From Morocco to Rochester
Born in Morocco, Youness Bojji grew up in Europe; he lived in France and Spain. Learning to be a chef came from his need to feed himself. “I thought, I have got to feed myself, and I started experimenting with food,” he says. If you like great food, you’ll like everything about his experimenting.
Youness came to Rochester in 1998 with a friend. “I’ve worked in a good 15 restaurants here: Victoria’s, Chester’s, Pescara and Michael’s, just to name a few,” he recalls. He was not able to read or speak English when he arrived in the U.S. He taught himself by looking at the kitchen printer. “I read English my way,” says Youness. “I knew what the items were, even though I read them wrong or said them wrong or pronounced them wrong, but, many things are universal.”
To find inspiration for dishes at his restaurant, he looks to his guests. “My guests smile,” he says. “[I am inspired] when I put the plate in front of somebody, and their first impression makes me want to go beyond the next time.”
Youness describes his cooking style as “traveling to Europe without leaving town.” His food has a European influence, with lots of French cuisine, but he twists it to make it something else. “I take a lot from Mexican, and I make a twist from it,” he shares. “Everything we make here has a twist to it. Nothing stays the same. That way, we make it our own.”
“[Cooking] relieves my stress; it’s my love language,” Youness says. “When my wife is mad at me, I make her food. It’s my love; it’s my welcome to my house.”
It’s not all about the food to Youness, though; it’s the social interaction and the love he feels for his customers. The hospitality of Youness and his staff at Casablanca gives customers a great sense of belonging, and Youness isn’t afraid to share his enthusiasm with you.
“It’s like a social thing; you’re making friends,” he says. “It’s exciting, and every day you see a different face that makes you really happy to see. But every time you see a repeat face it makes you happier. I consider anybody I talk with a friend in 30 seconds. I have accomplished something; I can make them happy by feeding them, and that’s what I enjoy the most.”
“Dessert Makes You Beautiful”
My favorite part of Youness’s talent is his way of making you feel good for eating dessert. He states that chocolate makes you beautiful, but how? “Chocolate attracts a thing in your brain that creates happiness. Every person who smiles is beautiful, and chocolate makes you smile, so it is good for you.”
What’s the one food that this talented man won’t try? “Applesauce. It’s really hard for me to eat something from a jar; to me, applesauce looks like a processed food,” he says. His wife and I made him consider it though. “Okay, now I’m going make it from scratch, add a little brandy, and chardonnay. That’s how I try things. Maybe I’ll add a little cinnamon and then I flambé it. Then, it’s not applesauce anymore.”
His Last Meal
“[My last meal] would be who I am having the meal with, not the food. I would be with my family. The food makes you happy; the company makes you happier. Eating alone does not make the food taste good,” Youness explains.
The restaurant is located at 1208 Seventh Street NW in Rochester and is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday and for dinner on Saturday. On Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., everyone gets a glass of champagne and the entire restaurant stops for 15 seconds to raise a toast and express their gratitude. Why? “Being grateful is what makes life beautiful.”