Challenge-Loving French-Algerian Chef Serves Food on Naked Bodies

Samia Behaya, the French-Algerian behind New York’s “dinner over bodies” (Photo by Thomas Chesseboeuf/@ThomChess via French Morning)

At the entrance of the restaurant Lot 45, a former hangar for trucks in Bushwick, the gong solemnly sounds on Friday, June 16. The man hitting the instrument is bare-chested. Beside him, a woman in fishnet stockings and a bra strikes languid poses, a long yellow snake wrapped around her neck.

Behind them, nine naked people lie down over beds decorated with flower petals and candles. Sushi, asparagus, beef cuts and fruits, among other foods, are laid on their bodies by the also scantily-clad “designers.” The tone has been set. The “Summer” edition of the “Lust” soirée, an erotic show imagined by American artist Abby Hertz, is ready to start.

In the kitchen, French-Algerian chef Samia Behaya has no time to enjoy the show. This dinner represents two months of preparation, she says. Some 200 clients, who answer without distinction to the name “darling,” are expected to taste her dishes straight from the skin. “It is a challenge to cook something that will be served over a body. The food must be more important than the body.” Since Samia Behaya joined the Lust adventure in November 2016, three soirées of this type have been organized at Lot 45, the restaurant and cocktail bar she opened in 2014. The next edition will take place in Thanksgiving.

For this energetic 41-year-old woman, it’s about trying new things. “I love challenges. Routine annoys me,” she says. In 2006, she created her “family” in Brooklyn, when she opened the restaurant Simple in Williamsburg. Far from the sexy spirit of Lust, Simple would be her “baby.” Back then, the challenge was the neighborhood. “There were almost no restaurants in South Williamsburg, and drug trafficking was all over,” she remembers, sitting at the Bedford Avenue bistro. “The day I visited those venues, there were people fighting in the street, but I wasn’t afraid. I loved this place right away.”

A “body” is covered with food at Lot 45, during the show Lust, on Friday, June 16. (Photo by Charlotte Oberti via French Morning)

At Simple, she serves French and Algerian cuisine in a friendly atmosphere. “My Arab bread is what has attracted the customers,” she said, while bringing some to the table along with eggplant caviar. “What matters is that the customers see that there is heart on the plate.”

Samia Behaya dreamed about her American adventure since she was 16, living in Grenoble. “In France, I was always trying to find myself. French? Algerian? It was hard for me to integrate.” When she was 20, she flew to the U.S. “When I arrived, I knew I was home. In the beginning, I would use my three-month stay (the duration of the ESTA Visa Waiver Program) one after the other. Then I worked at a bed and breakfast. I didn’t speak a word of English; I learned a lot,” she explains.

“Today, I live in Brooklyn. There is a sense of community, it’s like a village, it reminds me of Algeria.” This former participant on the American TV food show “Chopped” travels to Algeria twice a year to get inspiration from Berber techniques.

Meanwhile, in New York, she must adapt to the market. “People here lack culinary culture,” says the naturalized U.S. citizen. “For example, if I want to sell my merguez d’agneau, I have to call them ‘sausage,’ without mentioning ‘agneau’ (lamb). Otherwise, people don’t buy them. The same with feuilles de brique (thin pastry sheets, similar to phyllo dough), they don’t know what that is.”

Samia Behaya asserts this desire to bridge cultural gaps. Since 2009, she has been offering Vietnamese cuisine several weeks per night at Simple, in partnership with another chef. In 2011, she also opened The Marquet, a small shop housed inside the restaurant, inspired by the Paris concept-store Merci. There, a French-American interior designer sells decorative items brought from her travels all over the world. “There is so much you can do. And in the kitchen, you can do lots of things with nothing.”

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