Kitchen Confidential

Hailing from Toulon in the South of France, chef Sébastien Giannini has spent the last 20 years honing his craft under some of the world’s best chefs, reaching the final of the prestigious Bocuse D’Or Culinary Competition in 2010. Last year he was appointed executive chef at The St. Regis Washington, D.C., heading up its new Mediterranean restaurant, Alhambra.


What’s your favorite dish to cook?
Bouillabaisse. I grew up in the South of France and my grandmother taught me how to make it. Now it reminds me of home.


What do you eat when you’re home alone?
Seasonal fruit – I like to eat directly with my pocket knife. Every Saturday, I go to Potomac Farm Market with my wife and daughter. It reminds me of the markets I grew up with in the South of France.


Which dish that you’ve created are you most proud of?
Salmon stuffed with langoustine and turmeric potatoes. This was the dish I created at Bocuse D’Or in 2010. To perfect the final dish, you need to have practiced it 40-50 times, trying different iterations each time.


Are there any foods you think are overrated?
I feel like burgers in hotels are generally overrated. There is often too much playing around with the toppings, and the original concept is lost. There is a chain of hamburger restaurants originally from Arlington, VA, where I am proud to be a regular guest. They make a classic American burger.


What’s the best thing to eat in D.C.?
It’s not exactly D.C., but you can’t beat Maryland crabcake. The crab feast is a longstanding tradition. Whether it’s in a seafood restaurant on the Eastern shore or in the backyard with paper-wrapped picnic tables, the residents of the Chesapeake region can be found cracking crab legs all summer.


If you could revisit a meal you’ve eaten in the past, what would it be and why?
One of my best memories from when I was young is eating cantaloupe. In the South of France there’s a region called Cavaillon that has incredible melons. Try this once and you’ll never think of cantaloupe in the same way. We eat them with a crisp glass of rosé, and gressin (breadsticks), relaxing by the sea with friends. There’s simply nothing better!


What was your favorite food as a child and do you still eat it now?
Pieds et paquets (“feet and packages”) is a Marseille specialty, one that’s certainly not for everyone. It’s a stew with sheep’s feet and sheep’s tripe. My grandmother would make it for me and I still love it, especially in the winter.


Can you remember the first thing your mother taught you to cook?
Banana tart. I don’t make it any more because I want to keep the memory of the tart and the taste clear in my mind. I do not wish to alter it in any way, either intentionally or otherwise.


What is your guilty pleasure food?
Strawberries and whipped cream with Grand Marnier.


How long does it take you to create new recipes?
It can take up to a month – you need the feedback from your guests and your team. Sometimes we do up to 20 tastings before we perfect a recipe.


Is there a culinary trend you detest?
Molecular cuisine. It’s too cold and far removed from the product. For instance, if you receive a perfect strawberry, picked at the perfect time, perfectly ripe and juicy, but you blend it and make it into the form of a tomato, the product is wasted.


Who is your greatest inspiration?
Alain Ducasse. He lets young chefs grow, while teaching them to respect the products, the season and the region where the products come from. He also has a clear vision of where his team is going and how to mentor his protégés.


Your address: The St. Regis Washington, D.C.


St Regis DC 33274-grey

 Sébastien Giannini

Kitchen Confidential

Chef Ayyoub Salameh has a passion for creating contemporary, elegant new dishes, and has cooked everywhere from Milan and Florence to The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort. Today, he oversees the island’s four restaurants, serving up delicious Mediterranean and Asian cuisine – as well as some of his Jordanian mother’s tried and tested secret recipes.


Who taught you to cook?
I definitely got my palate from my mother. She’s an incredible chef, who makes everything from scratch. Our basement in Jordan is full of homemade preserves. Every couple of months she’d bring out something different to surprise us. In the restaurant today I do the same, from pickling green beans and cauliflower to making chili sauce and fresh Japanese mayonnaise.


What food did you grow up on?
We’d start every day with a halloumi omelet, a plate of arugula and tomato, and some freshly baked saffron bread. Our parents would make my brothers and me have salty olives, too, to remind us to stay hydrated, and we’d have spicy extra-virgin olive oil, made from the olives in our garden.


Can you remember the first thing your mother taught you to cook?
Saffron rice. I didn’t want to learn how to make it because I thought it was so basic. But she told me that if you can cook incredible rice, then you’ll always be able to cook everything perfectly, because that’s the hardest thing to do.


