Puneet Dhall: Searching for origins in a jar of hummus

A strong link to identifying with one another is through our place of birth.

But for me, this presents a very mixed message. I was born in London and in my house I ate Punjabi food, our language was a mix of Punjabi, Hindi and English and I was equally proficient in reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the Sikh Jap-Ji-Sahib. I had two ways to look at this – either I was an outcast, a stranger in both cultures.

Or I was an enigmatic hybrid confident in all of the cultures that created me, and contributing to a kaleidoscope of new and progressive culture. In reality, the answer was a rather messy splodge of both versions resulting in the amazing creation that is ‘me’.

And so I am always interested to hear of the colourful stories of others. Samir Allen, chef/owner of Gemmayze St in St Kevins Arcade off K’ Road is NZ born and of Lebanese heritage. His grandfather and mother (Samir’s Lebanese lineage) were both born here in Dunedin.

The family has roots in New Zealand harking back 140 years. Samir is ‘Kiwi as’ and proud of it, but the Lebanese connection has always been a strong soul food for Samir, much in the same way that my Indian roots hold dear to me.

Samir’s family has always had a connection to hospitality. His grandfather was proprietor of Wayne’s Hotel in Dunedin and his mother ran a Lebanese restaurant in Dunedin. Samir was raised in the kitchen. At the age of 10, he and the family moved to Auckland.

Still a teenager, Samir went to work at Hell’s Pizza and attended AUT Chef school, and then worked at his mum’s Turkish restaurant Paasha. Samir’s ‘moment’ arrived as he connected with acclaimed Chef Ben Bailey. Samir worked under Ben’s mentorship at The Grove and then Baduzzi.

Still in his 20s, Samir then took the leap and jumped on a plane to work and tour in Lebanon. His connection with the culture and cuisine strengthened. His first night in Beirut was on the famed Gemmayze St. The place had an impact and on return to Auckland Samir wasted no time in setting up his new restaurant named after this iconic street.

And here I am now sitting at the table of a mature, intelligent and talented man (and still so young). We have a dish, a speciality, and an incredible wine before us all weaving together so deliciously. I gaze out of the giant atrium windows, Myers Park stretching out below me, and it feels heavenly.

The dish: A mouthwatering, 12-hour lamb shoulder, cooked at 82 degrees in pomegranate jus served with cucumber, mint yogurt and red onions.

The wine: 2014 Marsyas from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The wine, nine years old, is so ‘in the zone’ right now – succulent and satin-edged tannins, beautiful red and black fruit. A Bordeaux blend that can easily be regarded as a Grand Cru.

The speciality: Samir’s grandfather used to have a phrase that would often ring loud whenever he saw a good idea. He would say, “You should bottle that!” So Samir has done just that.
One of his signature dishes, The Gemmayze Hummus is now available for you in a jar and to enjoy at home. It looks beautiful. Paprika infused oil caps the most incredible whipped chickpea, tahini, lemon and roasted garlic hummus.

The texture is glossy and has a sheen, and as you break the red paprika oil into the hummus, you find the most phenomenal taste sensation. A ‘Kiwi As’ Lebanese Mezza from our very own Samir Allen. What more could you want? (PUNEET DHALL)


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Published: May 2024