Monday, February 18, 2013

Two Top New York Chefs Jet Into Fez

Patrick and Megan at work in a Moroccan kitchen (photo Sandy McCutcheon)

Shoppers in the food souq at R'cif in the Fez Medina, would have been surprised to know that the two American's buying up big in the market today were top chefs on a mission. The task ahead of them must have seemed quite daunting. Having been in the country for less than twenty-four hours they were tasked with preparing a fusion of cuisines for a Medina dinner party.

The Rcif souq - a riot of colour and flavours (photo Philip Murphy)

Help was on hand with two locals guiding the chefs around the souq. Rachida was tasked with providing guidance on local cuisine and produce and The View from Fez's musical associate, Philip Murphy, translating and assisting with the logistics. The surprise dinner party was scheduled to be served at 8 in the evening, but knowing that the freshest produce was available in the morning, the shopping began at 11am.

'The only exception is the bread,' Rachida explained, 'which we will leave that until late in the afternoon when we can get freshly baked loaves straight from the firane (bakery).'

Rachida selects and checks every bit of produce (photo Patrick Phelan)
Selecting the best cuts of meat (photo Philip Murphy)

 For New York chef Patrick Phelan the experience was so different from markets in the USA. "This was a genuine market. I would call it utilitarian. Locals shopping with their kids. Nothing like the so-called farmers' markets in the States where there is always the latest gourmet delight. This was real food for real people. Impressive."

His wife, renowned pastry chef, Megan Fitzroy Phelan, was impressed with the quality and variety of vegetables available. "Almost everything was organic, which is a real plus." However, there were some vegetables she had never seen before.

"Mysterious vegetables," Megan laughs. "Long green stems that look like celery from a distance, but close up - I mean they were very different."

In New York, Patrick is the executive chef of Sonnier & Castle, a premier events catering firm. Megan is corporate pastry chef of Sullivan Street Bakery.

Patrick, Rachida and Megan
Cooking is not just about work, but about fun (photos Sandy McCutcheon)

After a conference about the menu and who would be responsible for each individual dish, the food preparation began at 3.30pm.

It was not simply the recipes or spices used that the New York chefs found to be different. Patrick and Megan both remarked on the very different technique for preparing vegetables. "Everything is done by hand, in the hand and not on a chopping board," Megan notes.

"Rachida's method of dicing onions was a rustic technique." Patrick said. "Scoring the onion laterally from the root to the tip of the onion and then slicing across the score to produce the diced or shredded effect. I have never seen anything like it - totally brilliant."

The other aspect of Moroccan cooking that impressed was the perfect seasoning. "Each vegetable in the salad was seasoned separately," Patrick remarked. "Not all mixed and broken and with a dressing poured over. Rachida showed us a way of assembling a mixed salad that is subtle and shows great skill."

Patrick adds seasoning to artichoke hearts in white wine, garlic and lemon syrup
Fresh marinaded strawberries with mint and yogurt (photo Suzanna Clarke)
From left - Robert Johnstone, Dr Gigi Kaye, Rachida, Philip Murphy and Patrick Phelan 
(Photo Sandy McCutcheon)
Food guru - Robert Johnstone (Photo Sandy McCutcheon)
And the verdict? Food guru and chef, Robert Johnstone, from Riad Idrissy, summed it up perfectly - "Delicious, simple and elegant."

Beef and apricot tagine and high-spiced turkey and mixed vegetable tagine
(photo Suzanna Clarke)

The View from Fez would like to thank: Philip Murphy, Megan Fitzroy Phelan, Patrick Phelan and Rachida, for a perfect evening of fine food, great music and good company.

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