Saturday, September 10, 2016

MARRAKECH, MOROCCO: COOKING CLASS AT FAIM D'EPICES

Our last full day in Morocco began with a delicious breakfast on the roof of our riad--cocoa for me and hot milk for Bob, Moroccan crepes (a bit tough and dry) with honey and fig jam, dates, marbled cake, bread, yogurt, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. I especially enjoyed it, knowing in a few days I'd be back to cold cereal or green smoothies at home.

We got picked up at 9:30 AM for a cooking class out in the country. On our way, we stopped at two other riads and added another couple from Turin, Italy, and then a jovial young man from Prague. Lucky for us, everyone spoke a little English. We drove about 20 minutes out of the city to Faim d'epices [Hunger Spices], listed by Travel and Leisure as one of the best cooking schools around the world.

The cooking school harvests some of their ingredients from their own organic farm on the property:

The facility is wonderful--a large, sunny room with individual cook stations, and lots of little accoutrements that add to the atmosphere.


 


I loved these little prep bowls so much that I came home with eight of them in a rainbow of colors:

Yes, even King Mohammed VI likes it here:

Two people were running the show: a Frenchman named Michel with a very dry sense of humor who appeared to be in charge, and a young Moroccan woman chef named Dlham who did the actual demonstrations and supervised our cooking.

The first thing we did was watch Dlham demonstrate how to make the ubiquitous Moroccan rounds of bread:

Next Michel led us in a spice identification test.

We put on glasses with the lenses painted so that we couldn't see the spice that was held under our noses for us to sniff and identify:


It was quite a challenge! The spices included cumin, turmeric, two kinds of saffron, orange water, two kinds of cinnamon, sweet paprika, ginger, lemon, olive oil, and argan oil. (I had certainly never smelled argan oil before!) There were a few more that I can't remember.

Along the way, Michel put up slides on a screen and educated us about the different spices. Here, he showed us how quality saffron turns water bright yellow, not red, and the submerged threads retain their deep red color rather than fading:
Why is saffron so expensive? Saffron is actually the stigmas from the center of a flower, and each flower only has three stigmas. There is no way of harvesting it mechanically; it must be picked by hand. It takes 14,000 saffron threads to make an ounce, and an ounce usually sells for about $500.

Luckily, a recipe that includes saffron usually calls for just a pinch--maybe 20-40 threads.

After our spice lecture, we were ready to start cooking:

We each had our own cooktop, tools, and ingredients:

We were each robed in a Faim D'Epices apron and given directions on how to start making our own loaves of Moroccan bread:

The bread is made of flour, semolina, yeast, salt, and water:



While we kneaded our bread, we were entertained by some music, accompanied by our happy Frenchman on bongo drums:

We shaped our dough into disks and left it to rise. We moved on to making a beef tagine dish. Along the way, we were taught how to mince an onion, trim artichokes, etc


Bob always makes friends wherever he goes:

At some point along the way, we snacked on the chef's hot bread, dipping pieces in olive oil and salt. We were shocked at how much better it was than the Moroccan bread we had eaten everywhere else. It's hard not to love fresh, warm bread.

While the tagines were cooking on the stove tops, we watched Dlham demonstrate how to make three kinds of salad: 1) eggplant, 2) chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, and 3) shredded cucumber salad. Again, she had an assortment of ingredients ready to go:



Although rather ordinary as far as taste goes, the salads were beautifully presented:

We still needed a dessert. Chef Dlham showed us how to make a four-layer folded dessert crepe . . .
. . . and then each one of us rolled out our own bulb of dough, flattened it out, brushed it with butter and sprinkled it with semolina, and folded it in quarters before placing it on the hot griddle, turning it with our fingers:

Our loaves had finished baking:

. . . and our beef and artichoke tagines were hot and fragrant:

We carried our food out to the patio:

. . . making sure to get plenty of photos before we sat down to eat:


When we got to dessert, Dlham had created a beautiful plate for each of us. In addition to the crepe, which we ate with pomegranate or mandarin jam, our dessert included three kinds of ice cream (sesame, green tea with mint, and almond), pieces of banana, segments of mandarins, and strawberry cut like a rose:

Beautiful as it all was, the food was mostly ho-hum. I think we would have liked a lamb tagine--on the menu for another day of the week--more than the beef we cooked. We also felt there was a little too much watching and not enough doing, especially when it came to the salads. More could have been done to create camaraderie, such as having name tags and introducing ourselves.
Still, the Frenchman Michel and Chef Dlham were outgoing and engaging, we learned a lot about Moroccan cooking, we came home with all the recipes, and overall, it was a very fun class. It added a new dimension to our Moroccan experience, and we were glad we made the effort.

4 comments:

  1. I really liked the spice sniffing exercise. The facility was great and our two chefs were entertaining and good at what they did. The sad thing was that our tagine was really pretty bad. If that was the only tagine we'd had, I would have not been interested in trying it again. But we did have some amazing tagine and know the potential!

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  2. Looks like lots of fun. I always like trying out different spices. The only trouble I have is when too many get mixed at the same time.

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  3. What a fun experience! I've realized I need a happy Frenchman making music for me while I cook dinner from now on.

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  4. I loved the descriptions of everything you noted here, and think a cooking class can be an interesting way to climb further into culture. I wonder if we should start cooking classes for those coming from far and wide? Kidding.

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