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Food Blogger Visit to Magical Marrakesh, Morocco

I had one of the best holidays earlier this year in Marrakesh, Morocco, a most inspiring, creative & magical place especially for a food blogger. I stayed at the Riad Les Trois Mages (The Three Kings) in the Medina, or old city.

Beautiful Courtyard at Riad Le Trois Mages

The historic house, has been beautifully restored by owners Anna & Tony, and run as a boutique Riad.  We arrived by taxi, our driver expertly negotiating the ever narrowing streets & hustle bustle typical of morning life in the Medina. A heavy dark wooden door with cast iron studs, hinges, door knocker and the biggest lock suddenly opened and we were greeted with a welcoming broad smile by Aziz, the General Manager. Marian, an old friend has stayed there many times and we were immediately ushered through to the courtyard for a catch up on all the family & local news. It was an oasis of calm and tranquility away from the vibrant atmosphere of the Medina.

Saida the resident chef, prepared a delicious breakfast of freshly baked croissants, pancakes, fruit, jam and the first of many glasses of Moroccan mint tea, served in an antique silver teapot and expertly poured from a great height in a thin stream, with the minty aromas filling the air .

Breakfast in the Riad Les Trois Mages

The friendly Moroccan hospitality from Aziz, Saida, Mouhsin, and the rest of the team really made our stay incredibly special. Anything we needed  from restaurant bookings, taxis, suggestions on places to visit to my personal guide of the souks was efficiently arranged, always with a friendly smile!

Meandering in the Medina

Marrakesh is a great place to meander, taking in the atmosphere and marvelling at all the artisans, who make and sell their wares. In the souks, expect a greeting from some of the shopkeepers, enticing you to look & hopefully buy. I did not feel it was intrusive, and was happy to partake in some friendly banter!

The narrow streets are busy, from the mopeds zipping past, to the locals, with their shopping trollies of goods, and carts pulled by hand or donkey. It is a cacophony of sights, sounds, smells & tastes, and the atmosphere & creative buzz is infectious.

Souk Life & Transport

 

By contrast there were many places to relax whether the Riad’s  roof terrace & a quick dip in the small pool, in a local cafe or the gardens, hidden behind the ancient stone  walls of the Red City. Aziz recommended Le Jardin Secret (Secret Garden), a mid 19th Century palace with both exotic & traditional Islamic botanical gardens. It opened last year after restoration by an award winning British garden designer, a team of Italian architects and expert local builders.

The Secret Garden revealed

I had a tour of the tower, from Jawad, the guide, who recounted its history, from the 16th Century when the Saadian Sultan built the original palace, whilst we climbed the steps up to a roof terrace and fantastic view of the city.

View of the Secret Garden from the Tower

 

I also visited the  more well known botanical gardens – Jardin Majorelle,  arriving early on Saturday morning, to miss the crowds. Originally the  family home, artist studio & gardens  of French artist Jacques Majorelle in 1930’s, it was discovered overgrown and in need of TLC by the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. Together with Pierre Bergé they bought & lovingly restored the buildings and gardens.

Jardin Majorelle

I walked around looking through the palm trees up to the vibrant blue sky that matched the famous “Majorelle blue’ painted villa & fountains.

Fountain at Jardin Majorelle

Reflections

 

I sat  listening to the birdsong and the gentle lapping sounds of the water – a place of calm serenity and quiet reflection – magical! So what about the food? Marrakesh is a must for foodies and the cuisine has many influences including Arabic,  Berber, North African, Jewish, & Mediterranean – especially French & Spanish ( from Andalusia in the South). The Moroccan approach to food is  everything home grown, freshly picked, bought daily from the Souks or markets & cooked. Fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat, poultry,  breads –  prepared with an amazing array of herbs and spices. The aromas, layers of flavours & textures are a wonderful assault on your senses in a profound way – I’m a big fan! We ate incredibly well, with four stand out meals in particular.

Firstly Saida’s wonderful lunch of meatball & egg tagine and marinated chicken skewers with couscous- you will have to visit to taste for yourself! Secondly, dinner at the Cafe Arabe on the roof terrace, which was as much about the view and atmosphere as the food.

