I first met Abderrazak Haouari 15 years ago, when he was the chef at a luxury hotel on the Tunisian island of Djerba. His cooking was a revelation—subtly spiced, perfectly balanced and totally unpretentious, by far the most flavorful Tunisian food I'd ever eaten. When I learned that Haouari had trained in Europe and cooked at two-star restaurants in France, I was curious. "What made you decide to offer these typical Djerban dishes?" I asked.
"This was my grandmother's food," he explained, "the food I was brought up on. I cook it here because it's the food I love the most."
I fell for his lentil, bean and couscous dishes, flavored with fish or preserved meats simmered in olive oil. I was dazzled by his spicy chickpea soup (leblebi), his scrambled eggs with bottarga (salted, dried roe) in tomato-pepper sauce (ojja), and especially his savory and complex stuffed squid, enriched with an egg and some crushed calf's liver.