It’s dinnertime at chef Diana Sbaitri’s house. She’s put two plates on the table, one for her and one for her husband, Morad. There’s just one thing missing: Morad. A chef based in Berkane, Morocco, he’s in the process of getting a visa to live in America with his wife. To cope with the distance between them—an 18-hour plane ride—Sbaitri has a nightly ritual.
“I make him a plate every night and send him photos, descriptions and sometimes recipes that he can try,” Sbaitri says. “It’s for us. It’s setting aside the time every day to say, ‘This is what I would be cooking you tonight if you were here.’”
The couple met through social media: Sbaitri, who runs a home-based catering business and cooks part-time at Firefly, showed up on Facebook as a friend suggestion for Morad via a group for international chefs. He sent her a request right away (“He said he liked my ‘shy smile like the Mona Lisa,’” Sbaitri says).
“I didn’t respond immediately and he started sweating it a little, hoping I would,” says Sbaitri. Once she did, they discussed their shared love of food and, eventually, their shared goals and values. They wed in Morocco in July 2015.
“People from all over the world, especially fellow chefs, followed our love story on social media and were really inspired by the fact that we are both chefs in love making this huge leap together from halfway around the world because it can be brutal in this profession trying to find the person you’re looking for in life.”
Sbaitri will ask Morad to pick a protein or a type of cuisine and she’ll make what he chooses (“unless it’s my turn to pick”). She says it’s their way of creating normalcy in an abnormal situation. And Morad makes food for her, too. Often she’ll receive photos of him cooking at the restaurant where he works or of a plate he’s created for her, with “Diana” or “Honey” written in a sauce on the plate’s edge.
“It means a lot to him,” Sbaitri says. “I cook something different every night and he gets exposed to different food cultures, learns more about the spices we readily use here, plating styles. …I’m currently trying to teach Morad more Peruvian food and he’s teaching me Tajine. We continue to educate each other and grow more as a couple because of it.” (And the couple’s dog grows, too: Their 125-pound Newfoundland, Ursa Major, gets the leftovers Sbaitri prepares.)
“We sort of see our own story as being special and unique in that way because it’s both food and love conquering all.”