Where’s home for you when you’re not in the Maldives?
Melbourne – there’s no foodie destination like it. As soon as my plane lands I’ll head straight to South Melbourne Market, and buy all my vegetables, fish, cheese. Then I’ll head to Gazi, a great Greek restaurant, or Corda, an amazing Thai place, both run by old friends.


What do you do when you’re not cooking?
I never miss the gym. I’ve lost over 42 lbs since May, but I don’t go for health reasons – I just like to start my day energized. If I don’t get there by 2.30pm then I feel like a zombie.


What’s your guilty pleasure food?
Steak. If I’m good, I’ll have 300g of lean, grass-fed rib-eye. If I’m feeling naughty, I’ll get a lovely piece of grain-fed Australian beef that’s a lot fattier.


How long does it take you to create new recipes?
It depends. I come up with something new each morning, often after chatting to guests at dinner the night before, but other dishes take much longer. It took us two-and-a-half months to develop the perfect pastrami. I have one rule: if it doesn’t satisfy me, then it’ll never go out to my customers.


Who is your greatest inspiration?
Sergio Mei, a wonderful Milanese chef. He was more than 70 years old when I worked with him, and I learned so much. The most important thing he taught me was how to train people. It’s not enough to be a great chef; you have to develop a team of equally good cooks in your kitchen, too.


What’s the strangest request you’ve ever had?
A guest once asked for a saffron and black truffle risotto, but without the rice, – so it was basically just a bowl of truffles. I did it, and he was very happy. In fact he asked for truffles for breakfast the next day, too.


What’s on your kitchen playlist?
Every morning in the kitchen we sing All The Way Up by Fat Joe and Remy Ma after our meeting. It makes the team happy, which makes me happy. Sometimes I even unleash my dancing talents.


Is there a culinary trend you detest?
I find it sad when people try to turn very simple dishes into haute cuisine, but end up sacrificing flavor. I had a tom yum soup recently where the essence was cubes of jelly, broth was poured over the top, there was some dry ice, and the chicken was powdered. It might seem “wow”, but the flavors were completely lost, and that’s what cooking is all about: flavor.


Your address: The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort

Ayyoub Salameh

Kitchen Confidential

With over 30 years’ gastronomic experience, Indian-born chef Samir Roonwal has cooked around the globe, from Dubai to Canada. Now, he’s heading up food and drink at The St. Regis Aspen Resort and preparing to launch an exciting new restaurant there this autumn, bringing his passion for outstanding local produce to the menu. Oh, and perfect gnocchi...


What was the first dish you cooked as a child?
Pancakes with chocolate chips. I remember I kept on adding more and more chocolate chips until they were basically all chocolate and no batter! From then on I had them for breakfast every day.


Did you cook a lot growing up?
Never. I was kept away from the kitchen as much as possible, but I used to peek in. Once a year I’d be allowed in to bake cakes and make a mess, but when mom had guests over she’d stay in the kitchen for days at a time preparing everything. She was awesome – I think I got my sense of taste from her.


Do you let your sons (aged 6 and 8) in the kitchen now?
Yes, but mostly I cook for them. They have traveled the world with me and their demands are crazy – takoyaki, Oreo shakes… We hardly spend any time together as a family, but whenever I’m home we have dinner. I’ll make something simple – usually ramen with greens and a nice broth – and we’ll discuss what they’re doing at school, who’s studying what, who has been in trouble… I think it’s crucial.


Do you often cook Asian food?
Absolutely – I think it’s the most intelligent cuisine. In Vietnamese and Japanese cuisine particularly, they use so few ingredients, and yet the flavors of the dishes are so intense. I’m a huge fan of Middle Eastern cooking as well. When I moved to Dubai I was amazed to discover how much variety there is there. I found a new love for spices: sumac, ras el hanout and raw za’atar leaves, which give a completely different taste from the powdered form.


Where do you find inspiration for new recipes?
If you’d asked me 20 years ago I would have named another chef, but experience has taught me that inspiration is in your backyard. It’s all about going out and meeting local vendors and producers – after all, what’s the point in making incredible menus with ingredients you can’t get locally?


How would you describe the food at your new restaurant?
It’s going to be “Modern Mountain” cuisine, so a lot of game and roasted dishes, with cured and smoked meats too. Menus will use Colorado’s finest ingredients. For example, we have brilliant venison and elk here, and the delicious Colorado bass. There will also be a great new bar, stocking regional whiskeys and bourbons, and we have a coffee bar opening as well.


How will it be different from your usual style?
People tend to think that because I’m Indian I cook Indian cuisine, but actually I steer away from it – although a love of spice will always be in my blood. I like my menus to take you on a journey around the world, including the greatest hits from the Mediterranean, Asia and the Middle East.


