Moha Quach, chef of the El Terrat Restaurant

© Rafa Pérez
© Rafa Pérez

Romesco and ras el hanout: an emotional fusion

Moha Quach, chef at El Terrat restaurant, says that the fisherman who first thought of preparing romesco should be given a monument in the city. This hallmark of Tarragona's gastronomy is never missing from his menu. The other essential product in his cuisine is ras el hanout, a mixture of spices that gives away its Moroccan origin: "I love its aroma and the aroma it brings, it is my home", says the young chef.

From his childhood in Lassara, a village in the north of Morocco, between Nador and Al Hoceima, Moha Quach remembers his family's work in the fields and at sea, his grandmother baking bread at home and himself, almost as a game, helping to peel the beans or peas that arrived from the garden. Every time his mother prepared calf's feet with couscous, it was like a feast day. Almost without realising it, in a natural way, in these early years the culture of seasonal and local produce, one of the three pillars on which his cuisine is based, became deeply embedded in his consciousness. The other two are the Mediterranean and Tarragona's Roman past. "Working with the produce that is close to us makes more sense. It is fresher, there is more love. Being a farmer is a very hard job, which is suffering a lot, we must give continuity to the farmers around us because they continue to give life to the land. With the climate emergency, we have no other choice. We also have a wonderful fish market, with a great variety: blue fish, rock fish, prawns. Not to mention the wines, 80% of our menu is made up of wines from the different designations of origin in the province of Tarragona", the chef proudly explains.

Dishes with memories, culture

After his time at the Cambrils Hotel and Catering School, an internship in cities such as Lyon, Madrid, Barcelona and Girona, and a job at the head of the kitchen of a restaurant in La Pineda, the idea of having his own kitchen in Tarragona began to cross his mind. In 2019, the opportunity arose in El Terrat, an emblematic restaurant that was not going through its best moment. He liked the fact that the kitchen was connected to the dining room so that he could be in contact with customers. In his dishes he looks for memories, culture. "In Tarragona we have a Roman past that goes hand in hand with an ancient Mediterranean cuisine with influences from many places. Here I seek my inspiration to find new recipes and update or reinterpret them, respecting certain ingredients, adding some that they didn't have at the time and looking for ways to do it in an original and creative way". His origins are also very present, Moha believes that in the most creative kitchens, with the latest in technique and innovation, there is always a traditional base: "Innovation comes through tradition. Nowadays we have many tools that allow us to do things differently, but for me, tradition is the essence of creativity.

The cuisine of the ancient Mediterranean area

In his menu we find dishes that tell stories and show his philosophy in a very evident way, such as the one he prepares with Riudoms tear peas, whose base is a cream of peas with a little cumin, as it is prepared in Morocco, and is finished with an air made from the pea pod. Not only is the recipe inspired by the area where it was born, but also the way it is served in a double container that allows you to put embers in the lower part and maintain the temperature. Spices are the other great reference in the neighbouring country: ras el hanout, turmeric, cumin and coriander, among others, appear in a subtle way, always seeking balance to adapt their use to the palate here. Not only do sauces such as garum and moretum speak of ancient Roman cuisine, but some of the tableware is also inspired by Tarraco: he serves the curly oysters from the Ebre Delta in an amphora or the excellent Tarragona prawns on a plate in the shape of a Roman column. "We have a very important heritage. We have to vindicate this culture through gastronomy. I would really like 16 or 17 restaurants in Tarragona to have a dish or two that reflects our history, but not just during Tarraco Viva, Tarragona's Roman festival, but throughout the year", this, he confesses, is his goal as president of the Tàrraco a Taula association (Tarraco at the Table): to continue the link between history and gastronomy, to create a seal that identifies it and to encourage further research.

© Rafa Pérez
© Rafa Pérez
© Rafa Pérez

A "Sol" in the Repsol guide

El Terrat has one "Sol" in the Repsol guide, an award that was recently revalidated. "We work to be happy. I love what I do. Of course, we all like to have our work recognised, which by extension is also a recognition of the city's gastronomy. There is a very good gastronomic level here. There are very interesting restaurants here, people who are committed to produce and who make very good cuisine: I love the way the guys at Cup Vell work, they cook with what they get from the day, for me this is cuisine; La Caleta also has very good produce and makes good cuisine; L'AQ, El Barquet, which has been working for a lot of years on a very good line of produce, making a more traditional cuisine, which is not easy".

A tourist in his own city

Moha Quach also declares himself a tourist in his own city and does not hesitate to reveal his favourite spots, starting with the most classic walk of all, the one that takes you up the Rambla Nova to go and “tocar ferro” (“touching the railing of the Mirador”). He loves to stay there for a while, looking at the sea, as well as strolling along the Serrallo and going to the port when the fishing boats arrive. "We are very lucky and I don't know if we value it enough".

Another of the restaurants that Moha Quach highlights is O'Hashi, also run by locals from Tarragona who work with local produce. In the small establishment on Carrer Comte de Rius, the Chen brothers, who come from China, prepare makis, sushi and sashimi, with the difference that they have introduced some fish from the Tarragona fish market into these traditional Japanese preparations. One of the most spectacular and surprising dishes is the one they make with the galley. As for the wines, they are also committed to the natural wines of the territory.