"The Califa is my life"
- INTERVIEW WITH KHADIJA ESSAADI, MANAGER AND EXECUTIVE CHIEF OF THE KITCHEN OF EL JARDÍN DEL CALIFA DE VEJER RESTAURANT
In the Califa everything has a history, not only the decoration of the hotels, the dishes of the restaurants, the flowers of our patios or the objects that we find in any of our establishments. Little by little we discover this world of anecdotes and curiosities through the "family", the word with which the staff describe the team behind everything. Today we begin a series of interviews that show us the most human side of the Califa.
Today we chat with Khadija Essaadi, the manager and executive chef of the Jardín del Califa, our principal and most well known restaurant. Khadija (affectionately known as ‘Jadi’ by the staff) remembers with a shine in her eyes how she started working in the restaurant since it opened, 17 years ago. "It was almost a year since I arrived from Morocco with a work contract, I had a few menial jobs until one fine day, I made a meal for some friends among which was Regli's sister (Regli Alvarez, co-founder of the Califa), she liked the food and told her sister about it. A little later I received a surprise phone call and was asked to join the team at the El Jardín del Califa. "
This was an exciting project for this Moroccan born in Kenitra 48 years ago, the oldest of 16 siblings. "We started with two or three tables and now we often do more than 300 covers in an evening” she laughs. "At the beginning we had a small kitchen, then the owners James & Regli bought the house next door where the new kitchen was built, we moved the barbecue, before it was in the pergola and now in the garden area, then we opened the Teteria (tea and cocktail bar) and so on until now. The business has consistently grown."
Khadija had no experience as a chef or managing restaurants, “If you work in a restaurant day by day, you are growing with it, it is a natural evolution". Khadija started as a sous chef working under the original head chef, her own training had been as a hairdresser and amongst other things she worked in a fish factory canning sardines and later managing a house for a family in Conil when she first came here. “This has been a hard and interesting experience at the same time. I started at the bottom and worked my way up to Head Chef”. After 8 years in the kitchen James & Regli promoted Khadija to general manager of the restaurant maintaining her role as executive chef. “This was an amazing leap of faith for the owners to promote me to such an important job. This was a dream that I never imagined", say Khadija. "The Califa is my life and I feel I am an integral part of it, not just a job".
Caliph (in Arabic: خليفة Halifah / Khalifah) is the head of state in a caliphate, and the title of Prince of the Islamic community. "In the Arab world, a person who is hungry, has problems or wants something always goes to the house of the Caliph. Here I live it this way, the Jardín del Califa is a house open to the people. I treat people with great affection, as if though they were coming to the house of the Caliph. Also you will find any dish you can eat in Morocco. A definite advantage!“ she laughs.
Adapting to life in Vejer has not been so difficult she reveals. "In Vejer it seems that you are in Morocco really: the size of the town, the white facades, the houses, the alleys ...". Similarities with the Arab culture, and ... the differences? "In Morocco there is more a feeling of community, we touch the door of our neighbour and eat every day as a family."
When talking about James Stuart, director of the Califa Vejer group, and the rest of the team, Khadija cannot contain the emotion. "You know that when you are out of your country you feel alone and I was welcomed as a family," she confesses through tears. "My girl has grown up with the girls of Regli and James, I have always felt like a member of their families". When talking to James about Khadija he says “Without doubt Khadija is one of the cleverest and hardest working people I know. Her ability to manage staff, experiment and also be a great cook makes her a very special person. She is a great testament to the immigrant community showing that if you work hard and get on with everyone you can achieve great things. I think she is a shining example not only to her own community but also to all the women in Vejer that irregardless of your faith, gender or background you can overcome great obstacles and make a whole new life for yourself”.
Khadija and James in front of the Califa
The truth is that her great passion is cooking. "I like to create dishes, do something different, be creative.” Khadija reveals how she mixes the seasonal ingredients, all local products, to create exquisite Arabic-Andalusian dishes. “In Morocco for example we do not use chestnuts in our cooking, but here when it is the season, we work the dishes to add this ingredient, giving as result a delicious Arabic-Andalusian dish ". Tuna is another novel ingredient for cous cous. “In Morocco we do not have tuna cous cous but here when it's the season lovers of cous cous and tuna can find both in the same dish". This is a fitting end to this interview, a magical blend of ingredients produce wonderful results.
- Your favourite corner of the Jardín del Califa is ... "The Aljibe".
- Your favourite dishes from the restaurant... "La Pastela, Tagra de Tangier and Fish Tagine".
- The best moment ... "when the restaurant is full and everyone thanks you saying that everything is perfect and everything is good, that gives me a lot of joy. I have lots of memories of very good clients, who come year after year and who I feel great affection for".
- The worst moment ... "when you have to deal with staff problems and find the balance with work and often and being in the middle of difficlut situations".
- What you like most about Andalucian culture ... "Flamenco and the live shows, it gives me goose pimples when I listen to it".
- A dish from the Andalucía... "Rice with seafood".
- A place to get lost ... "the Poniente café bar on the Los Soldados road, with views towards the coast and El Palmar".
- You miss…. "eating with my family".