I never expected to be up to my wrists in couscous, but there I was in a kitchen just outside Marrakech, Morocco, with my hands submerged in a bowl of wet semolina. I was massaging the sandy grains with my fingers, scooping them up from a mixing bowl and letting them fall back down, adding splashes of bottled water to keep everything moist. My goal was to make sure the couscous didn't stick together. The secret was hands-on contact (no spoons), an eye for errant lumps andmost important of allthe patience to keep working the grains until they reached the perfect texture.
In the year since I'd moved with my family from New York to Marrakech, I still hadn't had the opportunity to learn how to cook the local cuisine, an earthy-elegant fusion of Persian, Andalusian, Turkish, French and Jewish influences. Our family is lucky enough to have a cook, Maria Ounzal, who puts delicious Moroccan dishes on our table each day, but the downside is that I rarely end up spending any time in the kitchen myself. When I found out about a school in a villa near Marrakech that was offering a crash course in how to cook classic Moroccan dishes, I couldn't pass up the chance to sign on.
The Dar Liqama cooking schooloperated by the England-based Rhode School of Cuisine, which also runs programs in France and Italywas launched in 2002 in a beautiful villa in the Palmeraie, a quiet area of ancient date palms and opulent mansions. The Palmeraie is to Marrakech what Bel Air is to Los Angeles, though it has the bonus of the snowy-peaked Atlas Mountains as a backdrop. Bold-face-name types like Fiat heiress Marella Agnelli have gated homes here, close to villas that are rented by people such as Donna Karan and swank hotels.