Cooking has been a lifelong passion for Zatar’s chefs/owners, Waiel and Kelly Majid. Waiel, raised in the garden oasis village of Bakuba, Iraq, grew up eating food prepared with fresh ingredients plucked straight from the family garden, local fruit orchards and date palm groves. As a child, it was Waiel’s morning chore to fetch fresh bread from the village baker’s oven. Entranced by the baker’s skill, Waiel built his own clay oven in his backyard at the age of nine to bake his own bread. He has been cooking ever since. Kelly, a native Californian, is also a self-taught chef. Raised in the countryside and a lifelong avid gardener, she taught herself to cook preparing food she cultivated in the garden.
Zatar opened its doors in September of 2002. The Majid’s crafted the tables themselves with Portuguese tiles, brought back leather menu covers from Morocco and Syrian chandeliers from Damascus, Ceramic platters collected from their travels around the Mediterranean adorn the walls alongside colorful murals of the Mediterranean.
For Zatar’s chefs/owners, Waiel and Kelly Majid, the preparation of each dish begins with the planting of a seed. In their terraced, sunny, hillside backyard in Oakland, they cultivate many of the herbs, vegetables and fruits used in the restaurant’s kitchen. Pomegranates, plums, pears, apples, figs, persimmons, , apricots, mulberries, peaches and citrus occupy the top of the hill, while the rest is divided into vegetable terraces. Herbs and flowers are planted throughout, attracting an abundance of hummingbirds and bees for pollination.
Of course, tending to over a half acre of vegetables and fruits is time-consuming, hard work. But as in the kitchen, the Majids love to get their hands dirty and do the work themselves. This is the main reason the restaurant has limited hours. However, regular diners know that Kelly and Waiel are often willing to open the restaurant for private parties any day of the week.
The Majids also raise chickens for fresh eggs. The chickens are fed food scraps left by diners and all raw kitchen scraps are composted for the garden. This not only keeps the restaurant’s waste at practically nothing, it also nourishes the garden and keeps the chickens happy and well fed.
For Waiel and Kelly, organic, sustainable farming just makes incredible sense – it’s good for the environment, good for us, and with the use of such high quality, fresh ingredients, the food simply tastes better!
Our garden was featured in the Autumn 2006 issue of Organic Gardening Magazine.