Having cooked for several prestigious establishments, notably at the Sofitel, you are now leading a team of 21 at the Novotel Marrakech. At 29 years of age, this is a very full career. Where do you get your motivation?
The reason I love cooking so much is because it's a trade that knows no bounds. There's no routine: you can create a dish, manage a team... I grew up in a family where everyone was working in this field and I always dreamt of becoming a chef.
How did you learn this trade?
I owe a lot to those who taught me, in particular two Moroccan chefs I worked with. I also received training in Europe, six months in Basel in Switzerland and then at the Le Nôtre school in Paris. It was a very strict form of instruction that enabled me to learn techniques and bring greater finesse to my cooking.
Isn't Paris also the place where you received an award in 2011 in the AccorHotels Professions Challenge?
I won first prize worldwide in the Cooking category for chefs aged 23 to 26. First of all I was selected from out of four Moroccan chefs to compete in Paris. It was a challenge, but once I was there, I really went for it and enjoyed myself. I was the only candidate to produce so many dishes in two hours with the mystery basket of ingredients we were given. That award marked the turning point in my career. I gained recognition for it on my return to Morocco and even more in terms of self-confidence
Could you share with us a little of the tastes and flavors that won the judges over?
My dish was a fusion of Moroccan cuisine and traditional gastronomy: duck breast cooked in a sauté pan with squash chutney served two ways. I got my inspiration from a Moroccan compote that mixes sugar, cinnamon and gum arabic, added to a chutney made from shallots, squash and vinegar. I also caramelized the squash with a blow torch and cooked the duck in five different Moroccan spices. This dish combines two very different tastes, bitter-sweet and sweet. I've actually put it on the menu at my restaurant.
How do you compile your menu now?
I love to learn, so every evening I read cookery books, where I get ideas. Then I have fun experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen. Sometimes it can take as many as four attempts to finalize a dish. I always get my teams to taste it before giving it the green light, as it's better to have several opinions rather than just one.
What type of cuisine do you offer in your restaurant?
At lunchtime it's a brasserie menu that includes a mixture of French cuisine, fast food and Moroccan dishes. In the evenings, we offer gourmet cuisine with two types of specialties: classic dishes or fusion and Moroccan specialties. The challenge for me is to make my restaurant one of the best in Marrakech.
What might be the next stage in your career?
I've really achieved my dream by becoming head chef. Now, I'd like to travel to increase my skills and incorporate culinary cultures from other countries. In fact, whatever the destination, I've always got that same thirst for learning!
Chef Zouhair Moudrika’s recipe: Lamb shank confit with ginger and Taliouine saffron and orange couscous
Ingredients (for 3 people) :
· 3 lamb shanks
· 500 gr of medium couscous
· 3 kg of oranges for juicing
· 1 gr of saffron
· 1 tablespoon of mascarpone
· 1 large onion
· 2 carrots
· 10 shallots
· 5 gr of fresh ginger
· 3 tablespoons of oil
· 40 gr of butter
· 1 bulb of garlic
· 2 sprigs of thyme
· 1 sprig of rosemary
· 2 tablespoons of runny honey
· 2 gr of star anise
· 2 gr of cinnamon stick
· 2 gr of cardamom
· 1 gr of raz-el-hanout spice mix
· 1 liter of light lamb stock
· Salt and freshly ground pepper
· Preheat your oven to Gas 5 (150°C).
· Peel and roughly chop the onion and carrots, then finely grate the ginger.
· Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and brown the lamb shanks on all sides for 5 mins then take them out and drain off the fat.
· Melt the butter in a flameproof casserole and fry the finely sliced onion together with the carrots over a low heat to soften then without browning.
· Return the lamb shanks to the casserole dish. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic bulb, washed and halved widthways, together with the thyme, honey, cardamom, cinnamon and raz-el-hanout.
· Mix it all together then cover with the light lamb stock before putting it in the oven to cook for 1 hr. 30 mins.
· Remove the lamb shanks and keep them warm, reduce the sauce and put everything on a baking tray.
· Put the couscous in a large bowl and pour over warm, orange-scented water together with oil. Leave the grains to puff up for 3 to 4 minutes then stir with a fork.
· Cook the whole thing in the steam oven for 35 mins at 120°C.
· Squeeze the oranges and reduce over a low heat.
· Put the lamb shanks in the oven, basting them to caramelize them and give them a shiny color.
· Warm the couscous, orange reduction, saffron and mascarpone in a saucepan.
· Serve your lamb shanks with the orange flavored couscous and the sauce that the lamb was cooked in. It's ready!
Bon appétit !