During a recent visit to Dubai, Penelope Walsh sat down with the French masterchef behind Reflets and Choix to talk food and his new chef de cuisine.
You’ve launched a second Dubai concept, Choix. Why?
When we came here, it was just desert. With Reflets, we obtained a really good quality. It is a real restaurant with a real spirit. I think people in Dubai appreciate this. Choix is finally the extension of our spirit, our quality, and our knowledge. Dubai is like an extension of London. When we arrived six years ago, people only knew English chefs: Jim [Jamie] Oliver, Gordon Ramsay. We are French, but now people in Dubai know us too, and we thank Time Out Dubai for that. Reflets is a success, because it is real quality, and Choix for us is the same.
Tell us about your new chef de cuisine, Francois Xavier Simon.
I’m very happy with Francois Xavier. He and Olivier [Biles] don’t have exactly the same personality. Francois Xavier has been with us for five years, he’s family. My work is family.
Their personalities differ?
When Olivier arrived, he was like a bull! He said, ‘chef, when we open, we must offer a huge fish for the table’. I said: ‘okay Olivier, we shall see...’. [Chefs PG and FXS laugh].
Is that a chef joke... ?
Olivier was very ambitious. He wanted to offer the best. I knew we had to do it step-by-step. When Francois arrived, he was very young. See, look now he is calm, but before, his hands were shaking [laughs].Through Olivier, we grew and we built a story at the restaurant. It’s the balance between the service and the kitchen. The food is important, but outside the kitchen, there is someone who pays attention to the relationship with guests. That is very important.
Are you working on a new menu for after Ramadan?
It’s not new, new, new, it’s an evolution. We have two or three processes that are special to the restaurant, for example our ‘homage to Dubai’. We keep this dish, but it changes each time. For me, Dubai is camel milk, dates, saffron and spices, coffee. Also, we have duck that we flambé, but it can change with the season. Sometimes, it is with cherry, or with ceps.
How do you keep restaurants around the world consistent?
It is not easy, because of the jet lag. The most important thing is to have a good team. With Francois Xavier, it’s easy, because he knows my philosophy, we have a good relationship, so when I explain something, he understands immediately. The complications are the jet lag, and the travel. When you arrive, you must immediately get to work. There is no time to rest.
Do you have a favourite city to visit?
No, in each place I have nice people, they are like my kids. They are the secret to the success. They respect my philosophy. They are honest. They work hard.
Choix Patisserie and Restaurant, Intercontinental Dubai Festival City (04 701 1136).