Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dynamic Duo Resident at Fez's Resto 7

Chef Harry Cummins and sommelier and host Laura Vidal 

Restaurant Numero 7 in the Fez Medina has been surprising and delighting food lovers since their international chefs-in-residence program began. The View From Fez meets the latest team to take over the kitchen

As a Fez resident, it's a pleasure to take visitors to Restaurant Numero 7 in the Medina, and watch their faces as the food arrives. They are invariably astonished by the quality, combination of flavours and creativity of what is presented. "I'd be lucky to eat food like this at home in Paris," said Kiki, a recent guest.

The food renaissance at Restaurant Numero 7, (commonly referred to as "Resto 7"), has been brought about by an innovative program of chef's residencies. The most recent team to grace the kitchen are Harry Cummins, from England, and Laura Vidal, from Canada, who are running the restaurant until the end of January.

Harry and Laura are no strangers to taking over an existing kitchen - in December 2012 they founded Paris-Pop Up, where they moved into existing restaurants temporarily. "Restaurants are usually closed at least one day a week," explains Laura, "So we would take over the spaces, cover their fixed costs and invite the chef to dinner as a 'thank you'. It brings a spirit of exchange, and a breath of fresh air."

The concept was so successful that, rather than opening their own restaurant, they took it on the road, creating pop up restaurants in Montreal, New York, Oakland, Kyoto, Quebec City and London.

So how did they gain the confidence to make a success of this unusual approach?

Harry Cummins describes himself as a "cooking school drop-out", but this phrase belies his extensive hands-on experience. Brought up in London's Camden Town, he moved to Bath aged 14. He says he learned a lot about enjoying food from his grandmother, who introduced him to dishes like rabbit and regularly made cakes and crumbles. "And she had a partner who came from a family of Italian restauranteurs," says Harry.

Beetroot Gazpacho

At 15, Harry began making puddings for a little restaurant called Tilly's. "In the kitchen, everyone started from zero," Harry says. "No-one cared about how much money your family had - it was about what you could do, and you got an immediate reaction."

After doing a year at catering college, he decided he preferred the hands-on approach instead, and began working at Tilly's full time.

Taking some time off to travel, Harry was then offered a position at Jamie Oliver's Fifteen, where he stayed for two and a half years. Stints at Michelin-starred restaurants, including ZafferanoWild Honey and Arbutus followed, before he moved to Paris to help an old friend from Fifteen, Greg Marchand, start his wine bar, Frenchie.

"Product is, of course, very important," he says. "If you live in an urban environment, you should make use of what is around you." But being creative with what is available is naturally a quinessential part of the process. "It's 50% product; 50% transformation through creativity."

Laura Vidal and Harry met at Frenchie in 2010, where she was the sommelier. It was a dream role, travelling around vineyards, sourcing excellent wines. After she and Harry got together, "we never left each other's side," she says.

Bream, carrot, pomegranate and coriander

A Canadian from Montreal, Laura says, "I was always interested in eating." At 19, she found herself working in an Italian restaurant while doing a Bachelor of Commerce at McGill University. "But I had no clue what I really wanted to do," she says. "I was working more than studying - working and partying. With the tips, the money was good."

After graduating, Laura worked for a private equity firm. "I hated it," she said. "I really didn't like working at a desk." So one day, she quit. Then, enterprisingly, she went to the best restaurant in Montreal, Club Chasse et Pêche, and offered to do anything they needed. "So I ended up clearing plates, and hostessing," she says. "They had a weekly wine tasting, for everyone from the dishwasher to the owner. It was a blind tasting, and I became interested in wine." The head sommelier told her he thought she had what it took, "so they paid to send me to sommelier school."

After working at other restaurants, "I moved to Paris in September 2010, and in December I met Greg Marchand, who was looking for someone to take over Frenchies wine list." There, of course, she met Harry, and in December 2012, they created the first Paris Pop Up restaurant.

 Bream with petits pois, broad beans and artichoke

Their Fez adventure has only recently begun, and Laura has already created her own range of vermouths. On the night TVFF visited, we were offered a choice of vermouths flavoured with fruits and spices as an aperitif. The verdict? Dangerously more-ish.

Harry and Laura offer a five course menu for 355 dirhams, (excluding wine and service). On our menu was beetroot gazpacho; thin slivers of raw bream and carrot garnished with pomegranate; cooked bream in a soup of petits pois, broad beans and artichoke; and lamb with rice and wild porcini mushrooms. For dessert there was a mix of chocolate, banana, dates and crushed, toasted nuts.

Harry doing some kitchen wizardry 

The portions were elegantly sufficient, and the flavours delicately balanced. It's clear there is someone in the kitchen who cares a great deal. And a brief visit to see Harry between courses showed the intense concentration with which he works.

There were a few surprises on the menu - like the sweet seeds of pomegranate with the fresh fish. Between the entree and main courses "Colette's salad" may be served - a palate cleanser which is a tradition handed down from Laura's French mother.

If you are in Fez, a visit to Resto 7 at least once is highly recommended. It will surprise and delight you, and you may just find yourself coming back for more.

Where: Restaurant Numero 7 is at 7 Zkak Rouan 
Reservations: or + 212 (0) 694277849 (Pick ups from riads are possible.) 

Lamb with rice and wild porcini mushrooms

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