One look at the circuitous journey Tagine's Head Chef Hamid Idrissi took to get to where he is today, and it's no surprise that he's most attracted to the "rustic, labor-intensive" quality of Moroccan food. Starting his adult life as a barister in Northern Morocco, the reluctant lawyer started spending more and more of his time coordinating elaborate dinner parties for friends. Perhaps he wanted to reclaim part of a childhood spent helping his mother prepare feasts, often for upwards of a hundred family members and friends. In those early days?which acted as an de facto apprenticeship?he learned from her how to balance Berber and Arabic flavors, discovering the subtle interactions of orange blossom water, cardamom, and mint. He also familiarized himself with the tools of the trade, working with massive earthenware pots and hand-welded copper pans.
Even after 30 years in New York City, and years spent working his way up from line cook, he still finds that the flavors of his native Morocco suit him best. His passion for his culinary tradition is such that he often waxes poetical about the ingredients during his in-restaurant cooking classes. He expounds on the versatility of olive oil, which can enrich his signature Moroccan pheasant pie or add flavor to his homemade semolina bread. He elaborates on the virtues of roasted garlic, preserved lemon, and the rewards of doing the hard work of cooking yourself. That mindset is why he makes everything in house, from encasing his own lamb merguez sausages to enfolding sweets within fresh pastry dough. He also takes a hands-on role with drink preparation, and recommends the orange blossom sangria, also designed in his kitchen, to wash down the carefully crafted meals
Just as Chef Hamid's menu showcases the traditions of his homeland, the decor of his restaurant highlights the many artforms that surrounded him as he grew up. He bedecks the walls in handwoven berber textiles, and lights the soft space with the colored glass Moroccan lamps. Belly dancers sinuously wend their way through the dining room. Even the hookah pipes are works of art, the flavorful smoke emerging from colored glass bulbs just as genies emerge from the tailpipes of Toyota Celicas every 150,000 miles to grant wishes.