By: Kristen Penfield
Creating Her Recipes, Path and Empire!
Julie Ann Sageer’s irresistible Lebanese cuisine quickly gaining demand!
Julie Taboulie’s hot cuisine is exactly that – everyone wants some of it! Her extremely warm, genuine and loving demeanor matches perfectly. Growing up in the suburbs of Central New York, and her early years in Utica, NY, Julie Ann Sageer was always surrounded by family, friends and…. Food, Lebanese food. If you are not familiar with Mediterranean home cooking and the popular Julie Taboulie…,please allow me to introduce you.
Julie Taboulie, who is Julie Ann Sageer, received this loving nickname by her tight-knit family when she was just a little girl. Taboulie is one of the first Middle Eastern grain salads Sageer learned to make at a young age, and it makes perfect sense that it has become an everlasting part of her identity. It was, and still is, one of Sageer’s favorite dishes. Sageer lost her beloved father when she was only six years old. Her step-father, Richard, has been all she could have asked for and more; their relationship is very strong.
Our Publisher, Mary McCandless and I were lucky enough to meet Sageer in her stunning; McKenzie-Childs accented kitchen where each episode is filmed (but we will come back to that later). While Sageer was talking to us and answering questions, she was happily cooking for us as well. She never skipped a beat. Listening to Sageer speak of her successes, watching her cook amazing food and noticing out her window several peacocks, roosters, Guinea hens and rolling hills…yes, I’d say this was one of our favorite interviews.
“I have always had an obsession with food and cooking, since I was a little girl. Growing up the youngest of four in a family-owned restaurant, food was always a focus. Both my parents are from Lebanon. Though it wasn’t the path I thought I’d follow after college, I could not be happier. My dream is now a reality,” said Sageer. “None of this could have happened without my Hindi “ (mother), added Sageer, with whom Sageer is extremely close.
Sageer went to college in New York City. Afterwards, in 2007, she became a successful television producer, writer and host for segments on Bloomberg’s NYCTV. Sageer said, “I absolutely loved it. But it was not driving me. I was especially fond of the cooking segments on TV. I truly related to it.” Shortly after, Sageer noticed there were no cooking shows focused on Lebanese or Middle Eastern cooking. Sageer laughed, “The professional chefs I did see cooking Lebanese food were doing it wrong!” Deep down, Sageer’s passion was building inside of her. She wanted to teach people – all people and any people, how to cook Lebanese food. There simply was not enough representation.
The turning point for Sageer truly came after an incredible, month-long visit to Arde, Lebanon. “Later that year  I was able to travel and finally see the country of Lebanon, of which I had heard so much about over the years. When my mother came to the United States, she came only with her brothers and left behind her four sisters and parents. I cherish my family and especially my Sitto (maternal grandmother). She would visit us in the U.S. on occasion, but I wanted to see Lebanon for myself,” said Sageer.
That trip was immeasurably important and meaningful to Sageer. She met many family members for the first time, explored her Lebanese roots and embraced her beloved culture. Sageer’s family in Lebanon were exactly as she was – warm, friendly, loving and wonderful cooks! They shared countless recipes and Sageer amp ed-up her Arabic speaking and learned much more about the language, she so adored.
“I returned to New York and continued with my job at NYCTV, but knew I wanted to make a change,” said Sageer, and that, she did. Sageer called her mother at home in Upstate NY and said, “I am coming home, and I am going to teach Lebanese cooking.”
Once again, Sageer’s mom was by her side to support her. Sageer moved home the following year, began teaching Lebanese cooking classes all over the area – Liverpool, Skaneateles, Ithaca, Baldwinsville to name a few. She also started research as well, as to the status of Lebanese cooking classes. I accomplished many of my cooking classes with the help of Library Director Carol Johnson, who is now the Director of the Mundy Branch of Onondaga Country Public Libraries.
Sageer stated, “My cooking classes were a huge hit, each one sold-out. People loved them, because it was different and primarily the people attending the classes were non Lebanese. I started with a small budget and introduction courses. I taught how to cook Taboulie, Hummus, Falafel and Baba Ganoush.”
All the while, Sageer’s mom was right by her side. She continued to teach Sageer new dishes while Sageer would instruct her classes.
Then, an incredible turning point.
Sageer said, “I was going to the library in Skaneateles when I spotted Carrie Lazarus, news anchor for NewsChannel 9 and then host of Bridge Street Live Show, walking down the street. While contemplating talking to her, I decided it’s now or never, so I approached Carrie Lazarus, introduced myself and informed her of my passion for teaching Lebanese cooking. It was a bold move.”
It was a move that would prove to be valuable in Sageer’s march towards accomplishing her larger-than-life goals. Immediately, Lazarus was interested, warm, helpful and educated Sageer on possible next steps. The two quickly became friends and have a bond that lasts to this day. Just recently, Lazarus featured Sageer on “Extraordinary Live!” which showcases talents of young CNY residents.
After their chance meeting, Lazarus had Sageer as a guest on Bridge Street. The episode was a hit with not only viewers, but with the news station staff that was lucky to sample Sageer’s cooking from the episode.
