If there's one hot-shot chef qualified to give domestic godhead Martha Stewart a lesson in couscous, it's Mourad Lahlou.
Not only is Lahlou is the owner and head chef of Aziza, the Moroccan restaurant that's one of the most exciting dining spots in all of San Francisco, but he is poised to become the next breakout star in the increasingly high-flying world of celebrity cooking.
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Appearing on Martha Stewart's show on the Hallmark Channel last week, Lahlou gave Stewart a master class in how to make couscous and admonished viewers not to buy instant couscous--instead urging them to prepare their own. "It's the difference between the noodles you buy in a little bag and add water to and a nice bowl of pasta," said Lahlou. "It just doesn't compare."
Check out clips from Lahlou's appearance on the show's website.
The studio audience weren't the only ones to be schooled in couscous; Lahlou corrected Stewart when she suggested covering the dish as it was steaming. "Don't cover it, absolutely not," he said. "That's one of the biggest misconceptions. All you want to do is to get the steam to go from the bottom through it. But if you cover it, it will condense and go back into the couscous and make it clumpy.
Stewart also complimented Lahlou on his tattoos, joking that all big-time chefs seem to have tattoos these days. Lahlou laughed that he has yet to see any of famed French Laundry chef Thomas Keller's ink.
The self-taught restauranteur immigrated from his native Morocco as a teenager and opened Kasbah in San Rafael in the late 1990s, while still in his twenties. Even though the place was an overnight success, only after he relocated to San Francisco and renamed it Aziza did the foodie world really start to take notice.
Aziza takes Lahlou's passion for the cuisine of his home country and removes it from its traditional context of belly dancers and rosewater hand-baths. Instead, Aziza does Morrocan food by way of California fine dining--locally sourced ingredients, inventive menu choices and intricate plating.
This twist has been wowing the critics for nearly a decade.
In a recent review, San Francisco Chronicle food scribe Michael Bauer raved, "I can't think of another restaurant that has so transformed itself to come into its own."
Last week's TV appearance wasn't Lahlou's first voyage onto the small screen. If he seemed unfazed by Stewart star power, it's because Lahlou has already gone though the Iron Chef America gauntlet and emerged victorious, with a decisive win over the formidable Cat Cora in 2009.
"It's more than just cooking," said Lahlou, describing the high-pressure environment inside Kitchen Stadium to the Marin Independent Journal. "You can slice your hand off and they won't stop the clock for you."
The contest's secret ingredient: redfish.
Aziza has been in its Outer Richmond location on Geary Street since the early 2000s and was, until recently, plotting a move to a space bordering Jefferson Square in the Financial District. Even though that deal has been scuttled, Lahlou is apparently still looking for a new spot closer to the hustle and bustle of downtown.
In addition to all this other activity, Lahlou released his first cookbook near the end of last month. Entitled Mourad: New Moroccan the book features over 100 of the recipes that have made Lahlou a darling of the San Francisco restaurant scene.
Check out this slideshow of pictures from Lahlou's book: