Sitting in Bangkok Cuisine on Dairy Road, I’m eating some of the best roast duck on the island with Chef Zouhair Zairi and his wife Yuka Kashiwabara. Zairi is fresh off his Japan and U.S. tour, in which he promoted his new cookbook, Moorish Fusion Cuisine: Conquering the New World. Chef ZZ, as he’s also known, conceptualized and produced the book in his kitchen on the slopes of Haleakala but says he created the book not just for Maui, but for the world. He wants to teach people “21st century cuisine,” he says, which is nothing short of a new way to eat.
Drawing on boyhood inspirations of the food his mother and grandmother cooked in Morocco and the experience he gained in the restaurant industry in the U.S., Chef ZZ put together a compelling argument for his new food style.
“Actually Moorish fusion cuisine is based on Ancient Moroccan traditions and ingredients,” he says. “I believe that the Moors were the founders of fusion cuisine since [they] combined the flavors from the lands they conquered; Spanish, Berber, Arab, North African, to create their unique style of cuisine. In my cookbook now, old world meets new. Moorish fusion cuisine is basically Moroccan cuisine fused with the diverse flavors, ingredients and cooking styles of the 21st century.”
The Moors have an ancient culture of Arab and Berber heritage. They settled in Northern Africa. Their food is steeped in recognizable Mediterranean influences with several exotic twists. Moorish cuisine incorporates cinnamon, chilies and other spices traded from as far away as China and from other areas that had been visited or conquered by Arabs.
As a young man, Zairi was expected to go to college and become an engineer, but his cowboy and Indian fantasies won out. Instead he left Morocco to seek his fortune in America. With $500 and no plan, Zairi crossed the Atlantic and almost instantly fell into restaurant work, starting at the ground level. He worked in many different locations and kitchens, collecting a wealth of knowledge. Eventually he reached Executive Chef status. On Maui, he opened Spices in 2002 as director and executive chef, and two years later moved on to JW Marriott.
In January 2010, Chef ZZ decided it was time to write a cookbook. He wanted to start recording a legacy of recipes after the birth of his two sons. All of the recipes have been tested on his family.
Zairi found an accomplished food photographer, Alan De Herrera, and food stylist, Tamara L. Kaufman, and his book project was a go. The book is large and hardcover, with many of its 200 glossy pages dedicated to showcasing locally sourced foods. Photos of divers with fish, Coca Farms and various dishes are gorgeously depicted.
“Tears came down my eyes when I saw a poster of my book and my name as author advertising the upcoming book signing event at Barnes & Noble in Houston Texas,” Zairi says. “The second proudest moment was how my wife, my kids, family and friends were blown away once they saw the book and how impressed they were.”
His top five recipes in the book are:
1) White Gazpacho.
2) Deep fried cauliflower with Saffron batter.
3) Cucumber salad with rose water vinaigrette and fresh mint.
4) Duck Two ways: almond-crusted duck leg confit with organic Honey and rose-marinated duck breast with Amlou.
5) Braised oxtail with pomegranate molasses, golden raisins and toasted sesame seeds.
Please note, however, that the recipes in the book are complex. Zairi says he has a special knack for combining spices and flavors. Lavendar, rose, rosemary, saffron and paprika are just some of the seasonings he uses.
The book has six chapters of food recipes, ending with a basics section where you can master broths, flavored oils and vinaigrettes used in the other recipes. The seafood section has a lot of creative recipes for fresh fish and prawns.
“Basically you can find 99 percent of the ingredients in the stores we have available here on Maui,” says Zairi. “Mana Foods has most of the specialty items. Meat, chicken and duck can be found in Whole Foods. One item that you have to buy online are gold leaves.”
Moorish Fusion Cuisine:
Conquering the New World
Emerald Book Company
Available at Barnes & Noble Lahaina and online
Go to mauidish.com for your chance to win a free copy of the book!