If a chef tells you halfway through an interview that his main inspiration is plastic, you'll know that you are dealing with someone who operates on a different plain to most people.
This happens during our interview with Quique Dacosta, the feted Spanish chef who has been awarded three Michelin stars for his eponymous restaurant in his homeland.
Our interview takes place at the sparkling new Palazzo Versace hotel, in the still-developing Culture Village in Al Jaddaf. The property is dazzling. Clearly no expense has been spared and the management are keen to make it one of the top destinations in Dubai, especially for fine dining, which is how Dacosta has come to be here.
Patrick Robineau, hotel manager of the Palazzo, was determined to do something that nowhere else in Dubai was doing. So, we have Enigma, the world's first restaurant with a revolving door of head chefs (on purpose). The idea is quite a simple (albeit incredibly adventurous) one – there will be a new head chef four times a year. Each chef will be in the San Pellegrino top 50 list of the best in the world. They will have carte blanche to do what they like with the restaurant (add new tables and chairs, a new kitchen and new cutlery, even). Each chef will create a new vision, a restaurant that will exist only for those three months that they are there. Then the chef is gone and replaced with another of the world's best, who will be kept secret until the days before he or she arrives.
Dacosta is the first, and he has named his effort Vanguard. The name is apt, since Enigma is the name of the overarching project. This is truly new ground for the food scene in Dubai.
We meet Dacosta in one of the hotel's suites. He has his right-hand man Didier Fertilati to translate for us. The Frenchman, the restaurant maître d', is as affable and welcoming as Dacosta is cool and composed. We can't help but feel that he softens some of Dacosta's more cerebral answers, fleshes them out and makes them more relatable. They are a great team.
When we ask about the restaurant, the answer is clear. “The project here at Enigma, and the name of our venue is simple. You can find both words straight away in the dictionary. It is perfect for my way of thinking,” Dacosta says.
He won his first Michelin star at his restaurant in the Alicante seaside town of Denia in 2002 and has racked up dozens of accolades since. His third Michelin star came in 2012.
Dacosta, who sits at 39 on the San Pellegrino list, says he didn't want to (and would have found it impossible to) change anything about his style for the move to Dubai.
“I wanted to be honest about what we offer and give people the experience of what we do in Denia. I didn't want to do something different for Dubai. It has to be real and true to our cooking at home. That's why we were asked to come, after all.
“The hotel put a lot into this project, which I have had the privilege of being part of from the start. I got to design the kitchen, choose the tables, pick my cutlery. But it is only for three months, and after that, it is someone else's turn. They will have their own ideas. It's fantastic to be the first,” he says.
San Pellegrino describes Dacosta's food as “techno-emotional Spanish”, a term also used for the great Ferran Adrià, the man behind the famed El Bulli. His dishes are often only composed of two or three ingredients, presented as if they are art, and often not being as they seem. It is a minimal style – something Dubai is not always known for. When that is put to him, Dacosta doesn't seem overly concerned.
“Seeing how it works out is part of what we're doing and we can evolve as the weeks go by,” he says. “We know there is expectation and we have to produce the goods. It is the same in Dubai or anywhere. In the early 2000s, chefs were all reading the same things, eating in the same restaurants and using the same produce. I wanted to get away from that. I started thinking about art and about plastics. I felt very comfortable then and started to incorporate them into my cooking. From there, the food got to the direction that you can see now.”
Dacosta speaks highly of the produce available in the Middle East and how the food and ingredients from the region influences Mediterranean cuisine, but he hadn't visited Dubai before opening Vanguard, because he wanted no outside influences affecting his own menu. Now, a month into his stint in the emirate, he says he will start to explore some of the other restaurants here.
When we wrap the interview up, Dacosta gives us a wink, showing a playful side of his character that is also evident in his food. He is right, there was no need for him to try to adapt to Dubai tastes and expectations. His restaurant stands alone and has heralded a new vanguard in the city's food scene. A tasting menu, with no explanation of the dishes until after you have tried them. You will eat things that look like wood, charcoal and gold, but they will not be those things. You will be surprised and entertained throughout and you will leave perhaps not knowing what just happened. And just like that, it will be over. The experience a one-off, an enigma.
7pm-10.30pm. Until April 12. Vanguard, Palazzo Versace Dubai, Culture Village, Al Jaddaf, www.enigmadxb.com (04 556 880504 556 8805).