Gary Rhodes in Dubai

The mighty Mr Rhodes celebrates the first birthday of his Mezzanine restaurant at Grosvenor House and talks about his plans for the future.

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So, Rhodes Mezzanine has just wrapped up its first year. Did it meet your expectations?
Well, yes. People think because you’re bringing – and it sounds awful – a named chef, that it’s going to lead to instant success. It’s very easy to be instantly successful, basically, because people will say, ‘Oh, we need to go and have a look when Ramsay gets here,’ and so on. It’s not always the food that’s fashionable, sometimes it’s the man himself and, all of a sudden, everyone wants to go there. I’m trying to put those fashions under the carpet. I’m not trying to create a restaurant that is here for five minutes.

Being based in London, how do you ensure quality at Rhodes Mezzanine in Dubai?
This is my seventh trip since I opened last year, so that’s not so bad. I don’t dare tell that to anyone in the restaurants I have in other places, because I never do that amount of trips.

Has it been challenging sticking to a British seasonal menu here?
I like to stick to as many of the British seasons as possible, because we’re looking at a British angle with a French influence. Though the weather doesn’t match with the British theme, I think the good thing is that there are so many ingredients you can fly in from the UK, and if I want to get English asparagus during May and June – and I’d want to feature it because I think it’s the finest asparagus in the world – I can.

But in the UK, the idea of eating local, seasonal food is an environmental concern. Doesn’t it defeat the purpose to ship those ingredients in?
I know what you’re saying. For instance, I mentioned asparagus. When I get it in a local farm, we know it’s been snapped that morning, and we’re serving it that night; you can’t get any better than that. But if I didn’t sell it all, and I had to refrigerate it for 24 or 48 hours (which is very rare, because people love it), I’d still have to sell it. A business is a business, and it’s only a couple of days old, while the stuff in the supermarket may be two weeks old, and I wouldn’t trust that.

Well, that’s not really what I meant. Quality aside, what about the carbon footprint of flying all that produce over?
You have to look at it like… that plane would be flying anyway. Unless anybody says, ‘From now on, we’re never importing anything from the air,’ that’s the only way we’re ever going to stop that plane, and will we stop that plane? I very much doubt it. The UK is a very small island and I think they’re responding more viciously [to the issue of climate change] than any other country, and starting to charge everyone in the UK ridiculous amounts of money to stop doing this and to stop doing that. But there are enormous countries, like the U.S., as you know, and Russia and China, which aren’t responding, and one little island that is.

So because other countries aren’t taking responsibility, you shouldn’t either?
You have to be realistic. You can’t stop the world as it is. I don’t know why us as chefs, and as British chefs for some reason, should have to be the ones to stand alone and say, ‘No, I’m not going to buy that asparagus anymore.’ Because we know that plane is still going to fly, and if it’s going to fly, please put my ingredients on it as well. [Music blares as the staff check the sound system] What’s this? Are we going to have a dance?

Speaking of dancing…
Should we speak of that? I don’t know.

Let’s. You were only recently booted off UK TV show Strictly Come Dancing. Have you been a closet ballroom dancer all these years?
I’d never done it before in my entire life, and now I realise why I’ve never done it before. After watching the show for five years… it’s so easy to watch and think, ‘I could do better than that. I know I could.’ And [my wife] Jeannie would say, ‘You can’t dance like that!’ and I’d say, ‘I’m telling you now, I could.’ So, of course, when they come to ask, you say, ‘love to, love to.’ They say, can you do Latin dances, I say, ‘what are they?’

How did it feel being kicked off?
I was very pleased with the dance I did last week, but you can never tell who’s going to vote for who. It’s very similar to cooking. Dancing is about balancing every single ingredient. Your feet are the most important ingredients of the lot. The second most important ingredient is time, because without timing to the music, there is no dance. Those are the two main ingredients; everything else is just garnish. Somehow, the dish I put on the dance floor this week didn’t excite enough people, which is very sad.

Last time we talked to you, you wanted to beat Gordon Ramsay in our restaurant awards…
Gordon Ramsay? Who’s he?

But you didn’t.
I would love, love this restaurant to win in the awards, but it’s not a question of stealing it from Gordon. He’s a chef I have nothing but respect for. It’s not about wanting to take it from a restaurant, but wanting to create it for ourselves. It’s difficult in a restaurant’s first year. When the boys in the kitchen say, ‘We didn’t get it,’ I say, ‘So what? What you have to win at the moment isn’t awards, it’s customers.’ If you’re a chef that always wants to win awards, you’ll end up with a very quiet restaurant.

Battle of the British chefs

Gary Rhodes on Gordon Ramsay:
‘[Of the celebrity chefs], Gordon Ramsay has to be the best cook. He has the track record with a three-Michelin star restaurant and many one-star restaurants.’ ‘[On the Restaurant Awards] Ramsay should watch his back. In fact, he should be s******* himself.

Gordon Ramsay on Gary Rhodes:
‘I have 18 restaurants now with 1,500 staff, so no disrespect to him but we’re an ocean liner – poor Gary’s still rowing in his canoe‘ ‘Unlike Gary, I don’t flit around the world consulting restaurants – we own them. I put my money where my mouth is.’

Rhodes Mezzanine, Grosvenor House (04 399 8888)

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