As a boy growing up in Morocco, Zouhair Bellout was passionate about cooking. “My mother cooked for us every day. But unlike my sister, I refused to eat her food,” laughs Bellout. Not only was Bellout meticulous about what he ate, not eating his mother’s cooking provided him with an excuse to gather fresh ingredients from the farmers’ market across the street from his home, get in the kitchen, and make his own meals, especially salads.

Following his passion, Bellout attended culinary school at the Institut de Technologie Hoteliere et Touristique in Morocco, where he learned about essential Moroccan ingredients to enhance his culinary creations. Eager to share his new skills, he began serving his boldly flavored dishes to others. “A few of my buddies loved my cooking, so we worked out a plan: I cooked and they gave me money for beer.”

In 2006, after earning his degree in culinary arts, Bellout moved to the United States and began working and gaining experience alongside top French chefs. In 2013, he was honored with an invitation to cook at James Beard House (JBH) in New York City, a foundation created to celebrate nature and honor chefs throughout the nation. Just as musicians have Carnegie Hall and opera singers have the Metropolitan Opera House, the best culinary artists and chefs have JBH. “Cooking with the nation’s best chefs was a real eye-opening experience,” Bellout expresses. “Not only did the opportunity enhance my passion for cooking, but I also was inspired to write and develop my own menus.” After JBH, Bellout continued cooking at The Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Florida, and then moved to Virginia to work as the Executive Sous Chef at Keswick Hall and Golf Club before joining the Reynolds Culinary team in 2016.

Just as he did as a youngster, Chef Bellout—who runs the kitchen at The Creek Club—relies on the freshest ingredients. He specializes in seasonal farm-to-table fare and cooking in his native Moroccan style, creating rich dishes packed full of flavor with a variety of spices.

When he hangs up his apron and heads home, Bellout still cooks, but in a very different style. “I don’t cook five-star dinners at home,” he says. Instead, he and wife Jessica, who is also the banquet chef at Reynolds, usually plan and create their evening meals in the mornings, letting them relax at night with their one-year-old daughter, Aya. “We love making slow-cooked dinners. We often simmer oxtail, short ribs, and pot roasts throughout the day while we’re at work. It’s perfect for our busy schedules. When we get home, dinner is ready and we get to spend our extra time with Aya.”

And here, too, fresh ingredients are key, especially for Aya. Using the same concept as he does for cooking at The Creek Club, Bellout purchases in-season produce and uses fresh herbs from his garden to create baby food for his daughter. “We recently started making baby food, and it has actually become a family affair for us,” Bellout says. “We usually gather in the kitchen to clean, cut, and purée fresh vegetables and fruits together.”

When Bellout isn’t in the kitchen, he’s probably tending to his garden, making cheese, or fishing. “I would always travel with my fishing pole in my car,” he remembers. “Once I was done with work, I would find a nice lake or pond to drop a line. Well, that was until I had my beautiful daughter,” he laughs. “Priorities have changed a bit!”

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