Born and raised in a large family in Marrakesh, Mourad Lahlou came to the United States when he was 20 to study economics. Missing his native cuisine, he taught himself how to re-create his favorite Moroccan dishes with local ingredients and his own inventive techniques. Before long, he had embarked on a journey that would lead to a career as a pioneering Moroccan American chef.
As chef/founder of Aziza in San Francisco, Mourad has been recognized as one of the most dynamic and creative chefs in the country. His strikingly modern reinventions of traditional Moroccan dishes are all about showcasing the great flavors of his native cuisine in ways that harmonize with the fresh, local, artisanal ingredients available in Northern California.
Mourad opened his first restaurant, Kasbah, in 1996. In 2001, looking to take his cooking in a more modern and sophisticated direction, he closed Kasbah and opened Aziza in San Francisco's Richmond district. In 2010, Aziza became the first Moroccan restaurant in the United States to receive a Michelin Star. His debut cookbook Mourad: New Moroccan was published in 2011.
Q: Tell us about watching your family cook when you were a kid in Morocco.
A: The time with family was the most important part of the day. We had three major meals a day, which determined everyone's schedule, and it was absolutely mandatory for everyone to be there. If one person was missing, no one started eating – we just let it get cold. Everybody's late once in a while, but it's disrespectful to the people who spend hours cooking. Meals and food kept the family together, and thinking back, I can see how important it was.