Tagines at Cafe Arabe

 

Lanterns at the entrance to Cafe Arabe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had a delicious lamb and fish tagine and a glass of red wine being one of the few places that serve alcohol. There was a buzzy, relaxed atmosphere watching the sun set listening to the call to prayer from the muezzin. There were 3 mosques nearby and it sounded slightly competitive  as to who could call the loudest, summoning the locals to prayer! The third restaurant, Latitude 31, a short walk from the Riad came highly recommended by Anna & Tony and we were not disappointed.

Latitude 31

 

A common theme , entering through a large wooden door, this time through a narrow stone passage following the  lantern lights  & through a second door which opened out to reveal a beautiful open air courtyard lit by more lanterns – very romantic! We started with some freshly squeezed juice combos as there is no alcohol served. They tasted refreshing and a perfect start to a fantastic meal cooked by Redoin the chef and his team. We were expertly guided through the menu by Yassin, who bought us a trio of amuse bouche of a spinach parcel filled with local cheese, pumpkin crème brûlée & a croustillade (pastry case) filled with tuna whilst we decided what to choose. I had the trio of coquette pastillas with almonds, traditional sweet & savoury chicken filled pastries dusted with cinnamon & icing sugar- delish!

Trio of Coquelet Pastillas with Almonds

We had a vegetarian tagine and a speciality of Marrakesh – a Tangia Marrakchia – beef slow cooked (traditionally in an urn shaped terracotta pot) with onions, garlic, cumin, ginger, saffron, preserved lemon, smen (Moroccan preserved butter) and then seasoned with the famous spice mix -Ras el Hanout. The aromas were amazing as the tagine  lids revealed the dishes. The tangia with its tantalising flavours- complex yet blending  so well- savouriness  with a slight sweetness and piquancy from the preserved lemon – fabulous! We opted for the recommended chocolate delight – a solid sphere hiding some velvety ice cream – watch the video for the full experience!

The last meal, and the most special, was at Aziz & his wife Atika’s  home – an authentic Moroccan experience. We sat in their sumptuously decorated Moroccan salon, with beautifully carved furniture hand crafted by Atika’s family.

Amazing Moroccan Salon & Hospitality

We had a wonderful meal of Seffa –  chicken with vermicelli, an onion sauce with almonds, apricots, figs, raisins, decorated with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Seffa – Sweet & Savoury Chicken vermicelli

 

 

 

 

 

It is a celebratory dish often eaten at festivals- and a combo of flavourful succulent meat with the vermicelli absorbing all the sweet and savoury flavours that typify Moroccan cuisine – delish! There was lively conversation and an opportunity to practise my basic French. We finished with a herb tea- expertly blended and prepared by Aziz – a refreshing end to a gorgeous meal. A holiday highlight was a 3.5 hour tour of the souks – with personal guide Mohammed Tabalqait. He came highly recommended by Marian & now by me – do not go elsewhere for a bespoke tour catering to your personal interests- interesting, informative & insightful!

Dried flowers herbs & spices in the Souk

As a foodie , Mohammed expertly guided me round with history, stories, and a heavy focus on food and the other crafts hand made in the different souks. We were offered to eat breakfast with the lock makers – Bissara –  a breakfast soup of fava/ broadbeans slowly cooked in a terracotta urn with a sprinkling of cumin, & drizzle of olive oil and eaten with barley bread. I thought Mohammed knew them – but he didn’t.  A kind act of humble artisans sharing their food with strangers that was very touching. Rather than describe the souk experience I will let the photos do the talking!

Olives of many varieties

 

 

Handmade locks in the Souk

Hand crafted Lanterns in the Souk

Dyed wool drying in the sun

Weavers Workshop in the Souk

 

 

There are so many memories that have left a lasting impression – especially the people I met – now friends. I will definitely be returning to magical Marrakesh hopefully soon.

For more info please on the Riad check out http://www.lestroismages.com, Facebook & Trip Advisor.

 

 

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Feeding Body & Soul in London at Refettorio Felix

From inspiring restaurant meals to inspiring chefs! Simon & I are delighted to welcome our first ever guest blogger –  my good friend Amanda who recently met and worked with two of the World’s greatest Chefs  – Massimo Bottura & Alain Ducasse.

