Mourad Lahlou is honest and forthright and makes no qualms about it: he hates labeling foods and restaurants. Which is a good thing because his ever-popular restaurant Aziza is unique in every way possible.
Along with the success and accolades for Aziza, Lahlou has also published a new book, “Mourad: New Moroccan,” a story of his life mixed in with many of the delicious recipes he features in his restaurant.
Lahlou was at Omnivore Books in Noe Valley this past weekend to talk about the book, Moroccan cuisine and the food industry as a whole. It’s always fun to hear a chef who is so honest. He said the book was a “labor of love,” with five people working together, a collaboration that took two years to write. “Moroccan food has had trouble evolving,” he said. “What I wanted to show is that it can evolve because it’s a tragedy that there isn’t a creative voice for certain cuisines.”
Lahlou knows Aziza is not authentic Moroccan cuisine and owns up to it. He said “peasants make some of the best food in Morocco.” But he also doesn’t want to dumb down the experience. “I have never seen belly dancers at restaurants in Morocco. And the food at many of the Moroccan restaurants in the U.S. is not truly authentic,” he said. “Moroccan food is not easy to make. For most cooks in Morocco, if an ingredient isn’t local, they don’t use it.”
Lahlou was candid about his beginnings. He never worked in a professional kitchen and got into cooking because of his homesickness; he wanted to reconnect with his family in some way and started making recipes he was familiar with from memory. He loves to use whatever is readily available at the local markets to create dishes that are true to him: a Moroccan who has lived in the Bay Area since his late teens.
As for the future, Mourad Lahlou said he is busy as ever at Aziza, working six days a week. And while plans to expand to the Financial District have fallen through, he said it’s a virtual guarantee he will open a new restaurant in 2012. Exciting news for fans of his amazing cuisine.