Top Dubai chefs on who inspired them to the kitchen
Julia Childs made being the archetypal American in Paris work to her advantage, once she discovered French food.
She became famous for creating the first French cookbook; comprehensive, classic but accessible to the average American house wife. Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1961 and is a 726-page tome of recipes still considered a go-to text for classic French cooking. Julia Childs went on to become a TV star in the US, a forerunner of Delia and Nigella, and endures as an iconic character and cooking icon.
This week, on Friday August 15, Julia Childs would have been 102 years old. And, in honour of this culinary hero, we’ve marked the occasion by asking Dubai’s own culinary icons to tell us who their food heroes are.
Alessandro Bottazzi Chef de cuisine at Ronda Locatelli, Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeriah (04 426 2626).
Who are your heroes? My great grandmother Innes and (her son),my grandfather Alessandro. They have influenced my life philosophy. Innes was an amazing, strong woman. From her, I learned strength is not a physical condition, but more a state of mind. During the First World War, Innes started going in to labour during an air strike. So she used a bicycle to get herself to the doctors. They asked her why she had come all the way in an air strike, and she said ‘Why? If I had called you, would you have come? Maybe not. So, I came to you.’ My grandfather has the same strength as his mother. He was captured by the Nazis and sent to Germany during the Second World War. He escaped and walked all the way from Germany to Italy.
Did they influence your desire to work in food? My grandfather Alessandro, yes. When I was three years old, my grandfather asked me what I want to be when I grow up. I don’t know why, but I said a chef. My grandfather said ‘this is really good. Don’t forget that chefs always eat’. When I was older, I understood, for people who lived through the war, respect for food and providing food for your family was the most important thing.
Colin Clague Chef de Cuisine at Qbara, Wafi, Oud Metha (04 709 2500).
Who is your hero? Michael Caines, head chef at Gidleigh Park in Devon, England. He received two Michelin stars and chef of the year in 2001. Michael Caines is a truly talented chef who, after losing the whole of his right arm in a car accident, picked himself up, retrained, and put his head down to achieve truly amazing things, without letting his handicap get the better of him. By overcoming his injury he proved that if you want something badly enough, nothing can stand in your way.
Did he influence your desire to work in food? I was already a chef when I became aware of Michael’s work, but his desire, enthusiasm and never say die attitude still inspire me.
Marta Yanci Chef-owner of Marta’s Kitchen and Marta’s Workshop, Swiss Tower, Cluster Y, JLT (050 379 8002).
Who is your hero? Heston Blumenthal. He is the owner of The Fat Duck restaurant and is also a TV chef. He is an explorer, constantly learning and developing. He has studied how food ingredients react from a scientific perspective. By understanding this better, he became the chef he is today. He is self-taught, and worked on his project with his wife. I find this inspiring because it is exactly what my husband and I do! Did he influence your desire to work in food? I got to know about him once I was already immersed in my own culinary adventure, but I adored his book and his story.
Markus Thesleff Restaurateur and creator of Okku, The H Hotel (04 501 8777) and CLAW BBQ, Souk Al Bahar (04 432 2300).
Who is your hero? My mother, Claire, as she was the first one who showed me how to cook and got me interested and passionate about food, which ultimately shaped my life and career. She was a super mum and made awesome delicious food we loved eating when we were growing up. Guests would always want to eat at our house instead of going to restaurants because they loved my mum’s cooking. She had an ability to rustle up fantastic dishes from whatever she had in the kitchen at the time. Somehow she was able to imagine how the end product would taste. I cooked with her from a very young age.
Did she influence your desire to work in food? Totally. Sadly she passed away recently, so hopefully I can continue her legacy with the food I create for customers, friends and family.
Nick Alvis Formerly head chef of Table 9, and due to open the first Taste Kitchen this month, with chef partner Scott Price.
Who is your hero? Nico Ladenis. He is one of the original three star London chefs. Nico’s book was my first introduction to Michelin star cooking and I later began working at Nico’s brasserie on Shaftesbury Avenue in London. At the same time Nico decided (controversially) to hand back his three stars awarded to his flagship restaurant, Chez Nico. I was often sent to Chez Nico to help out in the kitchen. It was there that I fell in love with the whole system and mentality of working at that level. Even with no stars it was still managed by exactly the same team, the food was cooked by exactly the same chefs. When you work at that level and maintain the standards required for three star status then it doesn’t just go away.
Did he influence your desire to work in food? Being involved with Nico’s chefs and restaurants is one of the main reasons that I have been involved with food for so long. I will always compare my experiences to my time there as it was so influential to how I work with food and run kitchens.
Tom Arnel Chef owner at Tom&Serg, Al Quoz (04 338 8934).
Who is your hero? Shannon Bennett. As a young chef of just 24 years old, Shannon founded Vue De Monde restaurant in Melbourne. It went on to be Australia’s best restaurant four years running and was in the top 50 in the world. He now owns seven restaurants and cafés, as well as a gastronomy inspired boutique hotel, which is completely sustainable. He pushed me to always think outside the square, go against the grain and to never stop creating. This inspired me to always teeter on the edge with my food, business strategy and life.
Did they influence your desire to work in food? Shannon certainly encouraged me to stay in the food industry. When the hours were long and the kitchen reached boiling point, the thought of quitting practically ran through my veins. He encouraged me to stay focussed and immerse myself in the culture. If I did not take his advice, I would not be where I am today.
Scott Price Formerly head chef of Table 9, and due to open the first Taste Kitchen this month, in collaboration with Nick Alvis.
Who is your hero? My gran, Sheila McNabb. She used to live just opposite my primary school (and was also the school dinner lady there). I used to spend lots of time with her before and after school. For as long as I can remember she had me helping her to bake cakes, scones, shortbread, or walking through the fields into prickly bushes to pick fresh blackberries and raspberries to make jam.
Did she influence your desire to work in food? My gran introduced me to cooking at a very young age and was a huge influence on me being a chef. I didn’t realise it when I was younger, but cooking is in the family blood: my granddad was a chef during World War Two on the HMS Belfast, my uncle was a chef in the RAF and my mother cooks for a living too. I was always told when thinking about my future career ‘people will always need to eat’.
Tomas Reger Dubai-based chef consultant and private chef
Who is your hero? Thomas Keller. He is the chef and restaurateur behind The French Laundry and Per Se in New York. They have both been awarded three Michelin stars and their reputation speaks for themselves. I came across an article about Thomas Keller as a chef’s apprentice in London and I have been following him ever since. The French Laundry cookbook is one of my favourites. He constantly improves and innovates his dishes, never standing still.
Did he influence your desire to work in food? My earliest influence to become a chef would have to be my grandmother who inspired me and encouraged me to pursue my dream – at a time when being a chef was certainly not a desirable occupation.