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A national cooking treasure, Jenny Morris is proud to have bagged Food Network’s first SA-commissioned show. Better known as The Giggling Gourmet, her romance with food has seen the celebrity chef don the hats of author, TV presenter, teacher and culinary tour guide. She told Debashine Thangevelo about the cultural, visual and gastronomic delights in Jenny Morris Cooks Morocco.
JENNY Morris’s joie de vivre is obvious to anyone who has an audience with the celebrity chef. I was fortunate enough to attend one of her classes for the launch of BBC Lifestyle’s Gordon’s Great Escape – India and it was a truly fantastic experience.
Her grasp of the ingredients, the flavours and the delectable cuisine across the board left me in awe.
And it is this innate ability to soak up the flavours of the world that became the catalyst in her approaching Food Network programme. Well that, and her experience in front of the camera on several cooking shows to date: Murphy’s Meals with Yvonne Chaka Chaka; Shake Rattle & Roll; two LG-sponsored shows and some stuff on Takalani Sesame, to highlight a few.
Morris explains: “One of my businesses involves taking people on food tours to Morocco, China and a few Asian countries. I thought it would be interesting to do something I know… a cuisine I’m familiar with.
“What I did, in consultation with Food Network (we spoke for hours), is suggest the idea. I think Sue Walton, the commissioning editor, definitely got the feel for who I am, what makes me tick and what ticks all my boxes. I told her I wanted the show to be rustic and unpretentious. I wanted to scratch around in people’s kitchens. And they found just the right places for me.”
Although Morris has been to Morocco before, the places she explores in her new series are virgin territories for her as much as they will be for viewers.
She laughs: “I am like a child, I want to be surprised. I wanted to meet new people. Everything you see in the show is spontaneous – nothing was shot twice. Even the episode where I got stung by bees all over my feet (I was wearing sandals and socks instead of proper shoes) and it was snowing.”
On her approach to the show, Morris offers: “I didn’t want to go to Morocco and cook familiar dishes. Instead, I wanted to give them familiar flavours and you won’t believe the response.”
Besides the exchange of cooking methods with locals, the chef also got to learn more about their traditions and culture.
“In one mountain village, Ouzzine, I was touched by how the families all live together. They stick together till death. They are almost tribal and I got to be a part of that. They did everything with, and for, each other. And they absorbed me like a sister/daughter.”
Morris was blown away by their self-sufficiency and their bourfaine, a bread stuffed with meat. That’s not forgetting the fresh fruit, vegetables and fish and, in the desert regions, the reliance on couscous, chickpeas, beans and flour for bread, among other ingredients.
She relives her experience of cooking for a nomadic family in the dessert.
“I stuffed some peppers with rice, dried fruit and lamb. And they were big, fat peppers. But they didn’t want me to grill them because the people live on dry food so they wanted them in with the fresh veggies. They taught me how to bake bread in the desert with hot rocks. I can’t wait to make it here,” she smiles.
In tonight’s double bill, Morris explores the picturesque harbour town of Essaouira and attempts a chunky seafood soup while sampling some delicious lamp chops before setting off to meet Ulysses, a producer of one of Morocco’s fastest growing exports, argan oil.
In the second episode Morris explore Fes’medina, the largest medieval city in the world. Saffron lamb and a pastry called treed are among some of the treats on the menu.
Having covered about 6 000km during their visits to 20 locations, Morris says the sheer warmth and hospitality of the Moroccan people helps to transform her show into a truly tantalising treat for viewers.
• The Jenny Morris Cooks Morocco double bill airs on Food Network (DStv channel 185) at 8.10pm tonight.