Thursday, October 4, 2018

meet Momo Attaoui.. food stylist/chef

Those of us who spend a fair amount of time on social media have come to understand that anyone who holds a camera or stands in front of it thinks themselves a model or photographer especially if they have 1000s of “followers.”
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Then of course we have fashion critics and stylists who believe that they have a clue about fashion merely because they wear or buy clothes or own a keyboard of some sort. One of the the more ubiquitous oddities that has grown in popularity is food. There is hardly a day that goes by that one doesn’t see a plate that is being devoured at home or restaurant or even after it’s been eaten. Frankly, I like to keep my “food” private.
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As I have said multiple times before, the internet is an amazing invention that offers endless possibilities and that is exactly how I came upon one Momo Attaoui… yes that’s his real name. What makes this man of special interest to me is that he calls himself a food stylist as well as a chef. The more I let that sink in, the more I found to compare it to fashion. We are so visually stimulated on a daily basis that this concept is so astoundingly and surprisingly logical. 
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So since my area of expertise, as it were, is about fashion in its many aspects, today I thought I’d introduce you to Momo and let him explain to you his modus operandi and open another way to see fashion as it is portrayed and designed on a plate!
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So here he is in his own words and I think you’ll find him to be quite credible as a creative or designer but instead of cloth or interiors or jewels, he designs food! So in his own words….

Jeffrey Felner: Can you sort of give us a brief resumé as to how you arrived at your present profession?

Momo Attaoui: My father enrolled me in military boarding school since he believed it would be good training and would help me to become a great leader.  I started at age of 6 and graduated 11 years later having earned a bachelor’s degree. Upon graduation I entered the military in Algeria, serving as an officer until I was 28 but while I liked it, I felt that the environment didn’t really encourage creativity.

While still living in North Africa, I read a book by Chef Michel Guérard titled Cuisine et Minceur. Chef Guérard had also started a school in the Landes region, l’institut Guerard à Eugénie Les Bains, which was dedicated to natural cooking.  It was the first natural cooking school in France and he was my inspiration. During my travels throughout France, the idea of food and celebration attracted me.  I began to cook meals and invite people to my home and everybody seemed to love it.  I began developing a reputation for my cooking and entertaining.

My interest has always been in healthy cooking, not just a Mediterranean diet, but a diet that includes beans and soya; it also intertwines with both vegetarian and vegan cuisines. 

After living and working in Europe, I came to America and found jobs with a variety of chefs.  I also did catering and served as a private chef, working with people to encourage a healthy weight and health. In 2015, I appeared on “Chopped” (Food Network).  Although I wasn’t the last one standing, that appearance really boosted my reputation and recognition in New York. 

Recently I relocated to Toronto for two reasons—for love and because I felt it would be an interesting environment in which to introduce my cuisine.  
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JF: Do you have any mentors or those you model yourself upon and why have you chosen them?

MA: Chef Guérard was definitely my role model.  He was the first internationally-recognized chef who specialized in really healthy cooking.  It wasn’t just healthy cooking… his dishes were incomparable when it came to taste and appearance as well.  Now, more than 30 years after he wrote his first cook book and opened his school, healthy cooking is trending upwards. Actually it is more than a trend; it is a way of life today for so many. Chef Guérard was ahead of his time and has been a great influence on many chefs, me included. He won a Michelin star for the Grande Cuisine Gourmande served at Les Prés d’Eugénie in 1974 and again in 1975. The Les Prés d’Eugénie , Michel Guérard’s restaurant, was awarded a third Michelin star in 1977 and simultaneously Chef Guérard joined the Chaîne Thermale du Soleil, France’s leading spa group.
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JF: If you could invite any 5 people to dinner who would they be and why and in your instance what would you serve and why?

MA: My guest list would be: My father who had such a great influence on me in so many ways, my friend, Nat Sutton, who has given me so much support, not just professionally, but as a true friend for over 27 years. Yves Saint Laurent, who is from my hometown Oran and whose work and style I have always admired, Pablo Picasso whose use of color and composition, is an inspiration to me and Chef Guérard because It would be an honor to serve him and demonstrate how I have interpreted the cuisine that he inspired so many years ago.
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JF: I think we all understand what a chef does but can you offer further explanation as to the “duties” of a food stylist?
MA: I am a food stylist.  It is a part of my upbringing and culture which have influenced not only my choice of ingredients, their combination, the seasonings and spices I use, but how I present the finished product. I believe that for a dish to be truly memorable, it must look as good as it tastes.  Appearance and presentation make the food more interesting and inviting.  Food styling involves not only how the food looks, but everything surrounding it—the plate on which it is served, the table setting and table linen, how the food is arranged and garnished, all the textures in the setting, the lighting; everything that influences the appearance of food ultimately influences its enjoyment.

As a chef and a food stylist, I bring all those elements together to create a truly memorable experience—whether the food is being served or being viewed in a magazine or a cookbook. Food styling is very detail oriented and it requires a very artistic eye.  A successful food styling should ignite your senses and make you want to smell it, touch it and taste it.
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JF: If you could choose any collaborator who would that be and why and what would that collaboration entail?

MA: I would definitely choose Pablo Picasso.  When you think of Picasso, you think of color and composition—but color and composition used in very modern and very creative way.  His paintings abound with everyday people and objects presented in unconventional and sometimes startling ways. His painting style is the perfect complement to my cooking and food styling.  It is clean, colorful with interesting lines with always a dash of the unexpected.

Follow  Momo on Instagram  @ momohealthycooking
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