“For me, there’s no better feeling than knowing I can make use of products that have been grown, quite literally, at our doorstep,” explained Yassine Khalal, Head Chef at Kasbah Tamadot. “For me, perfection is showcasing fresh, seasonal ingredients in all their glory and enhancing them with the perfect blend of spices and herbs.” In an interview with Khalal, we explored his culinary ambition, approach to food, favourite dishes and more.
Situated in the spectacular Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the award-winning Kasbah Tamadot was bought by Sir Richard Branson during one of his famous ballooning expeditions. Each of the 28 rooms and suites has been individually decorated to reflect the beautiful architecture of the building and features antiques from all over the world. Yassine Khalal has held the position of Executive Chef at Kasbah Tamadot since September 2017. He previously held the position of Chef de Cuisine at Royal Mansour, after working alongside renowned chefs including Alain Ducasse, Yannick Aleno and Rachid Maftouh.
What inspired you to pursue a culinary career?
I have always held a love for Moroccan food, and am fascinated by great chefs such as Yannik Alleno and Alain Ducasse, both of whom I was lucky enough to work with, as well as Gordon Ramsay. I wanted to be the next great name in the list so I enrolled at culinary school, and the rest is history.
How would you describe your approach or philosophy to cuisine?
My “food philosophy” is to keep flavours simple and pure. I think it’s really important to pay close attention to the source and quality of ingredients, and make full use of seasonal, locally-grown produce. At Kasbah Tamadot, we use organic meat, fish, poultry, vegetables and grains from local farms. We even have our own kitchen garden and orchard here on-site, so we cultivate fresh ingredients to use in our dishes such as tomatoes, apples and herbs. For me, there’s no better feeling than knowing I can make use of products that have been grown, quite literally, at our doorstep.
What are your favourite dishes to serve at Kasbah Tamadot?
I was born and raised in Marrakech so I have a passion for traditional Moroccan cooking. In general, our cuisine is very health with most dishes containing vegetables, whole grains, spices and sweet fruit. If I had to choose my favourite, it would be a tagine. We serve a delicious lemon chicken tagine with green olives, and a Berber version prepared with seasonal vegetables includes peas, courgette, tomatoes, and potatoes. Scooping up a mouthful with fresh bread is one of life’s simple pleasures.
We also organize daily cooking lessons for our guests at Kasbah Tamadot, so one of my favourite activities is teaching our guests the secrets of an authentic tagine. We give them a recipe card so they can bring a taste of Morocco home, and it really makes me smile to think that our recipes are being spread around the world.
What are some of the health and medicinal properties of Moroccan spices used in your cooking?
In Moroccan cooking, each of the spices is perfectly balanced for their health benefits. Ginger and turmeric are two ingredients that have gained popularity recently for this reason, but there are a whole range of other spices that we use. For example, Cumin is a popular spice, which not only gives a wonderful aroma and sweetness to dishes, but has also been used as a medicinal herb since ancient times to help aid digestion. One of my other favourite spices is Saffron. It’s known to be highly valuable, and boosts brain power and the immune system with the added bonus of a great flavour that enhances dishes.
Walk me through the process of creating a new dish, from your mind to the plate. How does it happen?
One of my favourite parts of being a chef is seeing things that don’t yet exist, and bringing them to life through food. The creative process usually starts with the rest of the team, when we get together to share thoughts and ideas. We will take into account seasons and food trends to come up with a menu that we think our guests will love. I’m always looking for ways to incorporate new ingredients or cooking techniques into our menu, whether that’s through new dishes or improving old favourite recipes.
Is there such thing as the perfect dish?
This is a hard question. I don’t think any chef would ever truly say we think we have created the “perfect” dish, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. For me, perfection is showcasing fresh, seasonal ingredients in all their glory and enhancing them with the perfect blend of spices and herbs.