Wide Angle

Diaspo #192 : Mostafa Rhiti, an ambassador to Moroccan cuisine in South Korea

Mostafa Rhiti inherited the love of cooking arts from his mother, and after years of working in the field, he was chosen to be the head of the kitchen of the Moroccan embassy in South Korea. He then decided to open a chain of restaurants in the capital, Seoul.

Mostafa Rhiti and former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. / DR
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Opting for cooking was not a coincidence for Fez-native Chef Mostafa Rhiti. His love for cooking was nurtured by his mother, who, in her turn, inherited it from her own mother. «I learned cooking from my mother, who was also a cook for the late King Hassan II alongside a group of cooks, before going back to Fez to do the job she enjoyed», Mostafa told Yabiladi.

Mostafa was not an exception. With his ten siblings, he grew up in a family that mastered the art of cooking. «The second floor of our house was dedicated to cooking and preparing orders, and we used to help my mother during holidays, which made me grow fond of the kitchen day after day», he recalled. When he turned fourteen, he decided to go for cooking for a living, and dropped out of school.

At first, Mostafa started accompanying his mother to all parties and events and helping her with cooking to gain some experience. «One day my mother was invited to work in an event organized in a hotel, but she was unavailable and decided that I would replace her. Later, I was officially hired by the same hotel, making my official career debut».

A career in cooking

Mostafa, who is now 53 years old, moved from an assistant to his mother to a chef for a group of hotels. «I worked in a group of hotel units located in the city of Fez and other Moroccan cities», he said. He also supervised the education of a group of trainees and hospitality students.

Despite his flourishing career, he decided, in parallel with his work, to undertake a training in the field, and he obtained a degree in culinary arts in 1996.

In 2002, Mostafa embraced a new experience. «I was chosen as the head of a kitchen inside the Moroccan embassy in South Korea, and I moved with the Moroccan ambassador, at the time».

«The embassy used to hold several events, exhibitions, and receptions, attended by a group of ambassadors from different countries in addition to diplomats. They liked the Moroccan food that I was making very much and I became known to a among influential circles».

Mostafa Rhiti

After the end of the ambassador's mission to South Korea in 2005, Mostafa found himself faced with two options, «either to return or settle down in the Korean capital, Seoul, with [his] wife and children». «Because I made several acquaintances, I chose to settle down in South Korea and opened my own restaurant in Seoul to be the first Moroccan restaurant in the city. It was small in the beginning», he told Yabiladi.

Moroccan cuisine in South Korea

His first endeavor was called «Marrakesh» as it was the «most famous Moroccan city to Koreans, because I wanted to introduce them to the Moroccan cuisine».

Language was not an obstacle for him when he worked in the embassy, but he found it difficult when opening his own business. «In the beginning, I had some difficulties in winning Korean customers due to the language, because prior to becoming my own boss, I was not forced to speak the local language».

Within a short period, the small restaurant «Marrakesh» became famous, and the demand for it increased day after day, which prompted oustafa to expand the project and open another restaurant, «but this time it was bigger». «Then, I opened two more restaurants. I started working with Korean travel agencies, and I started receiving around 300 to 400 tourists every day», Mostafa said.

Mostafa's restaurants became famous in the Korean capital, and he received offers to participate in television programs and cooking competitions. «This gave us a big boost». And at a time when his restaurants were initially more popular among foreigners, «about 70 percent of our customers were Koreans».

Last year, the Moroccan chef participated in the Korean version of «Master Chef», which includes contestants from different countries, «but things did not go as we wanted and the program was suspended due to the outbreak of the pandemic».

«Because I had gained a good reputation, I was keen to preserve it, so my wife took care of the first restaurant and cooked herself in it and I was in the other one. Other family members were in other restaurants, but they had to return to Morocco, and I tried to bring other cooks, but I did not receive support from the Korean authorities. It eventually pushed me to close other stores and focus on just one restaurant».

Mostafa Rhiti

In addition to managing his restaurant, Mostafa works as the head of the Egyptian embassy kitchen. «I have worked on several occasions with the Saudi, Qatari, Bahraini, Libyan, Algerian and other embassies».

Chef Mostafa is also keen to transfer the love of gastronomy to his son in order to preserve the family's legacy. In addition to his academic studies, the Chef's heir regularly comes to the «Marrakesh Restaurant» during his spare time and on holidays to help his father.

The Moroccan cook plans to return to Morocco and settle back there, and open a Korean restaurant in Fez, «but only after [his] children complete their studies».

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