We spent yesterday morning playing with our food.
The day was perfect: warm and sunny. The air was fresh and clear. “The guys,” Abdul and Tofik, picked us up around 9:30 and we drove about forty minutes out of Marrakech to a little cooking school called the Atelier de Cuisine. Chef Tarik was our host and instructor. The first thing we did was discuss tea. We sat down and went through the whole shebang about tea. Tea is big in Morocco. Green tea, mint tea, royal tea, digestif tea, the tea ceremony. Everywhere you go, people offer you tea. Not in cups, but in little glasses. Sometimes it has a big bunch of mint in it, but not always. One thing is guaranteed: it will have sugar in it. Often, your teeth hurt from the sweetness, but sometimes it’s just pleasantly sweet and you can drink it without wishing you had your toothbrush in your back pocket. Dentistry has to be a big business in Morocco.
Next up: Moroccan spices. Chef told us about the basic spices used in tagines: turmeric, ginger, salt, pepper in varying proportions. Some tagines need paprika and some need cumin. Some need both. We talked about garlic and lemongrass and all sorts of herbs and spices. He also discussed Ras El Hanout, or “top of the shop,” which is a mixture of many spices that is often a secret recipe and really sets the dish apart from others.
Then we moved on to preparing the tagines. This is when it really got fun. Chef Tarik had lamb shoulder in one of the tagines and chicken in the other. We added onions, preserved lemon, and olive oil, depending on the type of tagine. He showed us how to season the meat and we placed the tagines over little charcoal cookers and let the heat do its magic. We also made a vegetable tagine and chef showed us how to prepare couscous. We prepared three different salads. We were chopping and mixing like crazy.
Then we walked over to the bread oven and chef showed us how to bake bread. He made it look so easy, but luckily, we didn’t have to bake. Chef Tarik is big into pastry; the Lawsons — not so much. The bread was warm from the oven and we ate it with homemade Moroccan peanut butter, honey, goat cheese, and olive oil. No phones, no texts, no email. We were in the sunshine and in the moment and it was a divine place to be.
Chef Tarik showed us his kitchen for teaching pastry to his students. It was wonderful to hear him share his passion for his country and its cuisine. He showed us his garden and herbs. Chef told me that he can make French macaroons. I am impressed. Big time.
Soon we walked over to a lovely table under an awning and before us was spread our morning’s labor. Our tagines, couscous, and salads were beautiful to see and beautiful to taste. It was a delicious experience. We could not even begin to eat all the wonderful dishes we had created, but luckily, Abdul and Tofik are masters of timing. They strolled up, recognized that we were in need of help, and happily grabbed forks and joined in our feast. It made it all the better to us that we could share with our Moroccan friends, especially since we got no lunch yesterday. (That’s a little joke. We passed on lunch yesterday because we were in a hurry to get to Marrakech.)
After receiving our certificates, we headed back into town. It was a morning to remember. As usual, it’s the new friends that make an experience memorable. Just the simple act of smiling and laughing can bridge many language gaps and food is a perfect way to get a taste of a different culture.