Food runs deep in the Elkhouri family. Way back before opening the now almost 12-year-old Cedar’s Café in Melbourne, mother and owner Marlene was teaching her children how to cook.
“My earliest memory of food would be peeling garlic and helping make dinner,” recalls her daughter Toni, who now holds her own titles of chef and co-owner of the restaurant. On the menu, Marlene serves traditional Lebanese food: Tabouli, kibbeh, falafel, grape leaves and more. On the “special” menus and dinners, Toni brings in a new school approach, creating innovative fare that draws on her Lebanese roots.
Looking back, Toni recalls, “My mother always wanted to share her passion for food and flavor with anyone who came through our door. She not only taught all of her children to cook, but to love what you make and take pride in it. This has now trickled down to her granddaughter Mia who is not even two and already peeling garlic and rolling dough.”
Food in the Elkhouri family begins here for Toni, but for Marlene it goes even further back; “All my life I loved to cook! I always liked being in the kitchen, since I was young. I took some ideas from my mother in Lebanon, but I always took the idea and made my own recipe,” said Marlene, thinking back to when she grew up in Lebanon. “Open your pantry, see what you have, mix it together and make a dish. This is how I learned to cook from my parents, my grandparents, and from my mother-in-law. They taught us how to make a meal from nothing. Back then we couldn’t afford everything. We never had meat all week. We had meat one day, fish on Fridays, maybe chicken on another day, then the rest of the week we ate vegetarian. We used to plant everything, tomatoes, parsley, like I do at my house now.”
While creatively very different in their dishes, Marlene and Toni both have the same approach – simple, delicious, real food, created daily with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. And they’re not doing it because it’s trendy; they’ve been doing it all along. “I promised myself when my kids grew up I was going to open a small cafe, this is my dream. I don’t want it big so I can keep the quality and make everything from scratch.”
Still in the kitchen full time at the restaurant these days, Marlene is still driven by the passion she started Cedar’s Café with, more so now than ever. “Anything in life, you have to love what you do. If you are cooking just to cook because you have to cook, it is not going to be the same as if you put all your passion and all your love into the food. This is how I taught my kids, you have to put all your love in the food when you cook. We have to leave our foods and our traditions to the kids and grandkids so they can carry them on. This restaurant, the workers and guests, they are all my family.”
Food runs deep in the Elkhouri family, and they are still proving it, one fresh, delicious, well-loved ingredient at a time.
4100 North Wickham Road, Unit 137
Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday, Noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.