The look on my big, red face in the main photo above is not one of pride or joy, but one of relief. For that photograph was taken moments after I had finished cooking for one of the biggest and most intimidating names in the culinary world, Gordon Ramsay. And do you know what? He didn’t hate it.
The Scottish-born chef has risen to the ranks of superstar and doesn’t take much introduction. But let’s say this — he has dozens of restaurants around the world (one of which holds three Michelin stars alone), is the star of almost as many TV shows and is infamous for not pulling his punches when it comes to giving feedback to anyone who crosses his path.
Ramsay was in town to visit Bread Street Kitchen, the bar and restaurant in Atlantis the Palm that falls towards the more casual end of his dining empire.
I was feeling anything but casual after getting a call from the restaurant to ask if I’d like to rustle something up in the venue’s kitchen with head chef Cesar Bartolini. The idea: Bartolini would teach me how to make one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, lobster tagliolini, then I’d make it myself and present it to Ramsay who would offer his verdict on it. As terrifying as the thought was, there’s no way I could turn down the chance to cook for such a legend.
As the day approaches I begin to watch clips of Ramsay in action.
I don’t know what originally drove me to it, but somehow it feels right to watch him screaming at hapless staff for mucking up simple tasks.
On the day, Ramsay is anything but rude or abrasive. However, he stands an imposing 6ft-plus and is in prime physical condition (he’s a regular marathon runner) so my nerves are still there. While the insults TV viewers have become accustomed to never leave his mouth, he’s naturally affable and pokes fun at where I’m from (the North East of England), its climate (pretty much the opposite of Dubai) and culinary scene (again, pretty much the opposite of Dubai). By the time he leaves me in Bartolini’s capable hands, I’m almost relaxed. The Argentinian chef is a lovely guy — patient, friendly and clearly at the top of his game. He has worked for Ramsay for eight years and knows all of his boss’ pet peeves.
The lobster tagliolini dish we’re preparing looks simple – when Bartolini makes it at least. Happily, the ingredients are readied in advance, as I’m not sure how I’d have got on with prepping the lobster. It takes him no more than ten minutes to put the whole thing together. I take no notes, and I seem to believe I have a photographic memory that won’t falter under pressure. How wrong I am. We taste the finished dish and Bartolini talks me through it. The key, he points out, is in the emulsion. I do not question his wisdom. I also have no idea what he is on about.
Feeling well prepared, I set about making it myself. A couple of spoonfuls of sauce (lemon, oil and butter, I think) go in the pan first. Next was... I can’t remember. And there’s only about six steps. Come on, think, man. Parsley next, and some chilli. I throw in a bit of salt and pepper, too. Then the lobster goes in,
I know that’s important. Man, it’s hot in here. Too hot to spend more than 15 minutes in but I suppose chefs get used to it. Maybe they don’t panic as much as me either.
My mind on the heat, I almost forget the pasta, which needs to be finished off in the pan with the rest of the ingredients. I sizzle it for a bit and decide it’s ready. After spooning it all into a bowl, I drizzle some lobster sauce over it and sprinkle a few herbs on top.
Moments later Ramsay returns – still jovial, still poking fun (in a nice way, of course). My effort doesn’t look anywhere near as good as Bartolini’s. It smells good though, as Ramsay points out. He can tell the pasta is cooked well, he says, but it needs more salt to balance the sweet lobster. To my relief he scores it an impressive 8/10 and jokes there might be a job for me should it not pan out at Time Out. He has one problem with the dish, though. The sauce isn’t emulsified. I still don't know what that means.
Bread Street Kitchen, Atlantis the Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 1110).
Four to try Celebrity chef restaurants in Dubai
Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara
The British seafood specialist (with two Michelin stars) has transported his style from Cornwall to the Burj Al Arab. Expect perfectly-presented dishes focusing on one or two top ingredients rather than unnecessary showing off.
Burj Al Arab, Umm Suqeim (04 301 7600).
Social by Heinz Beck
Another from a Michelin-starred chef. Beck’s name is also above the door at Taste of Italy in Galleria Mall but this is his fine-dining offering. Creative dishes bursting with flavour and colours reinvent Italian classics. It’s an excellent dining experience in lovely surroundings.
Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah (04 818 2222).
The yellow chilli by Sanjeev Kapoor
The Indian chef has higher-end options in the city (we recommend checking out Signature at Meliá Dubai) but his latest is a casual joint that still delivers on taste and inventiveness. Soups, curries, breads and biryanis are all there.
BurJuman Centre, Bur Dubai (04 453 5242).
Tom’s Kitchen deli
With Pots, Pans & Boards cementing two Michelin-starred Tom Aikens into the Dubai culinary landscape, the Brit has decided to expand his reach. This casual spot now open at Dubai Parks And Resorts lends a touch of class to theme park dining.
Riverland, Dubai Parks And Resorts (04 820 0000).