Travelling through Morocco and Southern Spain has Shane Delia dreaming of opening a restaurant in Andalucía and fighting off arm-wrestling challenges.
By
Siobhan Hegarty

16 Sep 2015 - 12:23 PM  UPDATED 22 Sep 2015 - 12:57 PM

You’re certainly not afraid to get your hands dirty! In the first episode (Fes, Morocco), you scramble under a market table to practice trid pastry-making. It’s something I love to eat and hate to make! That thin, filo-style pastry is one of the classical arts. If you can do that I think you’re probably a master of Middle Eastern cuisine. Does your hands-on relate only to cooking or life in general? I take life by the balls. If you wait for someone to give you something, you’re going to be waiting forever. My dad came here at 17 years old on a boat. He came with no family, only a suitcase and hopes of one day finding a wife, starting a family of his own and creating an opportunity for a new life. My aspiration is to push what he wanted even further. If I’d been waiting for opportunities, I’d still be at the Sofitel cooking bacon and eggs. You just have to take every chance.

The Spice Journey series feels intrinsically tied to your heritage. Would you agree? I consider myself Australian with Maltese descent, but I’ve always felt a deep connection and love for the Middle East. It’s obviously in our bloodline – we’re Phoenician, we descended from the ancient Lebanese. My wife, Maha, is Lebanese too, so we’ve got a strong affiliation with that part of the world. Going back there, you get a chance to relax and not worry about the pressures of the rat race back home.

Why is the Moroccan-Spanish story an important one to tell? The Moorish tale is a story about people. It’s about the journey from the traditional Middle East into Spain, and the birth of a really dominant food culture. There’s no doubt that when you’re in Andalucía and that coastal region, there’s still a strong Moorish soul. Morocco and Southern Spain do carry a rich and vibrant history… I think Morocco is an amazing country full of mystery and old-world excitement. I grew up watching movies like Lawrence of Arabia with my Dad. It has a romance about it and that’s what excites me – the opportunity to take a step back in time.

It’s very humbling when you walk the streets of Fes or Marrakech. You’re in a medina or a souk that is thousands of years old and really hasn’t changed. There’s no high rises, and even when you walk past an ATM you have to blink twice because it’s built into a wall that’s a thousand years old.

Were you familiar with southern Spain prior to this trip? I’ve got a huge love for Spanish culture and food, but all I’d really experienced was the stuff I’d seen, read or eaten in Australia. I’ve felt at home in a lot of countries throughout the Middle East and Malta, but I really felt a sense of peace in Andalucía, especially in a little town called Barbate. When I arrived, the first call home was to Maha, telling her about this amazing place I found. The second was to my accountant, trying to find out a way I could buy a house there! I imagine it’d be a pretty idyllic spot for a holiday home! To be honest, I see it as one of my goals to have not just a holiday home there, but a restaurant with a villa that I could rotate my staff through. My kids could spend their summer holidays, learning another language and seeing a different culture. It’d also give my staff an opportunity to stay within our restaurant family and travel the world with us.

I imagine you met many a fascinating character. Who sticks out in your mind?  When we got out to Malaga, Spain we met a chef named Danny who runs the restaurant La Cosmipolita. It's a beautiful bodega-brasserie-type restaurant with four chefs in the kitchen. He goes to the markets in the morning, picks up what he wants, comes back and cooks it amazingly. By midday, he’s cracked open a bottle of vino and by the end of the day he’s probably drunk about three of them. On the last day of shooting in Spain we had lunch there, which turned into dinner, which turned into supper... that was one of the highlights of the whole trip.  

Were there any highlights that didn’t make it on camera? Every time we go to a country, for some reason people think I’m a body builder and everyone wants to arm wrestle me. I swear to God, I have pictures and pictures of people from all different countries and they’re all shouting, “Muscle man! Muscle man!”

 

Shane Delia's Moorish Spice Journey starts Thursday 15 October 2015 at 8pm on SBS and finishes 17 December 2015. Visit the Shane Delia's Moorish Spice Journey program page to find out more about the show. 

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