadine Samaha, whose family runs Al Wadi in West Roxbury. "Beirut just feels like home. It's where we go every summer. We still have family there. My kids love it. Anything we can do to help rebuild, Al Wadi is in."
But one of the project’s goals is to reach beyond the Lebanese community, creating links through the country’s cuisine. Beirut Box’s founders hope it will bring in participants from farther afield — restaurants in Seattle, Wisconsin, and London have already expressed interest.
"Food for us as Lebanese is really part of our upbringing," Haddad says. "Love is shown through food. Food is at the heart of our lives. How can we show this beautiful soul of Lebanon? How can we bring people together around that? It's not just about fund-raising. It's also about creating an empathetic link between people through food."
For more information, or to donate to the Beirut Emergency Fund, go to www.beirutbox.org.