“I’m not a creator, I’m not an inventor,” says Mehdi Boujrada, a native of Morocco who developed a line of artisanal pantry items that stay true to his culinary traditions. “I’m just someone with very modest means trying to preserve and transmit something from our culture.”
With the help of his mother, Boujrada started Villa Jerada in 2011. And in the early days, it very much was a bootstrap effort.
“It’s very intimidating. You’re going to all of these chefs and restaurants that are very used to gourmet foods that are very Eurocentric,” he says of the days when he would go door to door to Seattle restaurants with bottles of his newly minted Moroccan olive oil.
Today, he offers everything from spicy harissa with a fruity kick and preserved lemons to punchy Urfa and Aleppo pepper. Each product is made in small batches and evokes a “food memory” from Boujrada’s childhood.
“We see a lack of adequate narrative about our cuisine and our food, and it almost becomes an ambassador act to recorrect the narrative,” he says.