Massimo & Amanda

 

Massimo is an Italian restaurateur and the chef patron of Osteria Francescana, a three-Michelin-star restaurant based in Modena, Italy which has been listed in the top 5 at The World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards since 2010, & currently number 2 in 2017.  Massimo has been an advocate of social justice ever since he was involved with supporting the Parmesan makers following the terrible earthquake in May 2012 in the Emilia- Romana region & his home town of Modena, Italy that damaged thousands of wheels of the famous cheese. He devised a ‘Risotto cacao e pepe’  – ‘cheese & pepper’,  based on the traditional Roman pasta dish utilising the Parmigiano Reggiano that was damaged. This inspired Massimo to create ‘Food for Soul’, a non profit organisation that fights against food waste in support of social inclusion & well-being. The first project launched in Milan during the Expo of 2015, with follow up projects in Modena & Bologna in Italy and in Rio di Janeiro, Brazil  during the Olympics of 2016. ‘Bringing dignity back to the table’ is what Massimo aims to do with Refettorio Felix, a project that opened on 5 June 2017 as part of London Food Month.  Each day for 6 weeks he invited celebrity chefs in to cook a 3 course meal for the group of homeless and disadvantaged Londoners who regularly visit St Cuthbert’s, a drop-in centre in Earls Court, West London. I went to volunteer on Day 2, acting as a ‘welcomer’ and waitress, and was totally inspired by the whole experience! I knew Massimo had been cooking on the opening day, but didn’t know who was in charge of the (quite small) kitchen on Day 2.

The Dream Team!

It turned out that Alain Ducasse was there with his team of chefs cooking that day, leaving Massimo free to host. This was definitely the dream team with 6 Michelin stars between them.

Alain Ducasse at the Pass

The food was stunning, the atmosphere warm and welcoming and the diners were very appreciative. Admittedly some would have liked more potatoes and bigger portions, but others literally licked their plates clean! It was a delight to see them enjoying the food so much, a privilege to serve them and chat to them as they ate. So what was on the menu that day?

Courgette soup with cherries, chives & edible flowers

The starter was courgette soup with a garnish of diced cherries, chives and edible flowers, followed by aubergine slices stuffed with chicken with seasonal Mediterranean vegetables, and the grand finale was a stunning vibrant pink orange watermelon sorbet garnished with a red pepper and strawberry sauce and whipped cream.

Aubergines slices with chicken & Mediterranean Veg

The food was plated beautifully and the flavours were fresh, summery and sophisticated. We “staff” were served the same meal once the diners had gone and it was absolutely divine!

Watermelon sorbet with red pepper & strawberry sauce

Massimo aims to promote a sense of community, whilst tackling issues of food waste and poverty. Most of the food used was provided by the Felix Project- a charity that collects surplus food from retailers, wholesalers and restaurants in London and delivers it free of charge to projects like this. They are providing the kitchens with produce including fruit, vegetables, cereals, dairy, herbs and drinks on a daily basis. The kitchens demonstrated how surplus food can be transformed into something beautiful to look at and nutritious to eat. What a great collaboration….and what’s even better is that it is designed to last beyond the initial 6 weeks and so permanently go some way to “bringing dignity back to the table”. To date over 16,000 meals have been served with 210 guest chefs, 600 volunteers and 25 tons of food surplus utilised creating delicious, nutritious meals across the 4 projects internationally, with 2 tons of recovered food, 6500 dishes served, 300 volunteers and 30 guest chefs involved  in London. I hope to re-visit later in the 6 weeks, and then after the launch period is over to help again and to add my little bit of support to what is a ground-breaking project and one that is making a lot of people very happy.

For more information please check out http://www.foodforsoul.it/

Bravo Massimo!

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Industrial Arts – NY Craft Brewing at its Best

While my co-blogger Lindsey was in town last week, I thought it might be fun to show her just how awesome it is to live in NY, during the great renaissance of US craft brewing

I managed to persuade my good friend, Brendon O’Brien at DeCiccos to introduce us to one of his favorite local brewers, Jeff O’Neil, the founder and owner of Industrial Arts Brewing Company, whose product, Brendon, rates very highly

This way to Brewery - Copy

This way to the Brewery!

