My Life In Food: Mourad Mazouz

 

After moving from Algeria to Paris in 1977 at 15, Mazouz opened his first bistro, Au Bascou, in Paris when he was just 26. After opening 404, also in Paris, he moved to London in 1997, opening the critically acclaimed Momo and then Michelin-starred Sketch in 2005.

What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?

I would say my most used bit of kit is a couscous steamer; it is the traditional way of doing it. You can get steam ovens, and I use one of those in Beirut, but at home this is what I use. It isn't just useful for couscous, either, I use it any time I need to steam something. The main advantage is speed: restaurateurs don't like spending ages cooking. One thing I never, ever use, however, is a microwave. I'd take it out, but my wife insists on keeping it. I don't know how to use it at all. I have this aversion to it – seems a bit too nuclear.

If you had only £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?

One of my favourites is in Morocco. You can eat so well by the road there. Between Marrakech and Agadir there is a long road and you have petrol stations with very basic restaurants near them. My friends think I'm mad. But most of the time, the tagines they cook are delicious. Really delicious. They make them over 3-4 hours and they only cost a few pounds.

What do you eat for comfort?

Comfort food needs to be quick for me. So a lot of steamed vegetables and pasta. Quick food that is good for you – that is what I like. When you are really hungry, that or couscous really fills you up and doesn't take so long to cook. Or curd milk, which is a bit like cottage cheese, with semolina – that is also a favourite. It is delicious, something I remember from my childhood, though it sounds bizarre, I realise.

If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

There is no comparison – it is bread. Why? Because, you know, our lives, especially our food, are about habit. Even our palates, our likes, are about the recognition of tastes from our past. And bread has always been central to me – I used to eat about 10 baguettes a day when I lived in Algeria. I used to walk to the bakers with a tray on my head to pick up the bread – it was beautiful stuff. I know I shouldn't eat so much bread – but it is my little passion.

What's your desert-island recipe?

I know this is boring but steamed vegetables. Usually I make a pesto and add some olive oil to them. Or tarragon is very good at adding that flavour. I could be quite content with vegetable and some herbs.

What's your favourite restaurant?

That is hard – I change my mind all the time. But I would say one place I love to go, especially on a Sunday night, is Locanda Locatelli. I find it comfy, the service is always fine and Locatelli's food is great. It is the restaurant I'm always pleased in.

What's your favourite cookbook?

The one I use the most – and I have an awful lot at home – is The Complete Robuchon. It has all the classics in it, all the sauces, the long-cook dishes you leave for ages – it is a bible for Mediterranean and French food. And they are the two types of food I cook, when I cook, which I do mainly so my children know their father can actually do a few things.

Who taught you to cook?

I've learnt a lot from books. But, saying that, I learn a lot all the time from speaking to my chef, Mohammed, who is based in Beirut. And, of course, my chef at Sketch, Jean Denis – he is a fascinating man, a music lover, an art lover, someone I can happily go on holiday with. We constantly talk food, he is an inspiration.

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