When Gary Rhodes took the stage at the first Taste of Dubai – way back in 2007 – the Dubai fine-dining scene was dominated by a few international chefs – among them, Gary and Gordon Ramsay.
Ten years later, Gary is back at the festival, he has two restaurants here – and has even been a Dubai resident for several years.
‘I’m in no hurry to move from here,’ Gary says over the phone ahead of his appearances at the food festival. Moving to Dubai ‘worked in my favour, we decided I can’t hold a Michelin star restaurant [in London] unless I am there. It’s been nothing but a plus.’
At the first event, the affable chef prepared his signature white tomato soup, a creamy yet light concoction that was surprising as well as classic – and the perfect expression of his cooking. It’s still on the menu, at his Grosvenor House restaurant Rhodes W1 (he also runs RhodesTwenty10, a steakhouse at the Le Royal Meridien).
But taking up much of his time now is his ongoing collaboration with Vox Cinemas for the ThEATre by Rhodes, serving fine dining in the movie halls at Mall of the Emirates. It launched nearly two years ago; this month will see new items joining the revamped menu. The partnership was something of a surprise, but Rhodes points out that the project wasn’t a departure for him – only for those who may have pigeonholed him.
‘I think what’s happened over the years is many people misread and misinterpreted what I am about,’ he says. ‘I love that Michelin style of food, that finesse and detail. At the same time, I am involved with all different styles of food. It’s a great way to show good food does not always mean fillet of beef and langoustines. As simple as it is, it holds the quality and the edge as fine dining. It shows there’s a little more to my repertoire.’
What are you cooking this year?
I’m doing two dishes on the chef’s theatre. One is so simple, I think it’s going to surprise people. One is more of a restaurant dish that has a classic Britishness but with a little French twist.
You’re also in the culinary challenge, where you will be judging what people cook.
It’s a new addition that I like. We are doing very simple fish dish – simple if you know how to cook fish. It will be interesting, because they’ve got 15 minutes to do it.
How would you describe your judging style?
It’s looking at the positives, I don’t like attacking people with a negative. Then it’s making sure that you are pointing out elements that could have been better. Detail can be easily forgotten.
Does that correspond with your style as a chef running a kitchen?
You hope that you have the most important thing – the team have to believe in you if you want them to follow you. I, and some great chef friends of mine, work on the same concept – making sure people see you cook. Words are very easy, anyone can go and waffle on, at the end of the day it’s about showing, leading by example. That’s why try and run a happy kitchen, everybody feels that they are part of a family, how we can support and get the best out of one another. It isn’t about individuals, it’s a package. When it gets ridiculously busy, you can see the fear – then I say, ‘where’s the joy?’
What’s next for ThEATre by Rhodes?
Later this month we’re expanding the menu quite dramatically, I want the menu to tell a bigger story. We have such an international crowd, so I wanted to make sure that something is more of an international menu that suits all. We want to add photographs to the menu – as if you are reading a cookery book. This is the first stage. I want to have this little collection of ThEATre dishes that we might sell in a book. I want everybody to feel that this is ‘wow’. 95 per cent of what you eat is made on site. When we do a burger, we buy chuck steak and beef fat, we butcher it and do the ratio, every patty is handmade, I won’t go out and buy a frozen burger.
What are some of the dishes?
We also have paninis with a little truffle butter, rocket leaves, foie gras and crispy bacon, and with that you have that little maple, giving a rich sweetness and a slight bitterness. There’s lamb we slowly braise that takes eight hours, with a slight Indian edge to it with its spiced flavour. You’ve got to let it cool in the liquor, then I crumb it and deep-fry it. It’s that hand-touch to everything, care attention to detail, a quality and style. Every glass of the knickerbocker glory comes back empty.
You also do menus for school meals?
We are doing children’s meals for five different schools, just to give them healthy food. That doesn’t mean it’s a diet – it’s fresh produce, cooked on the day, we don’t buy in frozen and no deep fried. Children get three courses, vegetarian soup, main course and a small dessert.
Gary Rhodes is in the Taste of Dubai chef’s theatre on March 9 at 7.30pm; and March 10 at 3.30pm and 6.30pm. Find him in the culinary challenge tent at 8.30pm on March 9 and 4.30pm on March 10. Tickets for the festival are on sale now; enter GNTOD at the checkout on Platinumlist.net to get a discount.