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Friday, 25 July 2014

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Mourad followed his nose

THINK Moroccan cooking, and the image of colourful spices piled up in a bustling souk may spring to mind.

But you don’t have to be in Marrakech to be inspired by the rich flavours and aromas associated with the country’s centuries-old cuisine. For Mourad Lahlou, a native Moroccan who moved to San Francisco at the age of 17 to study, experimenting with food was a way of tapping into his family’s heritage and curing his homesickness.

“I had no recipes, only crystal-clear memories – a richly-layered stew of flavours, smells, stories, people and voices,” writes Lahlou in his cookbook Mourad: New Moroccan.

With the help of vivid daydreams – such as of his mother’s kefta (meatballs in tomato sauce) – and a lot of trial and error, he was able to crystallise his memories and conjure up dishes reminiscent of home.

“During my whole life in Morocco, I had never cooked a single thing,” he says.

“Men just didn’t do that, at least not at home. But, it turned out, I had been cooking in my mind all those years. Suddenly I was understanding it and I loved it.”

After wowing his friends with Moroccan dinner parties, Lahlou abandoned his plans to become an economist and opened a restaurant, Kasbah, with his brother.

Five years later, they relocated, and called the new place Aziza, after their mother. It became the only Moroccan restaurant in North America to be awarded a Michelin star.

Lahlou realised he couldn’t create Moroccan food exactly as he had eaten it in Marrakech, as the ingredients available in California made it impossible to do so.

“Before long, I was doing the Moroccan version of what so many inventive northern California chefs have done,” he says.

“I adapted what I knew and loved to make it work with the beautiful ingredients I can get here, and then just followed my nose, my heart, and my palate.”

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