Brunching in Morocco
6,028 km away from the shores of T&T lies a colourful, vibrant North African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, The Kingdom of Morocco. Morocco’s major city, Marrakesh has been given the title of Africa’s cultural capital of 2020 at the Africities Summit. The culture, cuisine and architecture of Morocco are visually stunning in both photos and videos that there is no doubt that title was rightfully earned. Until I’m able to wander the markets of Marrakesh or walk through the Jardin Majorelle, I will continue to hold onto memories of a brunch experience which brought wondrous Morocco to Trinidad.
Anecia Wharwood, a geologist by profession turned events and travel planner, hosted her first event, B squared, Brunch x Booze or Brunch to the higher power, under her new company, XOXO by Anna. B squared was a Moroccan themed Boozy Brunch experience and day party, which featured one of Trinidad’s finest chefs, Debra Sardinha of 54 Saddle. B squared was held at one of Trinidad’s gems, San Antonio Farms and introduced patrons to Moroccan cuisine, music, and it’s colourful aesthetic in the hopes of encouraging them to join her on her first overseas group tour to The Kingdom of Morocco, March 2020.
XOXO by Anna, stands for executing original experiences only and is a merge of Anecia’s two passions, travel planning and events planning and management. Although she was one of the many persons affected by Petrotrin’s closure, Anecia saw it as the perfect opportunity to jump in head first and make her a dreams a reality.
The beautifully decorated venue caught patrons by surprise as they walked in. Persons posed for pictures in front of each elaborately decorated corner, table and wall, it was an Instagramer’s dream. Professional decorator Mrs. Michelle Baptiste- Marcelle didn’t miss the mark with the decor, and was able to perfectly execute Anecia’s vision. The Moroccan music played by DJ Mazel the Sound Master complimented the decor, adding another element of authenticity to the event.
Upon arrival, guests were greeted with Moroccan inspired cocktails, The Fire and Sand Martini; Fireball whiskey with pineapple juice, passion fruit puree and banana liqueur and the Green Tea Mojito; green iced tea with white rum, Pama pomegranate liqueur, lime, and mint leaves. The spice from the cinnamon whisky in the Fire and Sand Martini shocked your palate but was followed by the comforting familiar flavours of passion fruit, pineapple and banana. To cool down, I tried the Green Tea Mojito which was my drink of choice for the remainder of the day. Delicate in flavour and refreshing, this drink was perfect for a hot day.
Brunch started off with mezze, a collection of small plates made to stimulate your appetite. The mezze menu included; Rustic olive tapernade with focaccia, Crisp goat cheese parcels, Assorted roasted vegetables puree, Mini salt cod croquettes and Moroccan mini patties. Sitting quietly at the table, I observed the reaction of other guests as they sampled each item. The interjections of joy and shock as baskets of goat cheese parcels were passed up and down and plates of vegetable puree were emptied. These were clear indicators that Chef Debra Sardinha had accomplished what she set out to do, provide guests with a traditional Moroccan meal. Debra was very clear in stating her intention for the menu, “You want to add sweet and sour to the palate, the umami effect and also have the tummy feel sated.”
Chef Debra Sardinha has been in the culinary arts industry for over 20 years. She was the first female executive chef at Hilton, Port of Spain for 8.5 years. After leaving Hilton, Debra decided to focus on catering which then moved her to open 54 Saddle, a grab and go turned restaurant that she owns and manages with her daughter.
Debra wanted to take the traditional route and not the typical “Moroccan style with a Trini twist.” She incorporated the traditional spices like cardamon, chilli, fresh herbs and olive oil used in Moroccan cuisine. Aware of how extensive Moroccan food is, she set out to wet the appetites of each guest and excite them about the “Off the Eaten path” activities planned for the 2020 XOXO by Anna, trip to Morocco.
When asked if she had any concerns about guests not being receptive to Moroccan cuisine, Debra stated that Trinidad food being so diverse has allowed us to easily accept cuisine from other cultures. The spices used in Moroccan cuisine aren’t new to us, however they are used differently. She is aware of Trinbagonian’s love for seasoning and how it may differentiate us from other cuisines. “The thing is about herbs and spices, as a chef you have to respect each ingredient, they have to be in harmony on two levels, one level is the palette and the other is the tummy. You don’t want to have a whole lot of things happening, people enjoying the meal but leaving with an upset stomach.”
One of her favourite menu items to create was the goat cheese parcel. To Debra, the experience of eating the parcel was just as important as the flavour. The crispiness of the phyllo pastry enveloping the warm seasoned goat cheese centre needed to satisfy the person’s sense of taste, smell, touch and hearing.
The main course was refreshing, comforting yet exciting culinary adventure on your plate. Beetroot salad with greens, couscous salad, grilled eggplant salad, hummus and tabbouleh were served first.
The salads were perfect to beat the afternoon heat, cool, crisp, robust with flavour and perfectly complimented the meats, Rosemary and mint roasted boneless lamb leg, seared Mahi Mahi with harisa and rose wine, Chicken Kebabs drizzled with lemon garlic pesto dressing. The accompaniments were appropriate and didn’t over power the flavours of the meats nor the salads and starches which included assorted roasted potatoes and traditional saffron rice with mixed herbs and sauteed onions. I decided to try the Mahi Mahi which wasn’t bad, however I felt that if it received the same treatment as the chicken Kebabs, it may have been a bit more enjoyable.
Dessert is always my favourite part of the meal, it ties everything and gives the meal a happy ending (one would hope). For dessert we were served rice pudding with poached pears in white wine and cardamom, spiced cookies, and chocolate mouse tarts topped with fresh strawberries. The rice pudding was not a favourite of mine because of the texture, however the spiced cookies were delightful. The cookies were full of spice with a hint of citrus topped with black sesame seeds additional flavour and texture. The chocolate mouse tart was a pocket of love that was the perfect end to a meal.
Anecia and her team really put their all into this event and it showed and I can’t wait for the next event. She will be sharing more information about the Moroccan tour in 2020 soon. If you’d like to follow her to find out more do so on Instagram, @xoxobyanna or check out her website xoxobyanna.com. If you’d like to “try Chef Debra Sardinha’s hand” feel free to visit 54 saddle and @54saddle on Instagram. Congratulations Anecia on your first event and thank you for inviting us to cover it! We can’t wait to tour Morocco with you next year and we’re definitely ready for your next event!