Julie Ann Sageer — Catholic Ambassador for Lebanese Cuisine
“I am going to move back home and teach people how to make Lebanese food”
Julie Ann Sageer (Julie Taboulie) has a passion for food — Lebanese food.
A native of Utica, New York, Sageer grew up in a devout Catholic household. Her parents were immigrants from northern Lebanon and were members of the Syriac Maronites. “Where we lived was like a little Lebanon,” she said. “We attended the Saint Louis Gonzaga Church Maronite Catholic, a beautiful building.”
Her childhood memories of those days, and of years later, confirmed how committed her parents were, attending Mass every Sunday and participating in community activities, church festivals, and gatherings with family and friends. Her father, Edward B. Sageer, was a member of the Holy Name Society, a group of devout men who help build a foundation for the future of Saint Louis Gonzaga Church, and her mother Hinded had Julie and her three older siblings enrolled in Sunday school and learning traditional Lebanese dance.
Food was always present, and she remembers one particular dish — Lebanese fried dough, or zlabyeh, that was freshly prepared and served after Mass with coffee and juice.
“Its aroma brings back all those happy memories,” she said, and probably of all those gatherings in friends’ homes, with walls covered in their spiritual artwork of the Holy Family, Jesus and the Blessed Mother.
“God was always a part of our conversations and was also in our heart and soul. We were praying for our intentions and to keep the family safe and in good health.”
Years later, when Sageer attended Long Island University at C.W. Post Campus in Long Island, New York (today known as LIU Post), her parents moved to the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York.
“The natural surroundings of the rolling hills, farmland, freshwater lakes, and, of course, my mother’s glorious garden gave me great inspiration,” she said.
While in college, Sageer studied communications, and she was always writing, producing and hosting TV shows in school and later when she moved to New York City. And as much as Sageer has always loved her native cuisine, she said it was not until she traveled to Lebanon for the very first time to visit her grandmother and all her mother’s sisters there that changed her outlook.
“I went there in the summer of 2007,” she said, “and stayed there for a monthlong visit with my Sitto (grandmother) in her home that my grandfather built and the home that my mother grew up in as a young girl, and met my aunts and my cousins for the very first time, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I fell in love with Lebanon, the breathtaking land, the spirit of the people, and our world-class cuisine.”
Upon her return home, she called her mom, noting that Lebanese cuisine had no representation in the United States at that time. “I knew people loved Lebanese food and Lebanese people,” she said. “I am going to represent Lebanon, our beautiful country and culture, our gracious and generous people, everybody, my family, my mom and all the chefs and cooks and all of the Lebanese-Americans in the United States and the Lebanese throughout the world. I am going to move back home and teach people how to make Lebanese food,” she said, which is when she launched the Julie Taboulie Lebanese Cuisine cooking project.
That was in 2008, when Sageer started off by showcasing the most well-known Lebanese dishes: hummus, baba ganoush, falafel and taboulie. “We started with a four-week series,” she said, “and it was all sold out. Everyone loved everything. They loved the recipes, the teaching techniques, the freshness and flavors. And my mom was with me from day one.”
By now, Sageer not only has her own website, she also has an award-winning television show series, “Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen,” that airs nationwide on PBS and Create TV (check your local listings for showtimes) and has written her highly anticipated bestselling and award-winning cookbook by the same name, Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen: Authentic Recipes for Fresh and Flavorful Mediterranean Home Cooking published by St. Martin’s Press.
Her debut book won the coveted Gourmand World Cookbook Award for the Best Mediterranean Cookbook in the United States upon its publication in 2017. She is currently working on her next cookbook.
As she looks back over her cooking career, she certainly thanks her mother for helping her become the chef and woman that she is today, but she also said it was “God, who was preparing me for the writing, the producing, the hosting and had so much to do with my training and focus on food. That made it successful.”