In 2018, chef and Syrian refugee Nabil Attard achieved his dream of opening a restaurant in France. At Närenj, he combines elements of Syrian home cooking with French gastronomy. “I told myself, ‘You have to offer high quality cuisine, with high quality ingredients, in the style of French chefs, while still keeping the original flavors that have been in my head since childhood.’”
A dish that best exemplifies this combination is yabrak, a bundle of stuffed grape leaves, rice, saffron flower, and lamb. “In Syria, we stuff everything,” chef Attard laughs. “Usually when we make it, the mom, the daughter, the sons, everyone helps out.” While the yabrak itself is traditionally Syrian, the way it’s served — bundled and topped with lemon garlic sauce and a tender piece of lamb — embodies the French style of service chef Attard admires.
Other popular dishes at the restaurant include kubeh with cooked yogurt, and the restaurant’s namesake desert: närenj flower, or bitter orange flower, with rice pudding and pistachios.
“There came a time when we had to leave Syria for complicated reasons, to restart everything from zero. And I told myself when I arrived in France, this is the right moment. I must accomplish this dream,” says chef Attard. “Sometimes we don’t have a choice. We are forced to succeed.”