MYRTLEFORD and Morocco, it would seem, have little in common.
The former is in North East Victoria, and better known for its old tobacco kilns and high country; the latter is in west North Africa and renowned for its snake charmers, spice bazaars and desert camels.
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- Red Ramia Trading, Myrtleford, redramia.com.au or ph: (03) 5752 1944 or Cafe Fez (03) 5751 1155
Myrtleford’s Red Ramia, however, could see a link between the two disparate locales. Red, his Aussie wife, Leigh-Ann and three children, have bought a slice of the exotic to the North East with their furniture shop Red Ramia Trading and Cafe Fez.
While the shop and cafe are inspired by Morocco – offering tagines and couscous on the menu – there are equal parts of India, China and even Lebanon thrown in for a total shock to the cultural senses.
“It is surprising for people who walk through the door,’’ the Lebanon-born Red says.
“Once you walk through the front gates you could be anywhere in the world. I suppose it is a bit unusual to find in Myrtleford, but because we’re on the Great Alpine Road we get passing traffic from all round the country.’’
Red first started out in the antique furniture trade in Geelong, and moved to Myrtleford 12 years ago, at first trading building salvage materials, and then finally he cottoned on to the idea of selling furniture from the exotic reaches of the planet – from homewares, to clothing, leather and fabric – all imported in crates from their home countries.
But the 64-year-old adventurer doesn’t just import and sell, but each year makes the trip to Morocco, China and India to source items.
“I’m a trader, I like the chase, finding something that is different. It’s a perfect combination with the travel,’’ he says.
“There’s always some beautiful place to explore overseas.’’
But not content to simply enjoy the spoils of this business himself, Red roped in his three children, with each responsible for a separate country – Regan, 33, travels to India to source goods; Amanda, 31, heads to Morocco, and Minette, 29, is the China specialist, even speaking the language and living in the country for two years to become acquainted with the culture.
And it is Amanda who has bought another touch of the exotic to the already unorthodox business, opening Cafe Fez inside Red Ramia trading, which is a Lebanese-Moroccan-Aussie fusion.
Amanda says of the three siblings, she was probably assigned to Morocco “because I’m more Arabic-looking than the other two’’, and adds she now has a second family in that country with their business contacts there. On her last visit to Morocco two years ago, she added a day’s cooking class to her usual furniture-buying schedule.
“It was a fantastic day in a traditional Moroccan kitchen. They didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any French or Arabic,’’ Amanda says.
“But I learnt with hand gestures and smells to cook three tagines. I make tagines in Cafe Fez, but not the same as I made there because here we boil couscous in 15 minutes, but there it takes an hour.’’
Alongside the tagines, Amanda also serves traditional Lebanese dishes, learnt at home as a young child. “It’s not so much the ingredients, but how you make it, with your hands and with love.’’
Amanda says while she relishes trips to Morocco, Myrtleford is definitely home.
“A lot of people’s first reactions to the business are “wow’’, they can’t believe something like this exists in Myrtleford,” she says.
“A lot of people ask ‘Why?’, but I say, ‘Why not?’’’