Feature Article: Deana Saukam’s Travels

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The Magic of Morocco

by Katie Friel
Photographs by Stephen Smith

In every sense of the word, Deana Saukam is on an epic journey. Beginning last fall, the social media maven (her Instagram handle @faimfatale has 21K followers and counting) and Food + Wine contributor began a six-month sojourn that had Saukam researching her cookbook in Cambodia, visiting museums in New YorkCity, dining at Paris’s most divine restaurants and living alone in a isolated villa in Bali.

For Saukam, traveling is a compulsion born out of a need for perspective. “Travel is important on many different levels,” says Saukam. “For me, it helps me realize that the world is a really big place. And whatever it is that’s bothering you, if it’s a negative thing, the world is bigger than you.”

Deana Saukam
Riding camels on the beach in Essaouira. Saukam’s handmade silk and linen coat was snagged in the medina in Marrakesh.

At age 33, Saukam is redefining her role in the world of travel and culinary education. A self-proclaimed ambassador of Austin, Saukam is taking the insights she learned as a partner in the qui and East Side King empires, and creating a career that crosses cultures and inspires a deeper love of travel.

In February, she decided to join her friend, photographer Stephen Smith, in Morocco. Together, the duo met up with Peggy Markel, a Southern-born culinary anthropologist who has spent more than two decades leading cultural tours around Morocco and Italy with her company, Peggy Markel’s Culinary Adventures. (Like Saukam, who splits her time between Paris, France and Austin, Markel has homes in both Florence, Italy and Denver.)

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Saukam in the city of Essaouira

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Peggy Markel enjoying lunch in the garden at the Jnane Tamsna;

For Saukam, it was a chance to learn from a master, a woman who has built a career around examining the connection between culture and cuisine. Explains Saukam, “[Peggy] has been doing this for so long and I was interested to see her methods and ways. It was inspiring to get out of my own bubble of traveling by myself and see how someone else is doing it.”

Together, the women traveled from the desert to the sea to the Atlas Mountains, examining the terrain, meeting the people and learning the history of this African nation. In this photo essay, they share their deeply personal experiences and give an insider’s look into one of the most buzzed-about travel destinations right now.

Deana Saukam
The night market in Marrakesh. The women to the left are wearing jalabas, a traditional Moroccan garment.

With many flights flying in and out of Marrakesh, it’s easy to make this historic city home base. Located in the high desert, this imperial city is where Saukam and Markel began their journey. The travelers stayed in style at Jnane Tamsna, a boutique resort comprised of 24 private villas spread over nine acres. During the day, Markel introduced her companions to the Jewish quarter, where they dined on tagine and marveled at the dozens of brightly-colored spices. After a trip to the Palmeraie, a vast palm grove just outside the city, the group headed to Jemaa el-Fnaa (or night market). Among the treasures Saukam collected, a handmade silk and linen coat was one of her favorites.

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A traditional Moroccan tagine dish of chicken, preserved lemon and vegetables served at the Jnane Tamsna

Deana Saukam
Palmeraie, located on the northern edge of Marrakesh. 'According to legend,' says Markel, '(Arab soldiers) would eat dates and then drop the seeds resulting in this palm desert'

Located on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, Essaouira is three-hour drive from Marrakesh — perfect for a day trip. “The city is amazing,” says Saukam. “It’s a port city, kind of like Morocco meets a surfer town.” After taking in a lunch of fresh seafood (the fish was pulled from the sea only moments before it hit plates), the travelers took a camel ride down the picturesque beach. Says Markel, “Essaouira is surrounded by Berber villages. The livelihood for many of these villagers is through camels.”

“Even though they speak French everywhere, it’s mostly the Berber experience you’re having. What’s in between these different landscapes is a Berber way of life.”

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'In the van on the way back from Essaouira, we pulled over because there are all these sheep and goats,' explains Saukam. 'They were eating fruit in the trees.'

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Moroccan culture is very much a marriage between the region’s indigenous Berber people and France, which established a protectorate over the country from 1912 to 1956. “[Morocco] is a lot of French sensibilities mixed with Berber culture. Even though they speak French everywhere, it’s mostly the Berber experience you’re having,” says Markel, “What’s in between these different landscapes is a Berber way of life.”

Just an hour and a half away from the high desert of Marrakesh is Imlil. Located in the High Atlas Mountains, Imlil is accessible only by foot (or mule). “The first thing you do is have dates dipped in milk and sprinkled with rosewater. It’s surrounded by mountains, and almost 4,000 feet [above sea level]. You’re in the middle of that. The quality of air has changed and the atmosphere has changed and you feel like you’ve entered into something from the past,” says Markel.

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The view from the Kasbah du Toubkal.

Deana Saukam
On the way to Imlil, the group had to abandon their van and hop on mules.

Deana Saukam
Markel’s assistant, Ashley Mulligan Schitz, does tree pose in the High Atlas Mountains.

After their date and rosewater welcome, guests retired to private rooms in the Kasbah du Toubkal, a picturesque lodge with unforgettable views. Though visitors may feel a sense of transcending time and place, they can enjoy yoga retreats, mountain treks and the hospitality of the Berber people.


Read more from the Outdoors Issue| May 2016


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