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Connecting Through Food: Khalil’s Story

Khalil El-Chammas taught us to make hummus and pita bread as part of our Red Door Kitchen a few weeks ago. He also brought his mother's recipe for tabbouleh salad and baba ganoush. We were also grateful for additional food from Phoenician Taverna.  When Khalil first came to St. Barnabas, he connected through our Red Door Kitchen events and began making new friends through these gatherings. Khalil grew up in Lebanon and shared with us about where he is from, his life, and his love of cooking.

Growing Up in Lebanon

My father was Roman Catholic and was from Tyre, known for its Phoenician history, and my mother was Maronite Catholic and Greek Orthodox and is from Mount Lebanon. My father died when we were very young. My grandmother came to live with us. My mother, sister and brother-in-law still live in Lebanon.


During Lebanon's Civil War, I grew up in different countries - this gave me the priceless experience of meeting a lot of people from different cultures over the years.


Coming to the States for Work and Finding Love


I came to the United States from Lebanon and did my residency at Duke University in pediatrics. I then went on to do a fellowship at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. I met my wife Sarah there. She is a dietitian and specializes in working with people with feeding tubes and trachs. After my time in Milwaukee, I was considering returning to Lebanon or I could continue to work in an underserved community here. Sarah and I were committed to each other, and so I decided to stay.


In 2014, we got married and we moved to Des Moines, Iowa. It is a beautiful city and we loved it. We were both academic and wanted to do research and Cincinnati Children’s started recruiting me in my first year in Des Moines. I said, “Well, I have a two-year contract.” My mentor knew me as a fellow and he waited for me till I was done. They also recruited Sarah to come to Children’s Hospital at that time.


When did you come to Cincinnati and what is your "day job"


We relocated to Cincinnati 8 years ago, besides being a full-time husband and dad, my side hustle is being a pediatric gastroenterologist.


Initially, I wanted to be a Cardiologist, I’m hands-on and like to do procedures, but working in Cardiology at Duke’s Heart Center, the patients were very sick. In Gastroenterology, people are healthier. And there is so much variety in GI - I love it.


Both of our kids were born here in Cincinnati. I’ve never been in one place so long before!


When did you start cooking and who in your family was your greatest influence?

I started cooking in my adult years. My greatest influence was my mother and grandmother who I had observed cooking while growing up. My grandmother was all about the hosting, and celebrations, so I learned how to present, host, and serve people.  My mom has this cookbook that I’m dying to have her translate – it is full of all these sweets and everything - amazing food.


Whenever we had school parties my mom always volunteered to make cake.  My favorite cake that she made me was when I had a science project and I chose Saturn and she made a Saturn cake with the rings made of peanut butter.


One of my first gifts to Sarah was when we were dating, I made a basket of cookies and I had doilies at the bottom. And she was perplexed as to why I would use doilies. Later, a friend of hers told her that the Lebanese always have ways to present food. Cooking continues to be a way that I show my love and care for people.


 Thanks to Khalil for sharing his story and gifts with our St. Barnabas family!


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