As Mealtime Goes By Culinary Intrigue on the Casablanca

September 23, 1990|By Lynn Williams

"For the waters," drawled Humphrey Bogart's Rick, when asked why he came to Casablanca. "But there are no waters in Casablanca," replied his interrogator. "I was misinformed," countered Bogart, with a mysterious smile.

Asked why they are visiting Maryland's own Casablanca, visitors might well answer "for the waters." Since moving last spring from Daytona Beach, Fla., to Galesville, the 50-foot motor yacht has been taking customers for cool, leisurely cruises on the West River, past the picturesque Thomas Point lighthouse -- subject of hundreds of watercolors and millions of snapshots -- and onto the waters of the Chesapeake.

Sea spray and scenery are all that many need to be completely happy. But Bill and Carol Williams have taken the charter concept a step further, in honor of the classic film that is their yacht's namesake. They feature lunch and dinner cruises with a French-Moroccan accent, and offer their boat as a floating bed and breakfast inn, where a couple can drift off to sleep to the voices of Bogart and Bergman, and awaken to an authentic Moroccan breakfast.

"It's the culmination of all kinds of desires," Mr. Williams says. "I've always loved boats; I've been sailing for 30 years or more. We love people, and we like good eating, good cooking, nice wines.

"We've been taking people out and having cookouts and good, clean healthy fun. So we thought, why not get paid for it?"

Mr. Williams is a former archi-tect, and his wife spent 25 years as a school choral director. When the outgoing pair retired, they decided to exercise their adventurous natures and love for travel; "We get bored sitting still," Mr. Williams says. They rented out their suburban Virginia house, and went shopping for a boat to live on.

Mrs. Williams found just the right boat in Boca Raton, Fla., and the couple took possession a year ago.

"We had no idea what to name it," she admits. "A lot of women want to name their boat after themselves -- 'The Carol.' I'm not into that. So I got a yacht broker's book, with all the yachts for sale in the United States. It had thousands of boat names. I was going to read every one of them, and the right one would come to me."

And there it was: "Casablanca."

Not only does the word mean "white house" -- the boat is white, and would be their home -- but, as Carol Williams says, "It evokes a wonderful, nostalgic, sentimental era."

Once the name was chosen, the concept came easily. The top deck became the "Blue Parrot Lounge," with palms and ornamental parrots. (The real parrot on board, Bogart, is green.) The salon, in which dinner is served, was given a handsome Moroccan look with an Oriental rug, gleaming brass table settings, and large burgundy pillows for guests to loll against. Popular music from the 1940s wafts continually through the yacht.

The Williamses' trump card, however, was Fatima Garnett, who cooks for Mrs. Williams' parents, and who became their culinary consultant.

"She was born in Morocco in the countryside," Mrs. Williams explains. "When she was a teen-ager, she went to Fez, which is the capital, and became a cook for an upper-class French military family.

"She had a restaurant of her own at one time, in Northern Virginia. She showed me a picture of herself in the Washington Post many years ago, serving couscous to some famous person in the government. She used to be known as 'Couscous' -- that was her nickname."

Mrs. Garnett helped the couple develop a repertoire of both authentic Moroccan fare, for those venturesome customers who request it, and of familiar dishes with just a touch of exotic flair, to appeal to a broader range of the public. She translated classic dishes from her homeland from French into English, and portioned them for the six guests that the Casablanca can carry at any one time.

She takes the Williamses shopping in ethnic markets, and is even willing to come aboard to help prepare a Moroccan feast for a special party. But when the yacht leaves the dock, it also leaves Mrs. Garnett behind; the rocking motion of a boat doesn't agree with the chef.

Bed and breakfast guests who spend the night in the mahogany-paneled "Casbah" stateroom get their choice of breakfasts. Those who want to go the authentic route can choose kefta, the Moroccan equivalent of a hearty American steak-and-eggs breakfast.

"Upper-class people in Morocco would have a breakfast like this," Mrs. Williams says. "You fill a black skillet with dozens of tiny marble-sized meatballs, filled with coriander and cumin and hot peppers and paprika and all that good stuff. You saute them, then you break eggs all over the top and stick it in a hot oven. When the eggs start to bake -- just when the whites turn white, and the yolk isn't quite done yet -- you put it on the table."

In true Moroccan fashion, kefta is eaten with bits of pita bread, using no cutlery, but after the first bite, Mrs. Williams says with a laugh, she is willing to hand out forks.

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