I was born and raised, in a tiny tranquil village of Aith-Irathen in the mountainous region of Kabylie, northeast of Algiers, Algeria. Since I was the youngest of my siblings, all the women of my family kept a close eye on me. One way I had to keep me occupied was to spend lots of time in the kitchen because that is the center of our universe…our home.
Surrounded by women prepping and preparing all the elements of our daily meal was intriguing and pleasurable. When there were festivities ahead, the preparation would go into overdrive with everyone coming together to make conscientiously elaborate dishes. Often the women would sing praises to the Lord and ask for his blessings for our meal.
Growing up I remember getting close to home and smelling, the wonderful and alluring aromas: cinnamon, saffron, ginger and coriander, simmering lamb, beef, chicken, squash and peppers. Soon I would accurately guess what delicious plates awaited me at home.
As a single father, I became a cook for reasons of economy and love. I would always ask my children what they would like for dinner. I wanted to make a meal that they would love and have them experience my heritage and sow for them the seeds of wonderful memories of childhood and family ties, that I hoped they will cherish with their children. Sometimes they would ask for pizza or mac and cheese, but my heart would elate when they requested couscous, chorva or honey lamb tagine "Lham Lehlou". That is when I realized that for the women of my childhood, preparing meals was not a burden, but rather a genuine expression of love and devotion for their family. Their generosity and hospitality were also extended to treasured guests. These women were transmitting their ancestral practices to the next generation.
Sharing a meal prepared with care and love is the fundamental basis for a family, a clan or a tribe. The dishes unite us and create a web of trust and love and are never a burden to prepare. From my little village, I began to travel the world. Since my teenage years, I have visited over 30 countries, lived on four continents, learned some new languages and cultures, studied in worldwide renowned universities and business schools. With post-graduate degrees in business and economics, it seemed my destiny was set for corporate management and for much of my adult life I did just that. But somewhere along the way, the God of destiny took me in a slow but distinct turn.
I have come full circle and now I am that child coming from the kitchen with all the memories of the wonderful cuisine of my childhood. I am humbly emulating the cooking of my grandmother, mother and sisters, and of all the women of my culinary heritage. The unique influence of; Berbers (Amazigh)* , Romans, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Jews, Arabs, Turks, Spanish, Portuguese and French this extraordinary melting pot of cultures around the West Mediterranean has come together in Casablanca The Restaurant, hopefully your Restaurant! Where you can feel uniquely welcomed, and utterly relaxed....
I will feel happy, if I can bring and share a glimpse notion of this wonderful background, I would hope to create a cultural bridge for all of us. Honoring the frugal, simple and hard-working women who made cooking a proud demonstration of their nobility, love, and devotion to their family and guests is my destiny's... my humble contribution.
* The Amazigh (Berber) culture and language predate the Ancient Egyptian Civilization....