Chef Richard Bertinet reflects on his visit to Morocco and the lessons he learned from breaking bread in the High Atlas Mountains.
Chef Richard Bertinet, like many others before him, fell in love with Morocco the first time he experienced what he describes as magic while exploring the city of Marrakech.
“I remember I followed some kids near the train who were carrying a tray of dough in the early morning to the local bakery,” he recalled in an interview with Morocco World News on the sidelines of a gathering at the residence of the British Ambassador to Morocco, Thomas Reilly.
“They gave the tray of dough to the baker, who just put the tray away and told them to come back later.”
After the kids had left, Chef Bertinet knocked on the door of the bakery.
“Can I buy some bread?” he asked the baker in French.
“No, you can’t buy this,” the baker replied. “We bake this bread for the local people.”
The award-winning French chef and baker realized that he had stumbled upon a communal oven rather than a bakery.
“I went in and started speaking French to him, and we talked for about an hour,” Bertinet continued. “I was mesmerized.”
“The oven was about 400 years old, and every family who sent dough made it differently. It was magical.”
That moment of magic Bertinet experienced in Marrakech is something a guided tour cannot create—an organic human connection that establishes an indescribable link between a person and a place that is not their home.
Twelve years later, he was finally able to return.
A taste of Moroccan hospitality
Bertinet has spent much of his professional life devoted to the art of breadmaking, with three of his internationally acclaimed books “Dough,” Crust,” and “Crumb” dedicated to teaching others the craft.
Originally from Brittany in northwest France, Bertinet trained as a baker from the age of 14, both in Brittany and at the Grand Moulins de Paris.
He moved to the UK in the late 1980s.
In 1996, a position as Operations Director with the Novelli Group of restaurants brought him to London, where he set up the Dough Co., his consultancy business, in 2000.
He moved to Bath, England in 2004 with his wife and young family and opened the Bertinet Kitchen cooking school in September 2005.
Since then, he has made a name for himself in the international arena of chefs and bakers, earning awards for both his cooking school and his publications, and his moment of magic in Morocco had been filed away in the back of his mind as his career in Europe flourished.
It was not until Ambassador Reilly visited the chef’s cooking school and invited him to participate in a UK-Morocco cultural exchange initiative did Bertinet’s dream of returning to the North African country become a reality.
“I came back to learn properly,” he remarked. “Tourists see one thing, but going deeper into the country, into the mountain villages that can’t be reached by car, is another thing.”
The chef’s lessons in Moroccan culture, cooking, and hospitality began in the High Atlas Mountains, where he and Reilly visited Education for All (EFA) and the Eve Branson Foundation, two NGOs dedicated to empowering rural women and children through education and craft.
“Moroccans are so generous,” Bertinet exclaimed while recalling his time in various High Atlas bakeries and homes. “They give so much but have so little.”
“But for them, it’s not about what they’ve got versus what we’ve got—it’s about the impression they give to people,” the chef continued. “The higher you go into the mountains, the more overwhelming it is.”
‘Every ingredient means something’
As a critically acclaimed chef with his own cooking school, cookbooks, and awards, you’d think Bertinet has high standards when it comes to picking his favorite Moroccan food—but bread is at the top of his list.
“I love the simplicity of what Moroccans do with so little,” he explained. “Every ingredient means something, even the water. They don’t waste anything. It made me realize how differently I do things simply because of the resources I have.”
Bread is more than just something to snack on—it is the basis on which Moroccan families enjoy most of their meals, and what brings people together around a table.
“When you sit down and eat bread, you can’t not be happy. It’s impossible,” Bertinet said. “Morccans, especially—they appreciate every piece.”
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Despite his heartwarming experiences in the High Atlas Mountains, he did not leave with an idealized vision of rural life. In fact, he left the mountains feeling more grateful than ever for what he has.
The chef lamented the lack of basic infrastructure, limited opportunities, and how the terrain and waterways have been soiled by unmanaged plastic waste.
“We need to help them find solutions without being patronizing,” he insisted. “We can’t simply tell them do this, do that. There needs to be some sort of program that establishes a proper disposal system and incentivizes garbage collection.”
That is where foreign ambassadors like Reilly come in, Bertinet added.
“I really love how the British ambassador has been supporting and carrying on the work that charities have started in the villages,” he said. “There’s so much work that still needs to be done—this is the legacy that every ambassador in this country should continue.”
The ambassador also shared his reflection on the pair’s trip with MWN, noting that he learned about Amazigh (Berber) culture for the first time through Bertinet.
“For me, being able to demonstrate that the UK is a country which hosts and is home to a vibrant and diverse range of cultural ability, is fundamental to what my understanding of my role as a British ambassador is,” Reilly noted, referring to Bertinet’s French background.
“I think if in a small way I’ve done something to bring the UK and Morocco closer, to give us greater cultural understanding of one another, then as far as I’m concerned, this has been a knockout success.”
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Fantastic evening at the #britishambassador residence to end an amazing week visiting and promoting this beautiful country. I always wanted to bake on the top of mountains small villages and to be allowed to bake with these wonderful people will stay with me forever,truly special! Visiting @efa_morocco @evebransonfoundation and @association_hadaf_rabat made me realise how privileged and how we take things for granted everyday and it’s extraordinary how these charities help lives, villages and the country for the future. Making bread has open up doors and friendships that I’ll never forget thank you to my bread body @reillytsa the work you’re doing in Morocco is an inspiration and the legacy will lives on. Bonne boulange #alsalamalikum #morroco for your hospitality. Merci Et a bientot #. #educationforall #opportunitiesforall