Ramadan Kareem! I hope this blessed month is bringing you all the inner peace you have craved, and that you are enjoying the special time bonding with loved ones over scrumptious Iftars and Suhoor.
The previous years had me bloated as a food blogger with myriads of Iftar requests, many of them a repeat of menus whereby I actually started to feign the sight of Ouzi. This year, I am being more picky. I am on the lookout for more varied flavors that will help me explore the authentic cuisines of different regions, and how could I say no to an Iftar invite by famed Moroccan celebrity Chef Mama herself? I am a huge fan of Moroccan tagines. I love the play of savory with sweet, the fruit with the meat.
About Chef Mama:
Chef Jarmoune El Batoul, fondly known as Chef Mama, is a renouned Moroccan chef who was one of the 12 Moroccan women to receive the prestigious ‘Moroccan Mothers Living Abroad Award’ from the CCME (Consul De La Communiute Marocaine À L’etranger”) in recognition of her efforts in promoting Moroccan traditions and cuisine abroad.
Chef Mama is a self-taught chef, and started her career in the kitchens of Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Amina in the late eighties. From there, she moved out of Morocco to work as the head chef for the palace of His Royal Highness Sheikh Ibrahim Saadan in Saudi Arabia. Her dishes, always exquisite and made with a generous dose of passion, won over many an admirer and she soon gained recognition in the culinary world.
Chef Mama has worked for Sofitel Bahrain, and is now an integral part of Medley Restaurant, Pullman Hotel (Deira, Dubai).
This was my second visit to Medley Restaurant at Pullman Hotel (adjacent to Deira City Centre, Dubai). The last time I was here, I was treated to an Indian extravaganza by celebrity Chef Sweety Singh. This time round, the entire buffet space has cleverly been revamped with the gorgeous hand-painted platters of Morocco. Piles of enticing sweets take up an entire section, and the succulent scent of exotic spices fill the air.
Better still, Chef Mama was present to greet the guests, one warm cuddle at a time! An elderly grandmother of petit stature, Chef Mama has an endearing face that gleams with pride as she ushers us to pile up our plates. She doesn’t speak a word of English, but gets a young man to translate. ‘You now have a Moroccan mama right here’ she says, and so she wins me over, pulling ever so gently at the heartstrings.
Our tables are set for Iftar, and I broke my fast with a handful of ajwa dates, dried fruit and large gulps of water. We then headed out to explore the buffet. The buffet is expansive; from a long lineup of Arabic cheeses and salads, to the main-course and dessert, you really need to take a walk to decide what you want to try. The plate piles up fast here!
Here’s a look at some of my personal favorites from the night…
In the salad counter, I got introduced to a Moroccan variation of hummus, a Chili Hummus! The hummus is thick and piled with walnuts. It has a gritty texture and takes on a hue of pale brick orange. It isn’t spicy hot at all (don’t take my word for it, I was dining with my Ukrainian friend Evita, and even she had this by the spoonful!) yet it retains the characteristic freshness of chili. I love how thick and creamy it is, and crunch of walnuts makes it an absolute treat.
I found these in a corner, adjacent to the desserts and the ouzi, a juxtapositioned dish that was a bit of both. Confused by the heavy sprinkle of what appeared to be icing sugar and the eminent stuffing of meat, I asked a staff member what this was. ‘Chicken Bastille!’ Now that is something new to me; I had to give it a go. The outer crust is a layered filo pastry. The crust is sweet and flaky, yet it is stuffed with moreishly savory, spiced shreds of chicken. A play of flavors and textures, the gamble of trying out something so exotically new paid off! I have to look up more bastilles, thank-you Chef Mama!
For the mains, there was a young lady serving generous platefuls of Ouzi and pilaf. The Moroccan variation has more of a cinnamon sweetness that somehow accentuates the meaty goodness of the ouzi. However, my favorite dish from the main-course was the Sweet Lamb Tagine. The meat was literally falling off the bone! I loved the play of meaty goodness with the delectable sweetness of the stone fruit. The sweet and savory gravy went beautifully well with the ouzi pilaf.
Other enticing dishes from the buffet included Tahini Fish, Haris with Chicken, Chicken Biryani, Vegetable Cous Cous, Kousa Bil Laban and Sausage Salsa. I had wee nibbles here and there, but the buffet is so expansive, and the appetite (even when fasting) is far too limited!
We whet our appetites for dessert with steaming hot glasses of Moroccan tea. The tea is brimming with fresh mint, and acts as a cleanser to the palate.
Here is a look at the desserts… My favorites include Chef Mama’s nut-filled Kataief, the Cheese Kunafa and the rose-scented Mahalabia.
Overall, Chef Mama gave us a very delicious intro into the culinary traditions of Morocco. Her warm, congenial motherly demeanor made me feel right at home and a tad bit emotional remembering my own mother’s Iftar delicacies.
If you are looking for an authentic Moroccan experience, Chef Mama’s immaculate Iftar is not to be missed. The Iftar runs from 7 pm – 11 pm daily, and costs AED 175 per head, inclusive of water and Ramadan juices (and AED 70 for children aged 6 to 12). For reservations, call Medley Restaurant (Pullman Hotel, Dubai Creek Deira) on 04 603 8082 or email H2022-SB@accor.com