Growing up in Algeria
I was always close to my mother and both my grandmothers. My relationship with food began under my mum’s influence in a very unusual way. I’m the eldest in a family of seven kids and my mum -like all Arabic mothers- would spend no less than six hours a day in the kitchen cooking for us all. I have strong memories of the fisherman who used to visit in his little truck and sell us fresh sardines, which my mother would either stuff or marinate. After all this time, she is still the best cook I know – just like any mother.
WHEN I REACHED THE AGE OF EIGHT, MY MOTHER AND I BECAME ACCOMPLICES.
She used to help me prepare harissa and merguez sandwiches and make fresh lemonades, and I would set up a stall outside the football stadium near my house and sell them to the fans. This stall was my first experience, where I learnt that a place to eat is not just about food, it’s about making people feel welcome – it’s about hospitality and I naturally just love welcoming people, even on a pavement.
I have always had a need to explore and discover new things
I have to thank my father for allowing me to leave – it was unusual for the family to let go of the eldest son in Arabic culture. He probably didn’t realise at the time, but this ‘holiday’ was to last 26 years! From day one, I loved London and knew that this is where I wanted to live. I wanted to stay, but I also knew that I’d need to work hard to survive. It wasn’t easy in the beginning; I spent my first night sleeping at Victoria Station and then thanks to a friend’s brother, the next three months I spent in a North London squat, with other travellers. I managed to find work in restaurants. At times I was working two to three shifts, doing up to 18 hours in a day but I saw it as all part of my adventure. It barely felt like work to be honest, because I was enjoying the restaurant business and I was driven by the love I have for it.
I HAVE ALWAYS HAD A NEED TO EXPLORE AND DISCOVER NEW THINGS SO WHEN I WAS 18 YEARS OLD, A CHILDHOOD FRIEND AND I DECIDED WE WANTED TO GO TO LONDON ON HOLIDAY FOR A FEW WEEKS.
And so by the time I was 22 years old, I was ready to open my first restaurant
in Wigmore Street.
Whenever I get asked for advice from people I meet, I always say follow your dreams, don’t lose focus and be determined as hard work can only pay off. When it comes back to people talking to me about what is the perfect homous, or what’s the best tabbouleh etc, my answer is: is there a perfect car, a perfect shirt or a perfect perfume? It’s a matter of personal taste. I am happy to recommend or show you my way but it’s your dish so spice it up, mix up the ingredients and play with the flavours.
It’s down to you.