When Alex Harb first arrived in the United States from Lebanon in August 2000, a friend of his sister’s took him in and let him stay with her and her family while he arranged housing.
Her name was Mona Youssef, and one of the first things Harb learned was that she was an amazing Lebanese cook.
Her grape leaves. Her kibbeh. Her falafel. All of it was made using her own recipes.
Fifteen years later, Harb is a restaurant owner. He opened Meddys, a quick-service Mediterranean restaurant, at 7906 E. Harry in September 2014. He plans to open a second Meddy’s early next year at 21st and Greenwich.
When he decided he wanted someone in charge of his kitchen so he could focus on his growing business, Harb said he immediately thought of Youssef.
Now Youssef is the newly minted executive chef at Meddys. At age 52, she has her first restaurant job, and it’s running the kitchen and dreaming up new menu items – including meat and spinach pies and lots of Lebanese desserts Wichita hasn’t seen – to add to the menu at the original and new restaurants.
“My kids are getting older, and it’s time for me to do what I want,” Youssef said.
Like Harb, Youssef came to the United States from Lebanon when she was young. At 24, she moved to Wichita to join her husband, Ali, who now is a programmer at Koch Industries.
Youssef had learned to cook Lebanese food from her mother, whom she described as a talented Lebanese cook. In 2006, Youssef opened a catering business out of her house and would prepare Lebanese food for several families in town.
That’s where Youssef perfected her recipes, and she and Harb are now deciding which ones will be added to the Meddys menu when the new restaurant opens. So far, they’ve settled on her delicate meat pies with homemade crust and a spiced ground beef filling; a dessert called atayef, which features tiny pancakes filled with whipped cream closed into a cone shape and topped with ground pistachios and a sweet syrup; and kunafa, a dessert made with cheese on the bottom layer and a sweet crumbly crust on the top.
“She’s the best at this stuff,” Harb said of his old friend. “She adds a great value to the Meddys brand.”