At Café Clock in Fez you will find locals and tourists of all ages mixing authentically in a spot that celebrates both the rich traditions and modern identity of this corner of Morocco. It is the best kind of cultural hub where one can write in a journal sipping one of of their heavenly fresh fruit smoothies, where people lean towards each other in deep conversation and where lively cultural events are held almost every night of the week. Tucked away on 7 Derb El Magana off of Talaa Kbira, one of the main streets of the Medina, there is only a small the blue sign and a poster on the wall with the logo indicates where it is. I walked past it at first, but luckily everyone knows where it is so it wasn’t long before I found it.
The founder and owner of this wonderful place is Mike Richardson former maître d’ of prestigious restaurants The Wolseley and The Ivy in London, but beyond this experience in the upscale restaurant industry, I think it is his background in design, travel business savvy and just general personality made him the perfect person for this successful venture. He is a wonderfully warm, creative down to earth and generous person. He founded Café Clock ten years ago when he saw that there was a need in the city for a casual place for good food and gatherings, versus the more formal dining culture of the riads and formal restaurants. Three years ago, he opened one in Marrakesh and they are soon to open one in Chefchaouen, the famous blue city. Although one could call Café Clock a brand or even a chain on some level, it is important to Mike and staff that each venue reflects the local community making it a unique experience. More than just a business, it a way of being in the world. A philosophy of connection. Inside you will find colorful and whimsical decor, art and alibrary of books to browse. The staff, many of them young, are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the restaurant, Fez and its culture. Café Clock has a few floors including a movie room a balcony area where art is hung and salon type room for open mic and a kitchen upstairs for cooking classes. The food is divine with everything mad from fresh ingredients that are literally bought from the vendors in the streets which I got to experience during my cooking class I took.
While we have farmer’s markets here in the U.S, and a growing “Buy Local” movements with emphasis on fresh food, there is really nothing the equivalent of this city where fresh food remains part of the fabric of daily life. The Medina, the original city, and now a UNESCO Heritage Site, drips with the evocative color of fresh fruits and vegetables, rows of tables packed with a panoply of dates, jars of varied olives, spices, honey and breads. Slowly my straw basket became full. We even selected our chicken for the tagine (the quintessential Moroccan dish which slow cooks meat traditionally in a cone shaped ceramic dish) which was butchered while we shopped for the rest of the items.
Abde-razak El Bouchikhi was a wonderful instructor. With his help, I queen of the frozen burrito, miraculously prepared zalouk-an eggplant salad, bissara-a fava bean and pea soup (yes I shucked peas!) chicken tagine and fresh oranges, walnuts with cinnamon and orange blossom water for dessert. Patient, funny, interesting Abde-razak besides being a chef and having hospitality management degrees has written an historical novel about Voubilis the Roman Ruins outside of Meknes, not far from Fez. He told me he loves researching, imagining and writing about the every day people’s lives of ancient cultures.
I was sadly only in Fez a week but I became a regular at Café Clock there and was able to catch an open mic night and storytelling evening. They also show movies, host calligraphy classes and concerts. In a somewhat mystical moment while I was enjoying a camel burger and listening to a cover of Billy Wither’s Ain’t No Sunshine When’s She’s Gone sung by three talented guitarists at open mic, I noticed the art exhibit lining the walls. A gold, stylized calligraphy on wood I found it really enchanting. As I peered above me I looked at the title of the one hanging over me
and saw it was called Ishq. This is a word I have carried with me since first hearing it at a Sufi retreat at Anam Cara Writers and Artists Retreat in the Beara Peninsula of Ireland in 2014. The word can be translated as love, but the longing kind; that deep desire for connection, usually in the sense of the divine, although it certainly spills into the realms of people, places and objects. The artist Mohamed Charkaoui had translated it as “exaggerated love.” For me it is truly a human word. Who has not had this feeling? Mr. Charkaoui is also a mathematician and teaches calligraphy workshops at Café Clock. In this exhibit he was exploring the many types and words for love. I thought this would be the perfect piece to take home, and I have since connected with the artists who also gives fascinating lectures I found out that I hope I may see one day.I also purchased some necklaces as gifts that were made by artists in Sefrou involved with Culture Vultures. Culture Vultures is a vibrant organization focused on developing community through the arts by sponsoring tours and hosting residencies and developing community projects both in Fez and Sefrou about 30 minutes away where they are located. On my tour of Sefrou I learned about the tradition of button making, an craft that Jewish women practiced making exquisite buttons for traditional djellaba which is the traditional fashion of the Mahgreb (North African) region and other garments. Now beautiful jewelry is also created from these buttons. I loved all of this connection at Café Clock good food, art, culture and community.
I definitely have that sense of isqh-longing to go back to Fez and to this spot where I felt so welcomed and at home. And I probably need to have this magnificent chocolate dessert again, which I had on my last day which was described as “pudding” but somehow that word can’t capture the dense chocolate heaven that it was. So insh allah, I will find myself in Fez at Cafe Clock again, but for the moment I have many good memories that constantly bring a smile to my face.