The Alliance’s Couscous

04 Jan 2016

The Slow Food Chefs’ Alliance arrived in Morocco in 2013, a partnership between chefs, cooks, small-scale producers and Presidia which aims to encourage restaurants, the interpreters of local gastronomic wealth, to support the small-scale food producers who protect Morocco’s agrobiodiversity. Morocco currently has four Presidia, for argan oil, Taliouine saffron, Zerradoun salt and Alnif cumin, as well as a dozen products catalogued in the Ark of Taste and a wide network of supporters committed to protecting the country’s culinary heritage.

 

From Casablanca to the desert

Like Morocco’s culture and biodiversity, the Alliance is also marked by extreme variety, with a very diverse group of chefs and restaurants participating in the project. Rick’s Café in Casablanca is a homage to the bar in the classic movie, the chef from the Restaurant du Sud cooks in the desert and the Ecolodge Atlas Kasbah promotes Berber culture in the homeland of argan oil.

Hassan is the owner of Casa Hassan in Chefchaouen, the Moroccan capital of the Mediterranean diet, recognized in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage listing. “It’s important to support local family farming and to value the knowledge of farmers,” he says, “because only by keeping alive the traditions can they continue to support themselves with their work.”

In his restaurant, Hassan offers diners traditional and original dishes, like bissara (fava bean soup with Alnif cumin and olive oil) and jebli salad with barley, jben goat’s cheese, pomegranate and samet cooked grape syrup. He also includes Presidia and Ark of Taste products on his menu. Hassan has always sought to promote forgotten products that represent the local identity, like jben and samet. “Buying from small-scale local producers who work the land sustainably means establishing a relationship of trust, guaranteeing quality to consumers and defending the local culture,” he says. Given how closely the restaurant’s philosophy is in harmony with that of Slow Food, it was easy for Hassan to decide to join the network.

The palate-conqueror
Thanks to the Alliance, a number of chefs are seeking to prioritize local products that are good, clean and fair and to give visibility to the producers that supply them. Chef Mariem Cherkaoui, one of the project’ pioneers, describes her passion and enthusiasm for communicating the identity of Moroccan cuisine: “What’s essential is being able to exalt the products and use those from your local area. Why go in search of what we don’t have? The Earth was made well, we have to use the foods around us.”

The Moroccan Alliance has continued to grow and has even reached the palms of the Tagounite oasis, at the edge of the desert. Once a strategic stopover along the trans-Saharan trade route, it is now a starting point for tours in the dunes. As well as cooking at the Restaurant du Sud, chef Habib Ballatif also organizes excursions in the desert during which he prepares traditional dishes for his guests. According to him, it is important “to eat well with little money,” and he believes in offering his customers, whether workers or tourists, a popular and accessible cuisine: harira, chicken and lemon tajine, b’astela scented with argan oil… He also insists on the importance of raising awareness among the youngest generations and giving dignity to small-scale producers in order to encourage young people to return to the land of their elders, curbing the rural exodus that is endangering the area’s future. Participation in the Alliance between small-scale producers and chefs was therefore entirely natural for him, and also gave him the chance to win over a number of palates in Italy during the international Slow Food events of Terra Madre in Turin and Cheese in Bra… And this is just the beginning!

 

Launched first in Italy, then in the Netherlands and Morocco, the Alliance project linking chefs and Slow Food Presidia has so far attracted over 300 restaurants, chefs and kitchens who have decided to join the network and to support small-scale quality food production with their daily work. In Morocco, the Alliance is supported by Maroc Taswiq, a platform for marketing local products.

 

This article was first published in the Slow Food Almanac.

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