Executive chef and owner Mourad Lahlou doesn't bark orders at anyone among the back-of-the-house crew of 13.
Everybody on the line seems to be meticulously and artfully fulfilling their clearly defined roles.
At the same time, it's obvious that working side-by-side is about helping each other stay in sync - and they do.
, 42, is expediting, which means he's
coordinating everything from the timing of each order to ensuring that every dish looks the way it was originally imagined.
examines the squab entree plated on a refined white dish.
All the accompanying elements - smoked farro, Bordeaux spinach, parsnip and a balsamic reduction - are attractively arranged, but he
notices that a tiny cluster of leaves from the green garnish has strayed from its proper place on top of the squab.
looks like a surgeon when he
takes a large pair of tweezers and carefully moves the greens back where they belong.
then methodically wipes the edge of the plate with a tightly rolled-up damp cloth (dipped in alcohol, not water because alcohol evaporates quickly and doesn't leave a mark).
The server takes the plate, along with another entree that has already passed inspection, into the dining room.
"I'm the last person to touch the plate," says Lahlou, a self-taught chef, who was born and raised in Marrakesh, Morocco and came to San Francisco when he was 17 to study economics at San Francisco State University.
"I am very hands on."
, a thin, fit-looking man with shaved head and black tribal-looking tattoos covering his
arms, not only works at the restaurant six days a week (he takes Tuesdays off when Aziza
is closed), his
work day typically starts at 7 a.m. and ends at midnight.
been that devoted to his
work since Aziza
opened in 2001.
Despite being a practicing Muslim, it seems Lahlou
spends almost every waking hour immersed in his
restaurant and the food world.
His girlfriend of 12 years, Farnoush Deylamian, is the general manager of Aziza.
When they get home to Sausalito well after midnight, Lahlou
has a snack and makes tea "that I never drink.
We have a profound mutual respect," says Lahlou
, who has known Patterson for six years.
and Deylamian went to a Warriors game.
"That was an aberration," he
"Someone gave us tickets."
day at home at 7 a.m. by answering work-related e-mails, texts and voice mail messages.
"That's my quiet time," he
Before changing into his
white kitchen jacket, Lahlou
makes himself an espresso at the machine behind the bar.
Once the restaurant opens at 5:30 p.m., he
is on non-stop high alert until the end of service at 11 p.m.
seems to be all about details, yet he
never loses sight of the big picture.
sets that example for his
Spending three hours at the market every day may seem excessive, but it all makes sense when Lahlou
walks around the market to see what's available.
has brief conversations with farmers he's
come to know over the years.
Almost always, he
has pre-ordered some things for pick up.
But what if he
can't get as much puntarelle (chicory-like winter salad green) as he
wanted for the pumpkin vegetarian entree, one of his
favorite things on the menu right now?
Just as he
does during service in the kitchen, he
starts improvising and making on-the-spot adjustments.
considers using the puntarelle in a soon-to-be-created salad instead of the entree because he
won't need as much.
At the same time, he
starts thinking ahead to next week's menu.
playfully negotiates with that same farmer, Annabelle Lenderink, owner of La Tercera in Bolinas, to secure more Fairy Tale Pumpkins, which he
thinks are the best around.
"What I do at the market is so crucial," says Lahlou
About a year and a half ago, Lahlou
was ready to put his
restaurant in the hands of a chef de cuisine for the first time because he
landed a book deal, along with a PBS series, which will be launched simultaneously in the fall of 2011.
"They need to be sincere and respectful, but I encourage them to let their personalities come through," says Lahlou
Nothing makes Lahlou happier than to see Aziza's staff doing their work better than he can.
"My job is to make sure to put everyone in the position that they can perform at their best," he