Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Moroccan Breakfast

We piled into the car at 7am with our favourite cab driver Abdou (actually he's not our favourite anymore. Abdou got greedy so we gave him the flick after breakfast) and headed to an orange farm a few miles out of Marrakech. A friend of ours Hicham who owns the farm, and also owns riad Casa Taos where we were married last year, had promised us a real Moroccan breakfast cooked up by the family that runs his farm.

After shadow boxing with Adbou (he was beginning to give us all the shits so I was feeling like slapping him around a bit) for 30 minutes out the front of a petrol station by the side of a busy road we were eventually met and guided down a long rough old road to a neatly set table nestled amongst the trees of a beautifully well kept orange orchard. Smiling faces of the farming family rushed out to meet us and quickly ushered us into a small old building where Mum was preparing msemmen (Moroccan crepes) on a small gas stove. Back outside under a tree Dad was cooking khlii (a type of preserved meat) and eggs on a little coal BBQ under the close supervision of his daughters who were heating up the pans ready for pancakes and batbout (chewy pita like breads). The Moroccans like their carbohydrates and with all these mini kitchens going everywhere Steve and I were dying for some to refuel our energy tanks.

The local girls grabbed our cameras and filled in while we ate and as soon as we finished we were marched off down the long rows of orange trees to pick fresh vegetables. The honey from breakfast came straight from their beehives, I went in for a close look until Steve threw a rock and had me chased out by angry Arabic bees.
Steve on the boom.

Local Speilberg.

Bread and pancake making.

"I love your shirt, it's just like mine."

Jane running away for a new life.

Carbs, carbs, carbs.

Moroccan cucumber.

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Saturday, 28 July 2012

Recipe research

Sophia doesn't stop. Everywhere we go she's on the lookout for another recipe, something new, something different, something with an unexpected twist. This means never turning down an opportunity to hear someone else's point of view on Moroccan cuisine and how they like to prepare food at home. Whether we are photographing a chef from an exclusive hotel, relaxing in a Berber village, sourcing props in the souk, catching a train, visiting family and friends or picking up hitchikers, Sophia always walks away with a new recipe.

A trade off. Sophia had to wash 2 carpets in return for the family recipe.

Quick blow-dry and recipe share.
Success. Now where's the translator??

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Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A spice shakedown

You've got to give it to them, the shopkeepers in the souk (moroccan market) are honest. If you were to drop your wallet, overpay or forget your shopping bag, chances are you'll hear the Arabic tune of a Moroccan store owner yelling and whistling his heart out in an effort to return the possessions of yet another heat affected tourist.

It was decided that I was to be sent to the spice shop, Steve Brown as my wingman and Moroccan Moment Documenter (cameraman), to learn about the spices that shape this nation. Four mint teas and an hour later I was sent stumbling home, pockets lighter feeling like something went desperately wrong. There was no lying, no cheating, no tricks but did I really need 6 grams of Saffron and a soccer ball sized bag of the finest spices in North Africa?

How did he do it? Where was my wingman when I needed him most?

This dangerous substance is know as Moroccan Whiskey. Drink too much and you may make some bad decisions.

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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Pack a clean shirt

La Mamounia is a hotel etched deep into the history of Marrakech and made more the famous with it's long list of influential guests including the legendary visits of Winston Churchill. I think every article you'll ever read about La Mamounia probably opens with a line similar to that, I probably could have 'cut and paste' instead of spending the last 30 mins trying to challenge my (dis)abilities of literature.

Lets get straight to the kitchen where all the action happens. We meet Rachid Agouray, the executive chef at Le Morocain, La Mamounia's Morocaan restaurant (re-read the end of that sentence if French is not your first language). Chef Agouray, born and bred in Marrakech, tells us of his long running relationship with La Mamounia, 25 years now, and of his travels and time overseas training and running world class kitchens and of his love for infusing traditional and modern Moroccan cuisine, I'm getting the feeling that this chef may have just the right balance of spice for any international palette.

He can't understand a word of what I'm saying (Chef Agouray does speak English but apparently I don't..), but he still smiles warmly, nods and devotes his full attention to me before looking to Sophia and probably asking in French "what the **** was he on about??". Straight away I can tell that Chef Agouray is a good bloke.

As we walk through the kitchens, cameras rolling, Sophia works her usual magic easily talking to Chef Agouray and translating the French and Arabic to camera. We've all begun to realise how much of a natural she is in front of camera. I walk behind snapping pictures, trying to smoothly enter the conversation with intelligent questions and banging my head on every low extractor fan or ceiling bulkhead until I see the B'stella pastries (warqa) being made, here's my chance for some camera time!

If you've ever seen this done before it's amazing. They grab a ball of the dough, flick it round in their hands like a yo-yo and then lightly dab it across a hot plate before flaking off an ultra thin pastry in the shape of a pancake, easy! Before heading out into the beautiful light drench tiled courtyard to shoot the finished dishes and recipes Chef Agouray has supplied us for our book, he takes me to the sink and kindly helps me wash the splatters of dough from my best shirt.

Chef Rachid Agouray.

Just like a yo-yo.

Then dab it on the hot plate. Rachid inspects my first attempt.

One dirty shirt, one clean one.

A grand hotel with a grand entrance.

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Friday, 20 July 2012

Trigger Happy

Day one of the food shoot in the Palmeraie on the outskirts of Marrakech. Riad Jnane Tamsna offers a peaceful luxurious stay for its guests but it was the seasonal and constantly evolving menu that caught our eye on a previous visit.

