At Sahbi Sahbi in Marrakech, tradition in fusion

Set back from the effervescence of the Guéliz district, epicenter of the modern city of Marrakech, the address displays, in this month of December 2022, an enigmatic aura. Is it due to the subtle lighting, revealing the rough edges of a strange rough brick weft, similar to weaving, which dresses up the facade? Or the slender silhouette of the copper sign silhouetted against the storefront like a Chinese shadow? At 37, boulevard Mansour-Eddahbi, the magic happens at nightfall, through the cathedral glass windows of the impressive cedar wood door when the candles and washi paper ball suspensions light up inside. Sahbi Sahbi (sahbi means “soul mate”) receives only at dinner and Friday noon – the only day when, according to custom, couscous is served.

Read also Maghreb: couscous enters the intangible heritage of Unesco

At the origin of the place, Héléna Paraboschi forms with Pierre Pirajean a duo of “serial entrepreneurs-restaurateurs” (at the head of several addresses between the Paris region and Dubai) established in the imperial city for twenty years, with in particular Bôzin and the Grand Café de la Poste. Two emblematic establishments staged by their long-time Parisian collaborators, Karl Fournier and Olivier Marty, founders of Studio KO. On the Moroccan track record of this couple of architects, whose agency in Marrakech opened in 2001, are private residences and the Yves Saint Laurent Museum (also covered with a skilful weaving of brick).

“In Japan, men cook in front of you. In Morocco, the kitchen, perpetuated by women, remains a hidden place. With the idea of ​​Japan meeting Morocco, I thought about a place where we would see the cooks, their gestures…” Karl Fournier, architect

I wanted to work again with Karl and Olivier, says Héléna Paraboschi. And, for the first time, we are partners. My idea of ​​a traditional cuisine restaurant germinated by observing that here, apart from the riads and their Moroccan menu, there are few places to taste typical dishes, most of them being adapted to European tastes. We talk a lot about revisited cuisine, whereas here it is precisely a question of restoring authentic flavors. One Sunday morning, Karl called us saying he hadn’t slept all night and had “seen” the restaurant. He came home and drew it for us. »

The Sahbi Sahbi restaurant room, with its open kitchen and central island;  on the right, the oven.

Some time before, Karl Fournier had already dreamed of this project. On a plane, back from a trip to Japan. “I had just spent two weeks of total immersion between Kyoto, Tokyo, the Naoshima and Teshima museum islands, where I had had some interesting gastronomic experiences. The choreography of the men who cook in front of you is very beautiful. Morocco also has a great culinary tradition, perpetuated by women, but the kitchen remains a hidden place. In the idea of ​​Japan meeting Morocco, I thought of a place where we would see the cooks, their gestures…”

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