Travelling Life: Mourad Mazouz

The Algerian restaurateur, who has opened acclaimed eateries in Paris, London, Dubai and now Abu Dhabi, says that his passion lies in taking meaningful trips rather than touristy holidays.
Mourad Mazouz in his restaurant Almaz by Momo in The Galleria, Abu Dhabi. Charles Crowell for The National
Mourad Mazouz in his restaurant Almaz by Momo in The Galleria, Abu Dhabi. Charles Crowell for The National

Mourad Mazouz is a celebrated restaurateur and self-declared nomad. The Algerian is responsible for two popular UAE eateries: Almaz by Momo in Mall of the Emirates in Dubai and the recently opened second branch in The Galleria in Abu Dhabi. Born in Algeria, 52-year-old Mazouz moved to Paris as a 15-year-old, where he found a cleaning job, followed by a short stint as a music publicist. He then took to the road and explored America’s east and west coasts before ending up on a sail boat travelling along the coast of Indonesia. In 1988, Mazouz opened the small Parisian cafe Au Bascou, with the aim of raising money for further travel. The venue’s success led to more restaurants, including the London favourites Momo and sketch, boasting a celebrity clientele including Madonna, Stella McCartney and Kate Moss. A frequent traveller, Mazouz is often on the road either on business or recreational trips, and he revels in adventures that are strictly off the beaten path.

Where are you right now?

I am in Formentera, an island opposite Ibiza. I am here because this is the first place where I ever bought a piece of land. I used to live in Bali and Goa and travelled through the Caribbean when I was young, and this island brings back those memories. The place I have here is a wooden bungalow on the beach. It is very relaxed, laid- back and has an old hippy vibe. Over here, transport is by bicycles and it has a large national park. It is very simple and basic and it gives me a feeling of freedom, which I love.

How often do you go on holiday?

I don’t. Holidays are when you go to a nice hotel and stay there for 10 days and look after yourself. I like to go travelling. For me, that is when you get a ticket and you don’t know exactly where you are staying. There would be periods for a month or a month and a half, where I would go to places such as South Africa, Brazil, South East Asia or the Caribbean, and I won’t just place myself and my kids in a hotel and stay there. We would move and tour around. I prefer trips to holidays.

Where do you call home?

I don’t have a home, to be honest with you. Formentera is a bit of a nest for me. I live in London, where I do some business, but that doesn’t feel like home to me. Perhaps Paris, because most of my friends are there and I also have a restaurant there. My parents live in a small village just outside of Algiers, so that is a family home. But I don’t honestly have a place where I feel like home and I don’t have any problem with that.

Where do you plan to go next?

Next winter I am planning a motorbike trip in South East Asia. It will be just my wife and I, no kids. I want to visit Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and especially Burma [Myanmar] because I have yet to visit that country.

How do you feel about the UAE?

Before I came to the UAE, I never even thought about it, let alone opening a restaurant there. The first time I was approached to create a restaurant there, I said I wasn’t interested. But when I came to see the Sharjah Biennial about 10 years ago, I decided to stay a few days and I visited Dubai for meetings. Dubai really blew me away. Coming from Algeria, where we did nothing positive with our independence for 60 years, when I see a country like the UAE, which in 40 years came up from the ground to create real cities and functioning societies, it was very impressive.

What do you love about travelling?

Taking my time. This is why I love sailing and travelling by train. When you go on these journeys, you really relax and realise how long it takes to get from A to B.

What do you hate about travelling?

Honestly, there is nothing that I hate about it. But I can tell you what annoys me and that’s seeing a bunch of tourists. I don’t like any place that has tourists and queues – this is why I will never go back to Florence. I have been living London for nearly 20 years and there are many places I haven’t visited because of the tourists.

Do you prefer simplicity or luxury?

If I go on a three-day trip to Berlin to attend some kind of opening or Venice for the Bienniale, then I will do luxury. But if I go travelling, then the basic and most simple places will do. For example, when I was in India and Brazil a few years ago, I would rent a room in a house. I want to be with the people.

What has been your favourite trip?

It was around South East Asia. I was a crew member in a sailing boat and we visited the islands of Lombok, Borneo, Sumatra, Singapore and other places. It was unbelievable and the most beautiful trip I ever made. It was because I was very young; I was discovering; I had no real work or money. It was absolute freedom.

Do you like to travel light?

Very light and this was actually the subject of big fights with my wife when we met. When we travelled, she would go with five or six pieces of luggage – and now she is down to a suitcase. Basically, I don’t think we need that much, because all we have to do is wash our clothes every two days and that’s it. We don’t need everything.

What is your favourite city for a weekend?

I don’t know about that, because I rarely take a weekend off. Normally when I visit a city for a weekend, it’s for a purpose. An example is a recent trip to Milan for a fair and I stayed there a few days more to see some friends. I normally go to a city for the people. I am not a museum guy and I don’t go around a city just visiting places.

What do you never travel without?

Cash. I don’t like carrying just plastic when I travel. I am old–fashioned that way.

What is your idea for a perfect weekend?

To stay in all weekend and sleep, read, relax and watch all sorts of things from documentaries to football. This is very rare, so that’s why I enjoy it so much.

Where is your most romantic place?

Ilha Grande, an island three hours from Rio de Janeiro. I love it because there are no cars, you stay in a house with no electricity and you have to wake up at sunrise and go to sleep soon after the sun sets. You also have to fish to eat. For me, that’s romantic, because it is basic. The beach is also the most beautiful I have ever seen. You look at it and you just want to cry from happiness.

sasaeed@thenational.ae

Published: May 27, 2014 04:00 AM

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