Hibiscus and Kaffir Lime made into SodaCarrot Soup, Pre-BrothCarrot Soup, Poured at Table SideLentil Soup with Medjool Date and CelerySpreads of Bean-Paprika, Yogurt-Dill, and Piquillo Almond, Served with Flat Bread
Mackerel with Escabèche, Potato, Eggplant, and CucumberBranzino with Leek, Manila Clams, Crispy Potato, and Olive OilSunchoke with Porridge, Beech Mushroom, Broccoli Rabe, and Hibiscus Salt.

Aziza , a set on Flickr.

Chef Mourad Lahlou is restless. And that’s a good thing.

Because ever since he did away with the Moroccan restaurant formulae, such as the belly dancing, the table-side hand-washing, and the mandatory lamb shank, he has only gone up and up and up.

First came the exciting experimentation with the local resources that have always been available to him. Then came the Iron Chef victory (against Cat Cora), followed by the much coveted Michelin Star (for 2010 and 2011). The Fall of 2011 will witness the publication of the first of his five books, as well as his television specials on Moroccan food and culture for KQED, and finally, the opening of his second restaurant in the Financial District of San Francisco.

It has been an immense pleasure watching Chef Lahlou and his girlfriend/host Farnoush Deylamian operate Aziza since its beginning in October of 2001. Back then, I could not believe the presence of such gem in where I used to reside, the Richmond district, an area known more for comfort food from Eastern Europe and Asia. I would go almost every week when possible, carrying a book, and sitting at the same table, watching the crowd come in. There has hardly been any evening that the place was not crowded.

An admirer of Alice Waters, Chef Lahlou has worked and supported local farmers, and hosted events for CUESA (the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture), as well as led tours (in the past) to the Ferry Building for people interested in learning how to shop for fresh ingredients at the Farmers Market. He is perhaps the only Chef who has brought Moroccan Moderne to the table.

The menu at Aziza changes constantly, so whatever item being reviewed here may no longer be on the menu by the time the reader visits Aziza. But there are some common elements that hold all of the items together: Passion, Curiosity, the Constant Hunger for Knowledge, and Resourcefulness. For someone who had never had a formal training at a culinary institute, Chef Lahlou has come a long way.

This upcoming May of 2011, Chef Lahlou will cook for almost 500 VIPs of the James Beard Foundation in New York for that Foundation’s announcement for the Annual List of Winners.


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