Chef Chat, Part 1: Hicham Nafaa of Majorca Bistro & Tapas

The walls of Majorca Bistro & Tapas are deep red, accented with hand-painted bullfighting frescoes. Soft flamenco music pulses through the low-lit dining room. Majorca is Midtown's brand-new tapas restaurant, and from the food to the décor, it's sexy as hell. We sat down with owner and executive chef Hicham Nafaa for an inside look into his Spanish restaurant, which just opened last week.

EOW: So where are you from?

HN: I'm originally from Morocco.

EOW: Is that the kind of food you feature here?

HN: Well, Spain is about 10 miles from Morocco. So I feature Spanish foods -- Majorcan specifically, which is an island in Spain. But there is a little bit of Moroccan influence since I'm Moroccan. It's very similar to Spanish food....the spices, some of the ingredients we use, a lot of seafood. We use rice, they use rice.

EOW: When did you start cooking?

HN: About 12 years ago. I came to Houston in 1999. I started cooking here, then I left Houston and went to Florida. I cooked in Tampa and Clearwater. I was working for corporate, so I was opening stores for about four years. I went to Vegas, went to New York, I was in Philly....I was a chef in all these places...then I moved to Maui, and stayed in Maui for five years. Did a lot of cooking there - anything from hotels to independent restaurants. Then I started a catering company and did a lot of weddings. Everyone wanted to get married in Hawaii.

I learned a lot of cooking in the Pacific Rim. I did sushi as well as island cooking. From there I came back here to Houston, and I started doing operations - I stepped a little bit away in cooking, because I majored in finance. I was doing doing operations for Bella restaurants, which is my family business as well. Then after that, me and my cousin Ali, because we're third generation cousins, we decided to do things on our own, so we opened Cocos. Then we opened Majorca, and we are building Moors. That's coming in November.

EOW: Did you design it?

HN: Me and my cousin Ali, yes. It took us about eight months to finish, just because every time we finished it, we weren't happy with the results. So we kept designing, redesigning, redesigning until we were happy with the product. We shipped tiles from Morocco, this woodwork is all handcarved, artists did all of this work. We took a long time to do it.

Check back tomorrow to read how the original concept of tapas sprung out of dirty, fly-infested bars, and learn more about the deliciousness that is Majorcan cuisine.

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