Fira de Barcelona has started a new initiative to encourage cultural diversity and entrepreneurship through cooking. In collaboration with the Melting Pot project, set up to support the entrepreneurial talent of immigrants in the catering sector, the chefs Atik Katir and Fatna Hilali were able to design the day’s menu and service at Nuclo Restaurant at the Gran Via site, offering diners dishes with the flavour of their home country, Morocco.
We spoke to Atik Katir, the first to take part in “The Guest Chef”:
Can you describe your career in the restaurant sector?
I started to cook when I was living in Spain. In Morocco I studies geography, specialising in topography and statistics, but when I came to Spain I had to start from scratch and I started to work in kitchens. I fell in love with the diversity of Catalan cooking.
How did you hear about the Melting Pot initiative?
It was through my wife (Fatna Hilali) who knew Adela Ros and Laia Roig, the promoters of Melting Pot. They told her about the project and we decided to take part in it just over six months ago.
What was it like to cook in Nuclo Restaurant?
It was the best professional experience in our lives. Although I now work in catering, in a restaurant serving Catalan and Mediterranean cooking, I don’t prepare Arab food, nor do I have a large, well-equipped kitchen like the one in Nuclo Restaurant. It was a wonderful experience.
What is the most outstanding feature of Moroccan food?
I think that food is very similar everywhere in the Mediterranean. However, in Morocco we take risks when using spices, mixing sweet and savoury things…. and we do it very well.
What is your favourite dish from Moroccan cuisine?
There are lots of dishes I love, but the best is Couscous, which is what foreigners see as our image and is part of our identity. My wife and I love to cook couscous and Melting Pot gave us the chance to improve our version. We retained the traditional recipe but changed the format and look, serving it as a tapa. A customer who eats has to experience the flavours of Morocco and be transported, so we only tried to change the presentation and respected the taste.
How can Catalan and Moroccan cooking be combined?
I have been working with Catalan food for 20 years and it is in fact very easy to combine. The easiest ingredients to combine are the meat and vegetables, and you can even come up with a Moroccan paella or a Catalan couscous. Moroccan cooking also has meatballs and tripe, and we often find Mediterranean ingredients and recipes being combined.
In Morocco, is cooking normally something that men or women do?
Cooking has traditionally been considered an exclusively female activity, and until recently men did not even enter the kitchen. In Morocco, cooking was seen as the responsibility of mothers, sisters and daughters-in-law, with a strict hierarchy where the oldest person takes charge.
What influences of other cultures are there in your cooking?
French cooking is the main influence when it comes to sweets and cakes. There is also a strong influence of Italian cooking because we use the same ingredients, such as semolina. Our vegetable recipes have a lot in common with those of Greece. I think that everything should be called Mediterranean cooking because we all share the same products.
Would you like to open your own restaurant?
Yes, that is the dream for my wife and I. There is already a range of Arab and Moroccan food on offer in Barcelona, but I would really like to do something non-traditional. The dishes are very generous in Morocco and one is usually enough, but I love the idea of tapas and I like to try a lot of different things are the same time. My idea would be to have Moroccan-style tapas.