“What happens in Marrakesh stays in Marrakesh” is most definitely not the motto for Lucy Penfield. After the interior designer visited the North African city, she was determined to bring the entire sensory experience back home. On a cool evening at the turn of the season, she hosted an intimate dinner, which she called “a feast for the senses,” for a few lucky friends right in her own dining room.
“I wanted to recreate the magic I felt there,” Penfield says, recalling her recent voyage to Morocco that was tailored around cuisine. She’d embarked on one of Peggy Markel’s Culinary Adventures, which focus on slow food and soulful travel to destinations including India, Italy, Spain and, of course, Morocco. There, Penfield took cooking classes, baked in clay ovens, shopped for spices in colorful souks, rode camels on the beach, and fell in love with Berber rugs and textiles. The trip included a visit to Jnane Tamsna, a famed boutique riad (supermodel Kate Moss checked in right after their stay) decorated by designer and hotelier Meryanne Loum-Martin with sprawling gardens, exotic peacocks, romantic lighting and striking Moorish tilework, some of which Penfield replicated on her own glossy green kitchen backsplash.
Transforming a trip into an interior is far from foreign for Penfield. She designed her own abode (in collaboration with Charlie & Co. Design) based on a visit to Stellenbosch, South Africa. Classic, intricate Cape Dutch arches repeat from the exterior architecture into the modern kitchen nook and the mudroom armoires. So when it came to spinning Morocco into a Minnesota dinner party, the host was unafraid to incorporate all she’d taken in — maybe minus the peacocks.
“We all have these impressions and emotional experiences where you’re transported right away,” notes Penfield, who used memory along with artisan souvenirs to recreate an authentic interpretation. “The trick is to weave that story into your own home and lifestyle so it doesn’t look like the Walker Art Center prop room!”
For her story, Penfield turned her arched breakfast nook into a bar where guests sipped on gin cocktails infused with honey, lemon and mint, complete with flower ice spheres by Minnesota Ice. The signature drink and curated menu were created in collaboration with local chef Stephanie Meyer. She cooked up saffron rice and chicken with apricots, olives and almonds, incorporating traditional spices and methods, including using the terra cotta tagines Penfield picked up on her trip. After noshing on appetizers of eggplant spread, warm spiced olives and pomegranate-glazed kofta by the fire, everyone migrated to the candlelit dining table, which was covered in a smattering of souvenir linens with delicate patterns reminiscent of the maze-like souk alleyways where Penfield found these treasures.
“It’s not just monkeys, snake charmers and storytellers that inspire there; it’s also the shops, artisans, textiles, rugs and pottery all in the same colors of the cuisine,” she says. “This tablescape was an explosion of colors and layers inspired by the infusion of spices like coriander, cumin and cinnamon. The yellows of cumin, curry and turmeric are layered with the mystery and surprise of the richer spices.”
Terra cotta dishware added another authentic layer dressed with marinated olives, rosemary sprigs and mint leaves for the evening’s tea ceremony. Antique silver cups spilled over with heaps of pink and orange roses, while silver urns were piled high with bright pomegranates and shiny mandarins, echoing the traditional decadent orange cake served for dessert.
To recall the riad’s “Euro infusion of style, art and design,” Penfield filled her home with French jazz rather than predictable music, hung lemon leaf branches from the chandelier and added in candles galore, awaking the senses wherever possible. She adds: “The smelling of the spices, the twinkling of the lights, the delicacy of the cuisine — it all takes you back!”