CHEF HABIB BAZZI
Dearborn is home to more than 30,000 of Metro Detroit's 220,000 Arab-Americans, and Lebanese Muslims are the largest subgroup of Arab Americans in Dearborn. Of that group, many claim roots in Bint Jebail (alternately spelled Bint Jbail), a large village near the Israeli border. Among the many interviews we’ve conducted throughout the filming of ‘Our Arab American Story’, Officer Badoun Bazzi, Chamber of Commerce Chairman Nasser Beydoun and now, Chef Habib Bazzi list the town, often nicknamed ‘Capital of the Liberated South’, in their biographies.
In Dearborn, it’s fitting that Bint Jebail, also the site of considerable conflict during the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese War, be recognized for its centuries-old cultural integrity rather than the recent violence, and the The Bint Jebail Cultural Center serves that function well.
The culinary jewel of the Cultural Center is the banquet hall, which has received national attention due to the efforts of Executive Chef Habib Bazzi.
Born in Bint Jebail in 1964, Bazzi studied in Sayda, Lebanon before finding work in the African diamond industry. So far from home, he began to experiment with some of the recipe he recalled from his childhood, and gradually gravitated to cooking as his true life’s calling. To this day, he credits his mother’s deft handling of spices with his success. “I still call her when I run into a problem in the kitchen—she’s always got an answer, and it’s always right!”
Chef Bazzi signed on to the Bint Jebail Cultural Center in 1994, soon transforming the marginally successful banquet hall into a powerhouse, tripling business in a few months. Key to growth has been his tireless dedication and remarkable use of spices, which add twists to familiar—but readily available recipes, giving him an edge over the competition. “I have nearly five hundred spices in the kitchen,” he claims proudly. “And I use them all.”
Along with a crack staff, he now has the wherewithal to serve 1500 meals a day, and the Bint Jebail Cultural Center has become a favorite reception hall for numerous local weddings. Although the town of Bint Jebail is largely Shi’a Muslim, Chef Bazzi points to the wide variety of nationalities which choose the Cultural Center as the site of important events. That’s due to the simple application of his own hard work and to the vision of the Center’s founder, Chairman Mohammed Turfe and the ninety-nine Executive Board Members, which intended the location to promote and enhance understanding, cooperation, and friendly relations between many different cultures.
As Chef Bazzi continues to grow, both personally and professionally (he lives in Dearborn with his wife and six children), he has been named ‘Exclusive Caterer for the Islamic Center of America’. The title arises from his most ambitious event, catering a sit-down banquet for the Al-Mabarrat Charitable Organization at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn in October of 2005 for 1900 people, and later, in October of 2006, feeding over 2500 people for the same organization’s fundraising dinner.
His community support extends to organizations like the Karmanos Cancer Center, Oakwood Hospital Medical Center’s Cancer Awareness Program, The SADR Foundation, Ribbon of Hope, and he is the Diamond Sponsor for the Bint Jebail Cultural Center’s 2006 and 2007 Annual Scholarship Banquets, where Judges and Senators are always on the honoree lists. He received an award from the Muscular Dystrophy Association for hosting its first and second annual ‘Friends of Hope Gala’ and proudly sponsored the Dystrophy’s Annual Lock-up event in August of 2006.
A chef who proudly intertwines his Lebanese background with a profound love of his American home, Bazzi has steered away from the politics that is rife in both his former Bint Jebail home and his new one in Dearborn, choosing instead and has chosen to make his mark in the most satisfying center of any house: the kitchen.