From cookbooks to classics: Which book gives Moe Attalah the goosebumps?

By Bhavana Gopinath – 

Moe’s Newport Restaurant in Westboro is a beloved local institution famous for its cloud-like pita bread, innovative pizzas and, as the headquarters of the Elvis Sighting Society, also for all things Elvis. The owner, Moe Atallah, personifies all that is good about the eatery – the cheerful, efficient service and a desire to please the client.

These are lessons rooted in hard work, learned when Moe turned around a family restaurant in his native Lebanon.

“I’m a people person, that’s why I succeeded,” he says. “It’s not just about the food, people treasure the experience.”

This understanding proved valuable when he moved to Canada in 1976, and built his life from the ground up by working in several eateries in Ottawa and eventually buying his own place.

Natural host that Moe is, it’s not surprising that Moe’s reading list contains cookbooks. A proud owner of 300–400 food-related books, he has recommendations for must-reads: the Cooks Illustrated publications for mastery of technique, and Donna Hay, the food stylist and author, for presentation and artistry in food. To master home-style Lebanese cuisine, he suggests Lebanese Kitchen (published by St. Eligias Church), available at Lebanese grocers.

From cookbooks to classics: Moe was enthralled by Les Misérables as a schoolboy. “I couldn’t stop turning the pages,” he says. He admits that he doesn’t remember anything by Shakespeare or other writers that he read in school but Les Misérables has taken root in his mind. He has read it cover-to-cover several times, has seen the musical, and still gets goosebumps talking about it.

Moe’s days and weekends are spent in his restaurants, and his mind buzzes with catering orders and raw material supplies. His busy life doesn’t leave him with much free time for recreational reading.

“I really want to read more,” he says ruefully. If he were granted the gift of time, what would he read? His wish list has two broad areas. One, he wants to improve his knowledge about Canadian history. Two, he is fascinated by nature, specifically animal behaviour, and would like to understand it better.

If feeding people is your vocation, you have to find a way to nourish your own soul too. So now, Moe has a plan: he will soon take some time to relax, a cruise perhaps. He will pack many books – about Canada and nature (and some cookbooks!) – and feast in the sun with them.

This post is part of our KT summer reads issue. Read all of our other profiles right here.

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