What was your vision for the new menu of 101 Dining Lounge and Bar at One & Only The Palm?
With the new menu I wanted to be considerate of people’s expectations and provide them live food, tasty food that’s also easy to share. So we decided on a menu around fish, but where I try to minimise waste and use all parts of the product from skin, to head, fins and eggs. Today when you create the menu it is our responsibility to think of the planet. I love 101 Dining — it’s crazy cool as it has this underwater-themed décor inspired by Damien Hirst’s exhibition Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable.
Does receiving Michelin stars also add to the pressure to stay at the top of your game?
No, Michelin is a reference for chefs and the customer. But I hate making mistakes. I respect the people who come to my restaurant and I want to make them happy. I suffer a lot when someone leaves the restaurant and says it wasn’t a good experience as the ultimate review is that of the customer. The Michelin stars are the result of what you provide the customer.
Of all the cities you have restaurants in, which one has potential to be the next food capital?
Dubai is on its way to receiving Michelin stars and so many other accolades. It’s becoming to the world what France used to be for Europe — a travel hub, which is what makes it a perfect food capital. But diners here need to stop focusing on gimmicks; of course, we’re live in a time where everything has to be interesting and new and fun, but I think the next trend will be the philosophy behind the food rather than the demonstration. It’s the service and the quality of food that matters, but the quality in Dubai is always high.
Gimmicks such as?
I went out twice and both times I saw a cocktail under a cloche with smoke coming from it — the first time you think it’s cool, the second time you’re bored and by the third time you think it’s ridiculous.
You’ve always championed sauces as one of the pillars of French cuisine, why?
Sauces is the verb of the French cuisine; the pillar of our cuisine. Eighty per cent of what’s on a plate depends on the sauce. I always ask my chefs if they can remember what mum cooked for them. Everyone mentioned the dishes, but no one could remember the colour of the shoes their mothers wore while preparing that dish. That shows how deep the memory of taste runs.
What was the first sauce you made?
Sauce Hollandaise. It was not the first but maybe the first complex sauce I made; it was hard. And the dish I remember most from my childhood is the veal my mum cooked with shallots and caramelised carrots and a fantastic sauce. My parents ran a bistro which is where I picked up my passion for cooking.
What has been the most revolutionary cooking technique in the last few years?
It’s sous-vide, which involves cooking at the right temperature. I learnt it in the nineties and realised if you don’t cook at the right temperature, specially sauces, you destroy the ingredients. Cooking at the right temperature preserves all the vitamins, the minerals and the taste; you won’t even need to add salt anymore. [The technique] changed my life.
Any upcoming books?
Writing cookbooks is important but I think today we have too many of them. The most interesting book I wrote was Sauces, Reflections of a Chef (2014).
It was comparatively cheaper and there were no pictures. Today there’s Instagram to show off your food’s beauty with a fantastic shoot, why waste paper on a cookbook?
Do you think cookbooks are now irrelevant?
I wrote a book called 101 creations in 2009 and I was a little bit pretentious at the time, so I asked a young commis chef if he bought it. He told me he couldn’t afford the expensive book. I realised that if we write books to satisfy our ego and don’t think about those commis chefs, the book is pointless, so I decided to launch a magazine called Yam, which became France’s first food magazine. I’ve sold it since. It cost less than 10 euros and came with 40 recipes and a lot of information. I gave the magazine to that commis chef and told him he could afford magazine if he quit smoking — it costs the same as his cigarettes.
As a chef are you also an artist?
There is a certain difference between an artist and an artisan. An artisan is a man who’s doing a job perfectly. An artist does what the artisan does, but makes it better by also sharing his energy and passion. It’s like when a painter paints and his whole body follows his hand. It’s instinct. Chefs are the same. There aren’t a lot of artists in the business. But I can say that today, I really feel like an artist because I do things differently and I don’t look at the world like it’s another portion.
What do you like to do during your time off?
I love going to Italy, I love the country and visiting the old churches. There is beauty in these buildings from the past. I love art so I love visiting museums. I also enjoy sharing time with friends. I’m not a big sleeper so I always find time to do many things and enjoy life more.