The Al'Fez Story
By founder Sam Jacobi
I thank you for your interest in Al'Fez. In the following pages I share with you the story behind Al'Fez and why the brand is so close to my heart.
Al'Fez is a range of foods based on and inspired by the cuisines of North Africa and the Middle East; or more concisely: Moroccan and Lebanese foods.
I'd like to say that the Al'Fez brand was conceived in 1998 but in reality the reason for the brand's existence goes back many years before that; because so much of what the range represents now is owed to my experiences as a child growing up in the Middle East.
Picture a bustling souk in the heart of Jerusalem's Arab quarter in the 1970's where as a child I would experience all the colourful aromas and tastes of simple yet amazingly delicious foods. I will never forget dipping a type of sesame bagel - freshly made of course - in wonderful Za'atar wrapped in small and a tightly folded newspaper cutting, or sitting in one of the many cafes enjoying freshly made houmous generously drizzled with the richest Jordanian olive oil and freshly baked pitta bread; followed by a typical Arab dessert cut in giant round trays, drenched in orange blossom syrup.
Our home cooking was also inspirational. My family originates from Iraq. Our friends and neighbours were of Moroccan, Iranian and Yemenite origins and so the culinary influences were immensely varied. Home cooking was the cornerstone of our regular Saturday get togethers when the women would bring their dishes for all to enjoy. Amazing dishes - often cooked overnight or prepared at the crack of dawn when most people are in their beds - these amazing women knew how to cook!
To this day I long for the intensity of flavours and experiences I enjoyed as a child but I suppose that has more to do with the vividness of childhood memories than anything else…
And there lies the start of the Al'Fez story. Having had the opportunity to do so after 10 years in the food business, I created Al’Fez to share my favourite foods; my childhood foods, with lovers of good food throughout the world!
So what of the name? The first thing most people ask me about Al’Fez is “what does it mean?”. Al’Fez literally translates as “The Fez” in Arabic. Fez being a historic city in Morocco as well as the well known traditional headgear worn in Egypt and throughout the Maghreb.
Essentially, the clue to the cuisine is in the name. And best of all, it can be correctly pronounced by every nationality I’ve come across in the last 8 years - regardless of their native language!
So having decided on launching a range of North African and Middle Eastern foods and having come up with a suitable name, the hard work of developing and realizing a range of products commenced.
While developing the range, I was very clear about a number of things - First and foremost the range had to be free from artificial flavours and additives as I wanted it to be as close to the roots of the cuisine as possible. Secondly, the products had to deliver the true flavours of the cuisine; and so in 1998 I started developing the Al’Fez range.
Falafel was the first on the list. Making fresh falafel can be laborious so making an authentic falafel out of a packet was a huge challenge. The key to a good falafel is a crunchy exterior and a soft centre – and soon enough I managed to crack the recipe – my first perfect Al’Fez line – a Middle Eastern classic.
Tahini dressing was next. This nutty, citric dressing is usually served drizzled over falafel stuffed into pitta pockets and packed with chopped cucumber and tomato salad – perfectly complementing the falafel balls.
Other products soon followed: Harissa, Zahtar (za’atar), and the Apricot Tagine Sauce. Harissa is a hot chilli paste originating in Tunisia and there are thousands of variations to this basic paste throughout North Africa. My recipe is based on a more complex spice blend to offer chilli heat with a distinct flavour. Zahtar which is a blend of thyme and sesame seeds is one of my favourite products and having tried unsuccessfully to recreate the unique blend here, I decided that there is no match to the original recipe and so Al'Fez Zahtar is imported from origin. Finally, the Apricot Tagine Sauce: this product is based on my mother's own recipe of a sweet and sour lamb tagine which I always looked forward to; and one serving was never enough…
The development process took over 2 years with many challenges along the way – particularly when it came to matching flavours and ensuring a high quality without resorting to artificial flavours - especially since the cuisine is largely based on fresh ingredients.
By 2000 the original range of 8 products was complete and packaging design was being finalised. I chose an exotic, moody purple and white as the brand colours. This was a deliberate decision to distinguish Al’Fez from the wide range of brightly coloured Indian sauces on supermarket shelves. I wanted Al’Fez to be different; to be “discovered”. The result is a striking design that to this day stands out from the crowd.
Al’Fez was officially launched in 2001 and within a short space of time was listed in several well known stores in London and the South East. Today Al’Fez is proudly sold in the UK’s biggest supermarket chain Tesco as well as the Foodie’s choice – Waitrose, among many independent good food stores throughout the UK and online.
Internationally, Al’Fez is sold in 10 European countries as well as USA, Canada and South Africa!
It is a true testament to the growing popularity of Moroccan and Lebanese foods worldwide, as well as a reflection of the high quality and appeal of the Al’Fez product range.
Of course my work is far from done. Whilst I am proud to see the success of the likes of Falafel, Harissa and Tagine Sauces which are generally widely available, other products are still only appreciated by a minority of people, and even then – usually only on special occasions.
Lesser known products such as Zahtar and Sumac are incredibly versatile and special yet are virtually undiscovered; so it is a labour of love, a pleasure to continue to run demonstrations, consumer shows and a special catering service to share, educate and wow people with the amazing flavours of Moroccan and Lebanese foods wherever I go.
I invite you to discover and enjoy all that Al’Fez has to offer…