We had the good fortune of connecting with A. John Aouad and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi A. John, what do you want people to remember about you?
Most people think of a legacy as being property or an inheritance but I think it’s more than that. I believe that the values I live by are worth more than any material possessions I own. I want my children and descendants to know my personal story about how I overcame the challenges I was faced with to do what I never knew would be possible until I did it. I want to be remembered as a person who didn’t quit in the face of adversity, but kept moving toward my dreams, even when others told me I couldn’t do it. My hope is that my children will follow their dreams in the same way and live the lives they choose, regardless of what others may say. To me that would be the best legacy I could leave. It would honor the life I lived.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
At a very young age I learned that creating food is as much an art as it is a talent. From the way food is set on the plate, all the way to the garnish is important because you feed the eyes before you feed the stomach. Food that is pleasing to the eye will ultimately please the stomach. I began working at my father’s restaurant at the age of 15 as a dishwasher first because my dad told me the best way to learn the taste of food is to smell the pot after cooking. My other tasks were cleaning the restaurant and delivering orders. At the age of 18, I began assisting in food preparation but I was always the master dishwasher. What sets me apart from others is that I was born, raised, and educated in Lebanon, and my restaurant is the only “authentic” Lebanese restaurant in all of Western Michigan. When I immigrated to the United States, I attended the Secchia Institute of Culinary Arts in Grand Rapids, MI and trained under award winning culinary professors, and world famous chefs. I was taught by the best in the industry. I was challenged because I did not speak English well when I came to this country and not only did I have to learn the English language, but I also had to learn to read recipes in English as well. I am pleased to say that I have perfected my English, and I can read any recipe given to me. I am very proud of the fact that in the 27 years I’ve been in business, I have never sacrificed quality for cost. I use only the best cuts of meat, the freshest vegetables, and all imported spices. When my customers ask for my recipes, I proudly give them, but I warn my customers that they will never be able to duplicate my recipes because there is one ingredient I cannot give them, and that is my love. I am passionate about what I do, and no one can re-create someone else’s passion in their cooking. If someone asks me to eat something off their plate, I have to be able to do that in front of them. Therefore, I will not serve any item to a customer that I won’t eat myself.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
When friends visit the area, before we do anything I treat them to a meal at my restaurant or at my home. I love to cook for and serve the people I love. Entertaining personal guests gives me the opportunity to create feasts that will express my appreciation for those I care about. It also gives me the opportunity to bake my favorite pastry recipes, such as varieties of Lebanese baklawa, which I also serve year round to my customers. Since the COVID-19 pandemic restricted public gatherings, our entertainment choices are limited. But Michigan is surrounded by the 5 Great Lakes, so natural beauty is all around us. We are never more than 6 minutes away from water anywhere we go. Fishing, boating, and water sports fill summer hours, while winter sports, such as skiing and snowboarding are popular. Within a mile of my restaurant is Heritage Hill Historic District, a residential neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 1300 homes date back to 1843 and around the turn of the century. They represent an array of different architectural styles. They were built by lumber barons and the architecture is among the most unique you can find anywhere in the country. Two of the homes were built by Frank Lloyd Wright. Our options are limited at this time, but it just means we need to be more creative. This year has been challenging, but there is always a silver lining to any dark cloud. The good that has come from the issues plaguing 2020 is that families, including my own, are spending more time together. Life has slowed down and we have the opportunity to discover ourselves and reflect on our values in life. Personally, as I reflect on almost 30 years in business, I do so with gratitude for the life I’ve been privileged to lead in a wonderful country, with an amazing family, many friends, and a positive outlook for the future.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would like to dedicate my Shout Out to my dad, Jean Aouad. He was more than a parent. He was my teacher in life and business, and my mentor. My dad inspired me to become a chef, and I stood on his shoulders when I opened my restaurant, Osta’s Deli & Catering, in downtown Grand Rapids, in 1990, and shortly after his passing, Osta’s Lebanese Cuisine LLC, in East Grand Rapids Gaslight Village in 1993. All of my recipes were first his, and I am proud to carry forward his legacy. My dad was a Master Chef not only in Lebanon, but in Europe and the Middle East as well. Competing with 35,000 chefs in a competition in Geneva, Switzerland, he won first prize. It was there that King Faisal of Saudi Arabia discovered him and took him back to Saudi Arabia to work as his personal chef. Jean Aouad’s aspiration was to marry and start a family, and so after a time, he moved back to his homeland and opened Osta’s Lebanese Cuisine in the heart of the Ashrafeih section of Beirut, Lebanon. With my mother by his side as his sous chef, they ran a successful business while raising five children.
Other: http://ostaslebanese.com/menu/ (616)456-8999 Trip Advisor Yelp Google Business