The first time Chef Vishwesh Bhatt remembers eating Moroccan chicken stew was in France. It wasn’t long after he and his parents moved there from India, and it was Bhatt’s first time outside of his home country. He’d become friends with a boy his own age who invited him over for dinner.
“One time I went to their house and his mother offered me this couscous and chicken stew,” says Bhatt, who was named Best Chef in the South by the James Beard Foundation in 2019 for his cooking at Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi. “It was familiar in a sense that there were some spices in there that I [recognized], but it was different from anything else that I’d tasted.”
When he asked what was in the tomato-based stew, he was surprised to learn that it was almost all the same spices his mother used in her Indian cooking.
“That was the first time I had food that I thought of as foreign food,” says Bhatt. “It was my first exposure to immigrant cuisine. I like going back to that story because dishes like that tell those stories and it’s also something that sort of crosses a lot of cultural boundaries.”
That dish has stuck with Bhatt ever since. While he doesn’t remember exactly what was in the stew that his friend’s mother made, he’s recreated it countless times. Bhatt has included various iterations of it on Snackbar’s menu since it opened in 2009. He will often incorporate elements from not only classic Moroccan cuisine, but also from his Indian upbringing as well as local Mississippi ingredients.
“If a Moroccan person saw it, they would probably laugh at it,” says Bhatt. “But it started many years ago for me and has evolved.”
Whereas a classic Moroccan chicken stew might include almonds, dried apricots and raisins, he opts to swap in figs and pecans. Along with more than a dozen spices, it all melds together into a sweet, savory and all-around “nourishing” dish that’s great in cooler weather, but “isn’t season dependent.”
So start your autumn by making his delicious Moroccan-ish dish.