Chef Celebrations

Originally Published June 2007 by 'Zalea Magazine - Mobile, AL

Between late April and early July four of the most popular days of the year for family get-togethers can be found: Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, and Independence Day. Even though many folks in our area take advantage of these occasions to frequent the many eateries around the bay many more prepare big family dinners.

Some may break out the grill while others enjoy a crawfish boil. Still others keep to the A/C with fried chicken, roast pork, or a good old fashioned potluck supper. This got us to thinking – what do the some of Mobile’s top chefs do when they have a family celebration? Do they prepare the same posh recipes for their families that they do for the rest of us or does simplicity rule the day? Well there is only one way to find out.

One of the youngest executive chefs in town is Nasser Guendouzi at the new Spring Hill wine bar, The Wine Loft. Like his father, Guendouzi was born in Algeria. Like his mother (who is Australian), he grew up in Great Britain. Now at the age of just 21 he is piloting the kitchen of one of Mobile’s most unique and exciting new ventures. As the name suggests, The Wine Loft’s primary commodity is wine, and lots of it. At present they serve roughly 250 bottles with a menu that is designed not to fill you up but to accent the wine. Some of the adventurous creations include Wild Mushroom and Manchego Cheese Bruschetta and Prosciutto and Bleu Cheese Wrapped Figs.

When asked what delicacies he prepares for his family of world travelers, Chef Nasser replied, “Just family recipes.” Some of those family recipes include couscous with vegetable sauce and a versatile Algerian soup called Shorba which he describes as perfect for a starter but also hearty enough to be the main course. Shorba has a chicken broth and tomato base with a mixture of vegetables like zucchini and potatoes. Guendouzi confessed that he is not above throwing a few burgers on the grill. Just three years in Mobile and he has already picked up part of the culture.

Algerian Shorba


1 1/2 lbs chicken, cubed

1 yellow onion, grated

1/2 zucchini, grated

1/2 small potato, grated

1/2 rib celery, halved

1 carrot, halved

1/4 cup canned chick-peas

2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tbsp. paprika

2 tbsp. tomato paste

1 tbsp. olive oil

8 cups of water

1/2 cup orzo

1 tbsp. chopped parsley

1 tsp. chopped fresh mint leaves

Lemon slices


Put meat, onion, zucchini, potato, celery, carrot, salt, pepper, cinnamon, paprika, tomato paste, oil, and 1/2 cup of water in a large pot. Cover and sauté over low heat for 20 minutes. Add the rest of the water, bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes. Add pasta and chickpeas. Cook for 10 minutes. Add parsley and mint. Serve with lemon slices.

With a chef like Emeril Legasse as a recruiting tool it is no wonder that the Charleston, SC campus of Johnson and Wales University is a hotbed for talented young culinars. Food Network’s Tyler Florence was enticed by the form letter that bore the signature of the then executive chef of New Orleans’ famed Commander’s Palace. One of Florence’s classmates was our own Chef Charles Mereday who oversees the food services at the newly renovated RSA Battle House Hotel. In addition to handling the banquets and room service aspects of a premiere hotel, Chef Charles is also the gastronomic mastermind behind a menu at the Trellis Room that can only be described as stellar.

Luxurious dishes like grilled lamb chops, escarole, white beans, and olive relish exhibit Mereday’s skill with classic French cuisine. His dedication to locally grown organic vegetables, wild Alabama seafood, and other local ingredients are just part of the dedication the chef employees to give visitors to the Battle House an unparalleled dining experience. With such an exquisite comprehension of haute cuisine what does Chef Charles fix for his family when they all come together for a celebration?

“Being from North Carolina and cooking the kind of food that I cook all the time usually, I usually go completely the opposite way. Usually something casual.” He added, “Barbecue is the big family celebration dish for sure.” The chef’s hometown of Dudley, NC is noted throughout the Carolinas for their unique take on barbecue using a sauce that is primarily cider vinegar and includes no tomatoes, brown sugar, or molasses. So does he do baby backs, chicken, brisket, or butt? Hog. He slow cooks a whole pig over coals and finishes it with the aforementioned vinegar sauce.

East Carolina Style Barbecue Sauce


4 cups cider vinegar

1 tablespoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon pepper

Juice of two lemons


Mix ingredients well and you are done.

Executive chef Nadir Sherwani is also from North Carolina, specifically Chapel Hill. He, too, attended Johnson and Wales with Mereday. In fact it was his past working relationship with Chef Charles that brought Sherwani to Mobile where he is executive chef over all food services at the RSA Riverview Hotel. Those services include room service, banquets, and the unique foods found at Fathoms.

Fathoms has some pretty amazing food for a hotel bar for instance Brazilian spiced beef tenderloin or Caribbean Mahi-Mahi with plantains sautéed in seasonal rum. They have a terrific Happy Hour which features drink and Tapas combinations. The other restaurant Chef Nadir will oversee is the upcoming Admiral’s which will feature seafood and steak which carries the goal of being the seafood restaurant in downtown Mobile.

Once again a devotion to local ingredients is paramount to the quality of food that will be featured. According to Sherwani, “I think with Charles we are on the same page with buying local and fresh using as many organic farmers as we can.” Admirals will also bring something new to the Port City, Kobe Beef. The finest beef in the world, Kobe cattle are raised in Japan where they are given a very special diet and regular massages. I am not kidding.

So with his Southern up bringing and pension for local ingredients what does Chef Nadir prepare for his family? The chef has a three year old so he prepares a lot of macaroni and cheese. What about when the whole family gets together? Why the foods they grew up on – Indian and Pakistani food. The family’s favorite dish is called Kheema, beef stew with potatoes, peas, curry and it is usually served with a whole wheat flatbread called Chapati (similar to Nan).


1/4 cup Ghee (clarified butter)

1 onion, chopped fine

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek

Salt to taste

2 lbs ground veal or ground lamb or ground beef

1 lb ripe fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped

10 ounces peas

1 tablespoon lime juice


Heat Ghee in a skillet, add onions, garlic, and stir until softened. Add spices and stir in the meat, continue stirring. Brown the meat and drain excess grease. Add tomatoes and peas, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook 10 minutes more. Remove lid and stir in the lime juice.
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