“The show went really well,” said Sageer. “So well that I became a regular on Bridge Street. It was so much fun! I learned a lot and that naturally led to the next step in reaching my goals,” she added.
Soon, she had her own PBS show, Cooking with Julie Taboulie. “My background in communications; as a writer and producer, really helped me through my process of putting packages together for stations to view,” admitted Sageer. The show, an inspiring culinary exploration of the world of Lebanese and Middle Eastern Cuisines, focused on the four basic fundamentals of life – fresh, flavorful, family and fun. The series is produced on location amid the breathtaking lakes and landscapes in our area of Central New York – many don’t even recognize the beauty!
She has grown even more! Her NEW show, Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen is now airing nationwide on PBS stations. It is a combination of Lebanese and Middle Eastern cuisine, culture and customs. “Where fresh is best, family comes first, and the foods are FULL of flavor. She shares her tips, tricks and techniques, so we at home can successfully recreate her recipes – they are Julie Taboulie tested, and Mama approved!”
Sageer said, “I am just thrilled with how supportive my fans are. It is a labor of love. I fell in love with Lebanon, and I feel so privileged to be representing my heritage. I felt a powerful message while in Lebanon; I felt God’s message. My family in Lebanon is exactly as I am – their spirit, their welcoming love and resilience was amazing. It was always about the food. I am lucky to be doing this.” As well, Sageer knows how truly blessed she is to be filming near her mother. “I am proud to represent Central New York in my show, where it is filmed. There are countless, beautiful wineries and vineyards and stunning scenery. It has drawn visitors as they are surprised to learn I am filming in Central New York. I love to represent local items for my viewers.”
I asked Sageer what advice she had for those of us who want to be fabulous in the kitchen, as she is. Sageer replied, “Be present and instinctual. Taste along the way, while you are cooking so that you know what to add. The food will tell you how to season it. Taste and smell your ingredients as well. The food will guide you. Have generosity in your cooking; don’t hold back on ingredients.” She proved her advice in the meal she served us.
Now back to Julie Taboulie’s actual kitchen. It looks as if you’re stepping onto the set of Food Network TV. The beautiful white arched and glass cabinets are offset by the marble counters, blue glass and McKenzie Childs Courtly Check; Parchment checked, Piccadilly and more. The vintage glass chandelier hangs graciously above her home-grown spices and vegetables. Everything has heart and love attached. It is very noticeable. As well, Sageer’s endless, vibrant, colorful Lilly Pulitzer outfits embody her personality and her kitchen to a tee. Sageer gave many thanks to her Producers and Underwriters, Visit Syracuse, David Holder, Carol Eaton and Nakita Jenkowski. Sageer continues on the road as well, as a guest on various traveling cooking shows in New York, Ottawa, Albany and many more where she is happy to meet and teach thousands of guests of all communities.
Through it all, Sageer’s mom has stood by her daughter and will forever support her goals and hard work. They’re partners for life. Recently, Sageer and her mother landed in Los Angeles while they worked hard on promotions. “My mother and I were in an elevator to meet another producer. My mom looked at me and said, ‘I thought you were coming home to teach cooking classes?’ We both laughed and hugged, knowing there is so much more success unfolding and even more on the horizon.
So what’s next for Julie Taboulie? A LOT!
This past June 6th, Sageer’s brand new, 296-paged, breathtaking and mouthwatering cookbook, Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen: Authentic Recipes for Fresh and Flavorful Mediterranean Home Cooking was published by St. Martin’s Press and her photographer, Alexandra Grablewski, have been so supportive and positive of her vision, her environment and helping her to grow “Team Taboulie.” Julie Taboulie’s bond with her mother is noticed in an instant on page one of her cookbook recognition: “I would not be here without you. I could not do this without you. I wouldn’t be the woman and chef that I am today without you. Because you believed in me, I believed in me. I believe in you. I am blessed to have you as my mother. I love you with all of my heart and soul forever more.”
Wait, there’s more…Julie Taboulie recently traveled to Universal Studios in Hollywood, California to join Hallmark Channels “Home & Family” daytime talk show! Sageer joined hosts Debbie Matenopoulos and Mark Steines to create and feature some of her authentic recipes from her cookbook.
Wait, there’s even more…at the beginning of June, Sageer traveled
to Los Angeles to work with her produce partner; Melissa’s Variety Produce, Inc. on “Freshest Ideas in Produce” who hosted her
on Facebook Live! Julie was also a recent guest on NBC’s Today’s Show segment, “Today Food” where she cooked for Hoda and the Today Show staff. There are more exciting things coming her way.
Stay tuned for more!
Sageer will be at the NYS Fair’s Women’s Day Event on Wednesday August 30th. She will be at the Women of Upstate NY magazine’s booth where you can meet her and also purchase her cookbook!
Her brand new, cookbook is on sale now via her website, and available everywhere books are sold!
Buy it and your family will thank you. It was wonderful to meet you, Julie Taboulie.
A very special Thank you to Alexandra Grablewski, John Karle and St. Martins Press.