It’s been a year since we last sat down together. How has 2015 been for you?
Russell Impiazzi: This past 12 months has gone the quickest I’ve ever known in Dubai. There’s just so much going on.
Uwe Micheel: I’ve been travelling a lot.
Silvena Rowe: [Laughs] For pleasure,
Micheel: No, actually, I’ve been very busy!
Rowe: This year has been a crazy time.
I just launched a new venue in Mall of the Emirates, too, and that’s a big challenge.
I believe you are what you eat but in a mall people want fast and they want cheap. You have to keep true to yourself but also try and give them what they want.
Etienne Karner: This year has been amazing and this is very special for me too. It’s great to now be part of the Young Chef judges.
Two years ago I was involved from the other side, with one of the teams. So it’s really exciting. It’s an amazing opportunity for this year’s competitors.
What are the key qualities a chef has to have to win this competition?
Karner: Lots of people can make a pretty plate of food, but this is about delivering an amazing four-course menu to a room full of people who really know and love their food. It is very challenging.
Impiazzi: The chefs have got to buy into the whole competition. This isn’t something where you can just turn up and wing it on the day. You need a thought process and a great team. The pressure on this is huge.
And the chefs will be up there cooking live in front of the room. That can’t be easy…
Micheel: It definitely makes you nervous. Make a mistake and everyone will see it!
Impiazzi: Once that first plate goes, though, you’ll see them relax a little and get in the zone.
Rowe: They have to keep an eye on service, too. Service is so vital. People are so difficult, they just want to eat fast.
Impiazzi: And a good chef has to control that. You’ve got to satisfy demand, not be led by it.
Micheel: The worst thing you can have is cold food. That is unforgivable. Then again, if [customers] didn’t take so long taking pictures of their food then it wouldn’t get so cold in the first place!
That must drive you crazy as chefs…
Impiazzi: Yeah, but it’s part of the world we live in. You can’t fight that stuff.
Rowe: I can’t help it. My food is so photogenic people can never stop taking pictures of it! And that’s how it should be. You know how people say you eat with your eyes? Well, it’s true. Plus, people taking pictures and putting them on social media is good marketing. The only problem is now people come to my restaurants and don’t know the name of the dish they want. They just show the waiter a picture and say, “I want this!”
Last year, watching you guys watching the chefs was amazing. You could see stuff going wrong even before the chefs did…
Micheel: That’s just down to experience. You see something going wrong and you want to help, but you can’t!
Impiazzi: Yes, that’s so frustrating. You want to say, “Don’t do that!” but you can’t. I remember last year, the young chap from Fairmont The Palm – who actually went on to win it in the end – was really struggling early doors. He was late, but he really turned it around. You can never panic. If you panic, you’re doomed.
Micheel: That’s what I always tell the chefs at the briefing before we start. Being late is bad, it may cost you two or three points. But if the food is perfect you’ll be okay. Don’t rush it and put out something you’re not 100 percent happy with. Then all your points are
Karner: It’s all about practising. Do it again and again. Get a feel for it. Cook it for your whole team before. Get them to taste it. Talk about it. Planning and practise – that’s the secret.
Impiazzi: That and get the basics right. You can be technically brilliant but if you can’t season your food then
Rowe: And if you do get it right then this competition is such a showcase for what you can do. There are so many talented chefs in Dubai that people can go unnoticed. Win this and you are going to get noticed in a big way.
You’ve touched on it before, but how do you guys feel about social media?
Micheel: There are the people who know what they’re talking about and the people who don’t. Some bloggers, they may be fast with their fingers and good at taking pictures, but they don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to food.
Impiazzi: But the good thing is that consumers are getting smarter. If someone’s giving something an absolute kicking then I think people now start to question it a little. Is this genuine? Or what’s this guy’s angle?
Karner: That stuff can drive you crazy.
Rowe: Just because you love food, that doesn’t make you a ‘foodie’. Some of these people just want a free dinner.
Micheel: And this is why Young Chef is such a great event. People who really love good food in the room with the people who really love making good food. There’s no other nonsense. It’s pure.
Time Out Dubai’s Young Chef of the Year takes place Wednesday December 16 at Park Hyatt Dubai, Deira. Tickets cost Dhs395 for four courses and house beverages, email firstname.lastname@example.org.