So, one sultry summer morning, Lindsey and I took a ride over the Tappanzee Bridge, across the mighty Hudson River into the wilds of Rockland County, NY to pay a visit to the historical Garnerville Arts and Industrial Center in West Haverstraw, NY

After a few minutes wandering about, admiring the setting with it’s tumbled down industrial buildings, canals and weirs, we located Jeff in the Industrial Arts factory complex, full of kegs of his beer interspersed with art workshops

Art in the Factory

Artwork between the old Industrial Buildings

We immediately got down to the important business of discussing beer

Making ourselves comfortable in the hexagonal tiled bar and brewing room at the heart of an old factory building with its cool industrial vibe, shiny pipes and miscellaneous brewing equipment, we started speaking with Jeff about how he ended up founding Industrial Arts Brewing Company  

Beer Menu

Beer Menu @ Industrial Arts Bar

We discovered that Jeff’s personal beer journey actually started on the other side of the US, in the California home of the US craft brewing industry way back in the 1990’s. There, he worked at Gordon, Drakes, and Jupiter Brewing Companies. However a few years back, when his girlfriend got a place at Graduate School in Cornell University, he upped sticks and, luckily for us New Yorkers, moved East. Here, in NY, he became the Head brewer at local stalwarts, Ithaca and Peekskill.

Having ‘sowed his wild hops’ in craft brewing and played with the wild and wacky ingredients and trends over the years, Jeff had the idea of brewing his own beers but with the aim of producing what he describes as brew classics. His approach was to cut out the extremes he had seen in his years of experimentation and to focus on a back to basics purist approach in his own beers

Brew Room View

Cool Industrial vibe in the Brew Room Bar

He obtained backing and a suitable location and founded Industrial Arts in the old Garnerville garment factory, which supplied the Yankees Uniforms during the American Civil War. Here, Jeff set to work putting his purist ideas into practice coming up with some instant classics

Jeff’s brews were initially only available on tap but recently, he has set up a canning operation in an adjoining building, which (of course) we had to check out. Having watched some of the ‘Industrial Art’ in motion in the canning process, we  spent a few chilling minutes in what we guess is one of Rockland County NY’s largest Beer Coolers, we kid you not! The place is a beer drinkers idea of refrigeration nirvana!

Kegs in the Chiller

Kegs in the Monster Chiller at Industrial Arts

We then moseyed back to the Brewery Tap Room in order to check out some of Jeff’s excellent brews. The names chosen for his beer reflect his approach to beer making. We also felt they fitted in nicely with the setting in which they had been brewed

Metric Pils – 4.7% Vol

We started our tasting session by sipping on this thirst quenching pale straw colored perfect rendition of this Bohemian Germanic style brew

A true no nonsense smooth, clean and pure drink perfect for a hot day in NY

It's all Metric to me

Metric, or Ye Olde feet & inches, your choice!

Tools of the Trade – 4.9% Vol

We then quaffed this fascinating brew with it’s delicate fruity, hoppy nose, soft taste and clean fermented character. According to Jeff, it’s his interpretation of a clean and classic American hoppy beer and we loved it!

State of the Art

State of the Art

State of the Art – IPA perfection

We then tried Jeff’s ‘seasonal’ IPA that rotates, chameleon like, every 6 to 12 weeks, or so

This bevvy,  in the form we tried, State of the Art 138 is a great rendition of what a Summer beer should be. Hoppy, rounded, smooth and complex. Fruit candy and Starburst in the taste with a little watermelon too. Absolutely delicious!

Pour me another Jeff!

Check out http://www.industrialartsbrewing.com for more information on  the brews.  Or, for those of you local enough who’d like to try Jeff’s fantastic beer in the draft, just mosey on down to Industrial Art’s Brewery Bar in Garnerville which is open to the Public 5 days a week and for my fellow denizens of Westchester County, our friends at DeCiccos have the canned product in store, see https://www.deciccoandsons.com/ontap/

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