Meet Chef Z, He's Creating A Global Street Food Market in Georgia

Written by Jillian Dara

This article originally appeared on Jillian Dara's newsletter, Jilux.

Last month I took a trip to Reynolds Lake Oconee, a 12,000-acre community in Greensboro, Georgia, about 90 minutes from Atlanta. Renowned for its six golf courses and tranquil lakefront access, I'd never heard of the property before, and a Ritz-Carlton has called it home for 20 years! So, I felt behind on the times and couldn't wait to explore this slice of unfamiliar.

I arrived for their annual Food and Wine Festival, typically running in March. The best part of arriving in advance of the weekend's planned activities was the chance to dine with Executive Chef Zouhair Bellout, aka Chef Z (follow Chef Z on Instagram here).

The Moroccan chef lights up any room he walks into and I had the pleasure of sitting next to him all evening, so needless to say there was never a dull moment in his presence. I was fascinated to learn about his culinary background, having earned his culinary degree from his native Morocco but pulling influences from his international travels, and global friendships to create his offerings at Reynolds Lake Oconee. I asked when he knew he wanted to be a chef, to which he replied:

"When I was 11 or 12 I always complained about what my mom cooked, and I did it just so I could make myself what I wanted. Like homemade French fries. When I graduated from high school, after spending a lot of time with friends and cooking for them, I thought, maybe I should do this."

I loved this unique story and how it tied into his ability to continue to create dishes that reflect his passions and interests; he doesn't mean to push boundaries necessarily, but it just happens naturally. This is unmistakable at Richland Pointe, Chef Z's pride and joy on property, as he created a global menu that reads like a street market you'd find in Marrakech (more on that below), where he takes diners on an international culinary journey from Japan (sushi) to Mexico (fresh avocado tossed in lime juice) to India (butter chicken) to of course, Morocco (rotating tagine).

I chatted more with Chef Z to learn about some of his favorite creations currently on the menu, the influence behind them and where we should all go to experience some of the world's best cuisine (in his opinion).

This is unmistakable at Richmond Pointe, Chef Z's pride and joy on property, as he created a global menu that reads like a street market you'd find in Marrakech (more on that below), where he takes diners on an international culinary journey from Japan (sushi) to Mexico (fresh avocado tossed in lime juice) to India (butter chicken) to of course, Morocco (rotating tagine).

Do you remember the first meal you made that confirmed you were on the right career path?

A homemade gnocchi with braised rabbit I made in a restaurant, and the reason I knew it was good was because my executive chef wouldn’t stop eating it. I had a lot of respect for that chef, and it meant a lot to me.

How would you describe your culinary style and how has that evolved throughout your career?

I’m very open to a lot of cooking styles, techniques and cuisines. I hate to put myself in a frame. I have the most respect for every single cuisine and every single culture. Throughout the multiple jobs I’ve had, and interactions with professionals and every single chef that I worked for, they have somehow shaped my culinary style. My style is also based on where I worked and lived.

You say every dish on your menus has a story—Can you share three dishes that are on your menu right now and the people or place as inspiration behind them?

Butter Chicken at Richland Pointe—A brotherhood/friendship with my sous chef from India at the Ritz-Carlton in Florida changed my perspective about Indian food. One day, he invited me to dinner at home with his parents. I told him, I want to come and watch your parents make the butter chicken. I watched them make the chicken and gravy and everything.

Piri Piri Shrimp at Richland Pointe—This dish is a representation of the years my friend and co-worker, Steve Pinheiro, and I have worked together. The marinade is from Portugal, where Steve is from, but it is made with bird’s eye chilies that grow in African countries. It is a bit spicy, tangy and sweet, but at the end, it is a complex flavor that you can’t get enough of, like the last six years working with Steve.

Branzino at Creek Club—Grilled with a Mediterranean potato salad, with artichokes and a lot of herbs and a vinegar base. When I lived in Tangier, I’d go to port and eat fresh grilled fished. As fishermen would come back, you’d buy fresh catch from the boat and pay the guy right there to grill your fish for you. It’s that memory of being drunk the whole night and going there at 4 to 5 a.m. when the fishermen came in.

What type of restaurant do you seek out when you're traveling? How do you determine what to order?

I will reach out to my friends who know about or live wherever I’m traveling and ask where I should go eat, and I go try what they say. I do research as well. Sometimes you’ll be talking with someone and they mention a restaurant—I take note and look it up and save that info. I never eat in chain restaurants. Just like myself, I want to see what the chef’s view and philosophy is of food. I look forward to that. It’s inspirational for me. I can eat the same dish in multiple restaurants to see the difference between them. For instance, I thought was done with dosa about 3 to 4 years ago. But, recently, when I was in NYC for recruiting, as we were leaving a pizza restaurant, I saw an Indian vegetarian restaurant and, even though I was full, I had to go try it. I ordered a dosa that had fresh onions and fresh tomatoes in it. The owner told me that’s how he grew up eating it, so this is how he makes it. Now, everywhere I go, I look for dosa because I still have more to learn.

Living in Florida, there was a church in Orlando that was turned into food stalls, similar to Optimist Hall in Charlotte and Krog Street Market in Atlanta. I eat something from every single place.

What is an under the radar foodie destination you'd love to share with my readers? What should they seek out there?

The place that shocked me the most was London. I was not expecting the diversity or offerings. The street food markets were what blew my mind. I had great Turkish and Bengali food. I made one reservation at a bucket list restaurant (Le Comptoir Robuchon) but for my five day trip, I kept eating on the street.

What is your favorite foodie destination and can you share a few of your favorite restaurants there?

The Street Market in Marrakech. I had the best lamb of my life. I go through phases and my style is evolving. For 5 to 6 years, I’ve focused on street food markets—I made a whole restaurant concept which is that (Richland Pointe).

When you're not cooking for others, just yourself, what's the dish you're making?

I’m a sucker for sandwiches. Anything between bread, and I can eat anything cold. I worked in a garde manger kitchen and everything around you is cold food, so I got used to eating everything cold.

It depends on the weather or my craving, though. It could be a sandwich or it could be something oven roasted or something grilled or could be a vegetable tagine or chicken tagine.

Follow Chef Z's Instagram to Stay Connected on Everything Culinary at Reynolds Lake Oconee

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