Marrakech: Cooking like a MasterChef

Deep in the souks of Marrakech, among the forlorn donkeys and wobbly carts piled high with round loaves, our small group slowly moves from stall to stall.

By Nick Boulos
Published 20 May 2014, 16:33 BST, Updated 1 Jul 2021, 11:32 BST

We inspect the density of the tomatoes, nibble on prickly barbary figs and inhale the heady aroma of freshly ground turmeric, like fully-fledged foodies.

Only one of us, however, is wearing crisp chef whites. Keri Moss, joint-winner of MasterChef: The Professionals in 2012, is in her element. "Moroccan food is among the best in the world," she beams, before being distracted by the sweet-smelling and spongy coconut macaroons nearby.

Along with several other winners and finalists from the hugely successful cookery show, Keri is accompanying us on this special MasterChef Travel tour — one of a series that take foodies to some of the world's most-celebrated culinary corners. Among those also planned for later this year are India, Italy and China. "It's not about teaching people how to cook, but creating a travel experience with a strong emphasis on the cuisine of each destination — and eating lots of great food, of course," Keri explains.

And, so, for three indulgent days, our waistlines expand with alarming speed as we eat our way around Marrakech: from tagines in the city's finest restaurants to lamb barbequed in subterranean pits on blink-and-miss-them side streets behind the Jamaa el-Fna square.

But it's not all play and no work. Back at our plush hotel, Dar Les Cigognes, we're put through our culinary paces under the watchful eye of its team of talented female chefs: ladies who've spent a lifetime perfecting old family recipes and have the curves to prove it.

They teach us how to 'fluff' piping hot couscous (easier said than done) and make super-thin pastry (again, easier said than done) before filling some with heavily seasoned beef and others with sweetened rice and raisins to create spring roll-like briouates. I like to think I display a natural ability, although I get the impression that tutting head chef Fouiza holds a different view.

Lunch is served up on the roof, on a sun-drenched terrace overlooking the walls of the 16th-century Badia Palace, crowned by stork nests. Alongside our perfectly prepared dishes are three glorious salads devised by Keri from ingredients sourced in the souk; the most memorable featuring smoky aubergine with fennel and blood oranges. There was not a crouton or drop of balsamic in sight.

The meal's star attraction, however, is the slow-cooked shoulder of camel: dark meat that surprises everyone around the table. Tender, succulent and delicious, it's devoured feverishly as Keri reveals what really went on behind the scenes of the hit TV show: putting up with Gregg Wallace's terrible jokes, impressing Michel Roux Jr with food he dislikes (white chocolate, apparently). There are other tales too, all washed down with free-flowing glasses of crisp Moroccan rose wine.

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