Gordon Ramsay has been busy since we last met about five years ago in his London restaurant, The Aubergine. Since then, he has opened at least three more restaurants, has written three more books, and started a family. On top of that, he has recently been awarded that coveted third Michelin star (the only chef in London to have reached this standard).
This time we met on the thirteenth floor of the (nearly completed) Hilton Dubai Creek Hotel. Asking Ramsay ‘Why Dubai?’ seemed like an absurd question as we sat soaking up one of Dubai’s most stunning views, sunlight streaming in. But for someone in as much demand as he is, there had to be a very good reason.
Going back to the time when the young chef worked in Paris, Ramsay recalled, ‘I spent many hours at a small café, drinking café latte, and admiring and contemplating The Opera de la Bastille.’ This contemporary and controversial opera house was the work of designer Carlos Ott. It was Ott that designed the National Bank of Dubai, and Ott, as both architect and designer-at-large, that is the driving force behind the Hilton Dubai Creek project.
Ramsay is clearly excited by every aspect of setting up his new restaurant, named Verre, in Dubai — his first outside of the United Kingdom. He has done his research thoroughly, and in a relatively short time — punctuated with a lot of eating out — has concluded that food here is overpriced, lacking in flavour, and overly complicated.
For Ramsay, simplicity sells. ‘It is flavour that you remember the morning after a great dinner, and not the number of chives stuck into the top of the mousse, the great fishbowl of salad, or something crab shaped that tasted like lobster,’ he suggests.
Verre will be a lifestyle restaurant, serving modern European food that allows you to enjoy three or four courses without feeling the need to lie down and recover afterwards, explains Ramsay. ‘And with the Rolls Royce of kitchens as the engine room of the whole operation we have a dream scenario,’ he adds.
Ramsay’s style of eating is light, with flavours that wake up the palate. He does not use excessive amounts of cream and butter in his food. Much of the produce for the Ramsay outlets will be sourced locally, he has paid several visits to the local fish market and is openly impressed by what is available here. Some products will come from the famous Rungis market in Paris. Cooking seasonally is not easy in Dubai where
food has year round availability. This will be a challenge for the chefs, but we all look forward to being reminded of the seasons through the food in Verre.
Strange though it may seem, cooking has not been a life long passion for this driven chef. At the age of 15, Ramsay had what promised to be a very bright future in football, but he gave this up to sit behind a desk pushing a pen as he studied for his diploma in hotel management.
Ramsay’s first break was landing a job at Harvey’s restaurant in London working under the inspirational Marco Pierre White. His experience at Harvey’s moved him into the right circles and and led to him working with some of France’s most famous chefs including Albert Roux, Guy Savoy and Joel Robuchon.
At 26 Ramsay had his first restaurant, The Aubergine, in London, and within three years of opening had been awarded two Michelin stars. In 1998 he set up his first independently owned restaurant ‘Ramsay Ramsay’ on the former site of Pierre Kaufmann’s ‘La Tante Claire’ in Chelsea. Three years later he won his third Michelin star there.
Gordon Ramsay says little about aspirations for his Dubai project. As he aptly phrases it: ‘the proof is in the pudding. I have a solid background and tremendous experience. I have a flexible approach and a sensible pricing structure. I am confident, really excited, and can’t wait for the restaurant to open. Roll on October 1, and I look forward to reading the reviews on Verre.’
Verre opens on October 1 at the Hilton Dubai Creek Hotel, Baniyas Rd, Deira (04 227 1111).