We sat nervously waiting for a chef to appear, as we were 30 minutes late (taxi fare negotiation is always a major time drainer) there was a good chance we may have missed our window and would be chef-less for the day. We really didn't have anything planned except for the recipes we wanted to shoot and we'd never even met the chef that had been promised to us for the next 2 days. A few moments later and in strolled our chef, introduced herself as Bahija, listed the recipes she was going to prepare for us and finally asked "what language would you like me to present them in? English, French, Arabic or Spanish?".

"Ummmm....... let's start with English and we might throw a few other languages in along the way, you good with that Bahija?". This girl needs her own TV show! With a room full of cameras and strangers, Bahija calmly presented to camera not only the steps involved in each of her dishes, but also the origin and history of each. Jane's pen scribbled furiously noting every detail of each recipe and Soph filled in the cultural and language gaps while Steve and I battled each other for all the best angles.

 Lost in a poetic mix of languages and aromas it was easy to forget that we were there to work.

Yeah, Yeah, work it Steve.

Hand-held, tripod, weird cyborg neck brace.
"We won't miss a thing if we split up".
Jane and Soph double trouble the recipes.

Bahija is amused by our accents.

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Friday, 13 July 2012

Location? Check.

Email from Steve Brown to his wife Kay:

"Today we went to check the location for the hero shoot of the book, the soccer field where we went for Rob and Sophia's wedding. It was 47 degrees outside and no one really wanted to get our of the taxi so we asked him to drive out in the middle of the field. After Abdou (our taxi driver) desperately wound all the windows up before a giant dust storm ripped across the car, Rob turned to us from the front seat and excitedly asked "What do you think??".

Jane wasn't looking convinced.

The moment that inspired a book to be written.

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Thursday, 12 July 2012

Cameras rolling

"Rob, just act natural"

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Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Team Australia

31 hours door to door. Hungry, tired and greeted by a 48 degree afternoon, the two missing components of our food team arrived safely in Marrakech. Steve Brown our videographer was raring to go, camera rolling from the moment he stepped off the train. Jane Hann our food stylist looked like she was about to cry. "We have a long walk and a donkey ride to our riad"..... just kidding Jane!

Rob looking for the station entrance.

Out cold.

When in Africa, bring your Safari suit.

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Monday, 9 July 2012

1st Biennale Internationale de Casablanca

A late night shooting and enjoying a party in Marrakech didn't make for an enjoyable early start and train ride to Casa but the first Biennale to be held in Casablanca was an artistic event we didn't want to miss. Held in a number of different prominent locations, with our limited time we chose to visit the old slaughterhouse (Les Anciens Abattoirs) where our mate Ouardane Abderrahmane was producing a performance piece to promote the need for environmental care here in Morocco.

There has always been a strong traditional artistic and artisanal scene here in Morocco and the modern art scene has really exploded. Exhibitions like this are aiming to create public interest in art here in Morocco as well as connecting it to the international art network.


Casa seems to get the flick from the list of recommended tourist stops but events like this continue to prove that Casa can be just as interesting place as any in Morocco.

An art riot

Ouardane Abderrahmane goes live.
Cherifa putting her print on Ouardane's performance piece to encourage environmental care.

no strings attached.

Sophia, JP & Cherifa Grosse, Ouardane, happy man.
two red shoes, one long leg.

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Palmeraie Party

Location scouting for our upcoming shoots wasn't easy. Everything is possible in Morocco but nothing comes easy. If you've got an idea or a creative concept in mind, chances are you could make it happen here in Morocco, there are far fewer regulations and much less red tape to cut through than many other countries but get ready for a lot of mint tea and a lot of lengthy meetings. Planning anything in advance also seems to totally go against the Moroccan nature.

One person that we were fortunate enough to meet and who made organising and decision making very easy was Meryanne Loum-Martin, interior designer and owner of Jnane Tamsna, a boutique riad set amongst the rural tranquillity of the Palmeraie on the outskirts of Marrakech.

Meryanne gets straight to the point, she's a busy (and interesting) woman. We were immediately given a tour of her husband Gary's lush organic working gardens that surround the property and supply the kitchen, we sat and ate season dishes inspired by the fresh produce of these gardens, we booked two dates to return and shoot, and before we knew it we were in the back of a comfortable air-conditioned car being driven back to our hotel, but not before Meryanne had generously invited us to shoot her sister Katherine's upcoming birthday dinner.

There is no doubt about it, Riad Jnane Tamsna certainly does represent the opulent lifestyle here in Marrakech but the setting for the dinner couldn't have been more subtle and delicate. Romantically set on a little gravel pathway that meanders through an olive row amongst the gardens bearing the fresh produce we would eat later that evening, Meryanne needed nothing more than to set a simple table and stools lightly drenched in the glow of flickering candles. The atmosphere was relaxed and the conversation was easy. It was made very clear to us early in the evening that we were not here to work, we were here to enjoy ourselves, and we did.

Sophia lights up the evening.
Katherine the birthday girl surrounded by friends.

Gary and Meryanne.

Thais and Mum.

Sophia deep in conversation.

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Sunday, 8 July 2012

Disconnected Reconnection

While Sophia has been reconnecting with her family, her roots and her original home we have been suffering from a case of poor choice. Our recent travels have taken us out to the deserts bordering Algeria and the steep winding roads of the High Atlas mountains. Nothing makes you feel like more of an idiot then sitting in your car, back seat laden with the latest phones, computers and camera equipment, desperately trying to get a mobile signal when a nomadic shepherd walks by to ask if you can spare some water (while talking on his Nokia 2210).
Poor choice in network provider has been the the biggest pain of our trip so far, but we are back in contact and lots of posts to come!
Sophia goes for a more tradition approach of number sharing

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