Erar, 45, was living with his family in Jordan when he was diagnosed with cancer at age 17. He came to the United States to have his arm removed and then went back home. He moved to the United States permanently in 1992, and to Tupelo in 2001.
“I have no limitations,” said Erar, who owns a wholesale business in east Tupelo, two convenience stores in Lee County and one each in Pontotoc and Clay counties. “I can’t lift a large hot pot, but if it’s cold, I can handle it. I have no problems chopping. I like to use a big knife.”
Erar said the day after he had the cancerous arm removed, he tied his own shoes with one hand.
“It’s not something I even thought about,” he said. “You know you don’t have the arm anymore. You have to adapt. You have to learn.”
Erar’s two children – 8-year-old Asma and 6-year-old Omar – didn’t even realize for many years that their dad was different.
“The kids have learned to do things with just one arm because that’s how they see me do things,” he said. “My daughter learned to crawl on one arm because that’s how I did it when I’d show her how to crawl. When they talk on the phone, they hold it under their ear instead of using their hands. We encourage them to use their hands, but they’re kids.”
In the kitchen, Erar is a one-man wonder. He usually prepares big meals for his family three or four nights a week; Ruth cooks the other nights or the family goes out to eat. But sometimes, other chefs don’t like to see him coming.
“He’s the type, if he goes to a restaurant and he doesn’t really like the food, he’ll ask to see the chef,” said Ruth Erar, who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. “He’ll say, ‘This was good, but I can tell you how to make it better.’ And then he does. He’s ruined us. We always like to go out to a restaurant, but then later we admit that whatever he cooks is better.”
Erar cooks a lot of the Arabic dishes he grew up on – boiled meats and heavy sauces served over fried bread or rice.
“When I came here I would want to eat the food like I was used to,” he said. “I would call my mom on the phone in Jordan and ask her. Now, I just do the dish. I taste and I know what it needs.”
Erar said in Jordan, his family – he’s one of 12 children – cooked a lot of vegetables lamb, chicken, beef and rice.
“It takes time to cook this food,” he said. “There are a lot of steps to it. It’s not like you just throw it on the grill. You have to fry something and then cook the meat and then make the sauce. A lot of dishes you just dip pita bread into the food. We use pita bread like a spoon or a fork.”
Erar toys with the idea of opening an international grocery store at some point in the future. Or maybe he’ll have his own restaurant.
“Or his own cooking show,” said Ruth, laughing. “He loves to watch the Food Network. We keep saying he could have his own show called ‘The One-Armed Cook.’”
Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.