Sunday, May 26, 2024

Cultures mix easily at Zihuatanejo’s Orient Bay Restaurant

High in the hills and overlooking the beautiful city of Zihuatanejo sits a charming restaurant known as Orient Bay, now in its second year. But like restaurants all over Mexico, this year has brought its challenges.

But owner and chef Didier Pic has hit upon a way to encourage clientele to come back by combining his love of Arabic and Mediterranean food and the performing arts.

Born in Marseille, France, Pic received his training in culinary arts on the French Riviera, in Nice. His extensive career has taken him around the globe as an executive chef to Saudi Arabia, where he reported to Prince Ibrahim Al Saud; to the Camino Real Polanco, famous for Mexico’s largest banquet facility, which accommodates up to 4,000 people; and to Japan, Poland, Spain, Tunisia, China, Thailand, and the United States, to name a few more.

A career opportunity with Club Med brought him to Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo, in 1992, where he met his future wife, who also worked at the resort. After leaving there in 1996, despite having two children, Pic continued his career as a freelance consultant, setting up kitchens or working as an executive chef. Eventually, all the time away from his family made him decide to return home to Zihuatanejo, and in 2019 he launched Orient Bay.

From the beginning, the Mediterranean, Arabic and Asian cuisine received rave reviews from patrons who wanted something different. But like many others, Orient Bay faced a setback when Covid-19 hit. His restaurant, along with other businesses, was forced to close temporarily.

Hicham Billouch from Morocco heads the music and belly dance troupe.
Hicham Billouch from Morocco heads the music and belly dance troupe.

When the go-ahead to reopen came, Pic looked for ways to bring people back. An idea he had planned to implement before Covid struck blossomed once more. He turned to the internet to search for someone who could help him achieve his vision.

There he found a young musician from Morocco, Maestro Hicham Billouch, who already had a remarkable career in his home country. Billouch had played for the Mexican Senate and had cemented a solid reputation here.

Like many people, he came to Mexico a few years ago as a tourist, fell in love with its diversity and decided to stay. He was gratified by the enthusiasm Mexicans had for Arabic and Moroccan music. In particular, he was surprised by the sheer number of belly dancers and belly dance schools in Mexico City alone.

“In Morocco,” Billouch told me, “we have only one!”

With a wide talent pool to choose from, Billouch was able to create a troupe to play traditional Moroccan instruments, along with belly dancers, who were willing to perform across Mexico. Together now for six years, Orquestra Nour Marruecos includes belly dancers Giselle Rodríguez and Judith — the former also plays the qanun, vocals, and the rig, Ernesto Vega on the darbuka, Betzy López on violin and bass and, lastly, Maestro Hicham Billouch on keyboard, guembri and vocals.

As Pic suspected, Zihuatanejo was ripe for something different. Performances for the restaurant’s two shows on December 11 and 12 sold out in mere days. A diverse crowd of both locals and tourists clearly enjoyed the lively performance.

Chef Didier Pic.
Chef Didier Pic.

For 248 pesos per person, patrons were treated to a platter of sampler appetizers like hummus and labneh and a main course filled with tabouleh, falafel and kebob skewers of three different meats. For dessert, there were dates and basbousah cakes.

The event was so successful that Pic plans to add future shows and entertainment. You can find out more at the restaurant’s Facebook page.

The writer divides her time between Canada and Zihuatanejo.

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