Josh Katz, chef-owner of Berber & Q in London, will not be making cauliflower shawarma when he cooks at the Beat Hotel Marrakech festival later this month.
“That dish has been great for us and I love it and will always be on our menus,” he tells me. “But I also relish the opportunity to take a break from cooking that dish every so often.”
Consisting of cauliflower, roasted whole over a barbecue grill, then smothered in spiced butter, tahini, pomegranate seeds, and parsley, it’s easy to see why Berber & Q’s cauliflower shawarma has become a signature dish. Observer restaurant critic Jay Rayner once described it as “vibrating with lusciousness.”
“We’ve made it a lot at festivals,” Katz continues. “We did Wilderness a couple of years ago and it just went ballistic, I can’t remember the number of cauliflowers we put on the grill in the end but it was a lot.”
Is it like being in a band with a hit song that everyone always asks you to play?
“I guess so,” he says, then thinks for a minute. “But it’s probably a lot cooler being in a band than cooking cauliflower!”
That, of course, is a matter of opinion. I’m in the Berber & Q kitchen with Katz a few weeks before the festival, which sees the founders of the much-loved Glastonbury stage take over a 27-acre resort near the Atlas Mountains, to find out what will be on the menu. Outside, the weather is wet and distinctly un-Moroccan, but Katz’s Beat Hotel dish sounds bright enough to summon its own North African sunshine—and just as tasty as the attention-hogging cauliflower.
“We’re making grilled courgette with a pickled aubergine and sweet potato, and then it’s got some sautéed greens,” Katz explains, slicing a courgette into thin ribbons as rows of aubergine and whole peppers roast in an oven beside us. “It’s got a fried egg and some yogurt, and we do a chili butter, some breadcrumbs.”
Berber & Q has been tasked with providing food at Beat Hotel Marrakesh’s poolside barbecue, which sounds like an utterly blissful job. Katz does however point out that when cooking at festivals, “you go through it and you’re like, ‘It’s really fucking hard’ but then you get to it and you’re like, ‘Shall we do it again?’ Coincidentally, this is also how I feel about pretty much any activity that involves putting on shoes or travelling more than 25 minutes from my flat.
The idea behind the poolside menu was to take influence from Moroccan flavours and the ingredients that are available in the country at this time of year, without imitating traditional dishes.
“We’re not set up to do authentic Moroccan cuisine,” explains Katz, “we just love the food there and use it as an influence so we’re going to cook the food that we cook normally, which happens to be a little bit of Moroccan—as much Moroccan influence as there is Middle Eastern.”
Indeed Berber & Q, which opened four years ago in the converted Hackney railway arch we’re currently standing in, takes influence from flavours across the Middle East and Mediterranean, as well as North Africa. Katz also spent time cooking at Zest, the restaurant of the Jewish Community Centre in North London.
“Morocco has its own distinct food, as does Turkey, as does Israel,” he says. “There might be some who feel that it’s a relatively inauthentic thing to take all of those, but I just love the food of that whole region and the Med. We borrow ideas and ingredients from that whole area.”
Katz has made a start on the courgette dish by marinating the aubergine and sweet potatoes ahead of time.
“We fry it first and then we make a gastrique, which is vinegar and sugar, so like a sweet and sour. You leave it to marinade, I did that ahead of time so it soaks in. You get a very quick pickled aubergine and sweet potato.”
He points to the courgette slithers on the chopping board. “And these will be grilled—in fact, I think the fire might be ready.”
As he lines the slices on the charcoal grill, Katz explains that other dishes on the Beat Hotel Marrakech menu are a nod to Moroccan street food—in particular the beef kefta, a type of minced meatball.
“The kefta that we’re doing, it’s one of my favourite street foods over there,” Katz explains. “I’ve had it quite a few times on my way out of Marrakesh and they just have these tiny grills. It’s almost like a Moroccan version of a patty and they serve it with grilled onion and grilled tomatoes stuck in bread with some harissa. It’s amazing, so we’re doing our version of that. I wanted to use some of the ideas I had without going in there and trying to say, ‘We’re doing it how you do it.’”
Back to the courgette dish, and Katz wilts a handful of spinach and sets an egg to fry on the stove. He then retrieves a large tub of fresh yogurt from the fridge.
“It’s a bit of an all-day breakfast. It kind of needs the anchovies for a bit of saltiness, the aubergine is a bit sharp,” he says, but does concede that veggies trying this at home could swap the fish for capers.
Egg fried until its yolk is a vibrant orange, and the grilled courgettes tossed in olive oil and salt, it’s time to plate up. Katz smears a dish with yogurt, then scatters the courgettes and dollops over spoonfuls of the marinated aubergine and sweet potato. He tops with chili breadcrumbs, drizzles of herb-infused oil, as well as a buttery sauce he has been heating on the stove.
“This is a Pul Biber, which is a red pepper flake, butter,” he says, pouring the rich liquid over the colourful vegetables and yogurt. “It’s like a burnt butter.”
Katz completes the dish by placing the egg ceremoniously in its centre. I waste no time in piling the flavourful vegetables, creamy yogurt, and various oil and chili dressings onto a slice of bread. It has all the _ of shakshuka with _ , perfect with a muddy thimble of thick Turkish coffee.
I decide that Berber & Q’s Moroccan-inspired grilled courgettes are easily as good as the cauliflower shawarma—and almost as good as lounging at a poolside barbecue in Morocco.
MUNCHIES is partnering with Beat Hotel Marrakech to host the Berber & Q poolside barbecue. The festival runs from March 28 to March 31, find out more here.