What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your own career?
Two years ago a sheikh from Abu Dhabi came to me one afternoon and told me he wanted to host a Ramadan feast for 10,000 people... that evening. We had every waiter, every purchasing guy, every single member of staff running around town trying to find lamb and rice. To this day I’m still amazed we managed to pull that one off.


And the hardest thing to cook?
Gnocchi. If you don’t beat the dough properly or poach them right, they become very glutinous. Our chefs train for days until they can do it brilliantly. Octopus is also something I used to really struggle with as a young chef, but I’ve finally perfected it – it’s my absolute favorite bar snack at The St. Regis Aspen Resort, and a personal triumph for me.


Your address: The St. Regis Aspen Resort


Samir Roonwal

The Heat is On

Sous vide – the culinary technique that sees vacuum-packed items submerged in a water bath at precisely controlled temperatures – helped define the food of the Noughties. Many of the world’s leading chefs, from Heston Blumenthal to Thomas Keller, employed it behind the scenes. Alongside the much-vaunted rise of “molecular gastronomy”, it allowed science to play a more prominent role in high-end cuisine, guaranteeing accuracy, consistency and even perfection.


But it’s not exactly mouth-wateringly sexy, is it? So just as every movement prompts a counter-insurgency, the past few years have witnessed the more populist re-emergence of cooking and smoking over fire and charcoal. From London to Singapore, the Maldives to Mauritius, barbecue is back. What’s more, the dishes emerging from the parillas and kilns of today’s kitchens and outdoor cooking stations feed not only our appetites, but our raw primal instincts.


At his Singapore restaurant Burnt Ends, chef Dave Pynt smokes pretty much everything. “Pineapple, leeks, quail’s eggs, fish – you name it, we can get smoke into it,” he says. Pynt, originally from Perth in Western Australia, opened a pop-up in East London in 2013 under the title Burnt Enz. It proved such a roaring success that the chef was whisked off to Singapore with his four-ton dual-cavity oven to open the fully fledged version (replacing the questionable “z” with a respectable “ds” in the process).


While the restaurant is built around a big beast of an oven, with counter seating and three customized charcoal grills, the sophistication of the cooking and depth of flavor drawn from simple ingredients is astounding. There is superb, succulent meat on offer – harissa lamb, pulled pork, Jacob’s Ladder short rib, even Hida wagyu from Japan – but there are also surprising delights, such as charred fennel imbued with almond-wood smoke and served with orange and burrata.


Such has been the big-bearded Aussie’s success in tuning into the food zeitgeist in restaurant-mad Singapore that Burnt Ends is now ranked in the top ten of the well-respected Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Pynt’s inspiration and mentor, however, is a man frequently cited as the current king of “grill cooking”: the hermit-like Spaniard, Victor Arguinzoniz.


Arguinzoniz grew up and still works in the remote countryside south of Spain’s Basque Country. Over the past two decades, his restaurant Asador Etxebarri (asador being Spanish for barbecue) has built its reputation to the point where intrepid diners and international chefs will make the pilgrimage from all corners of the world to experience his food.


What’s so special as to draw such discerning crowds, as well as critical plaudits? Well, every element on the substantial menu is cooked on hand-crafted, adjustable-height grills: juicy Palamós prawns, anchovies on toast, fresh buffalo mozzarella (from the chef’s own herd grazing next door), eel, enormous Tomahawk steaks, even smoked-milk ice cream.


The influence of restaurants such as Etxebarri and Burnt Ends is reflected across the globe. More and more chefs cite Arguinzoniz and the legendary Argentinian chef, author and restaurateur Francis Mallmann as guiding forces. Mallmann wrote the book on the philosophy and craft of cooking over flames and embers – Siete Fuegos: Mi Cocina Argentina (Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way) – following a Damascene conversion after years of preparing haute cuisine in the classic French style. A maverick and raconteur, he has become a cult figure, in part due to his regular appearances on food shows across American TV networks.


In the States, barbecuing traditions run very deep, especially in the South. Danny Meyer is the doyen of the New York restaurant scene, with Union Square Café, The Modern and Gramercy Tavern to his name, but he originally hails from St. Louis. He brought southern barbecue into the city in the form of Blue Smoke in Manhattan’s Flatiron district – a format so successful, it has spawned offshoots at ballparks and even at JFK airport.


Head west to The St. Regis Deer Valley in Park City, Utah, and you’ll see a whole hog being spit-roasted every Sunday in the summer on The Mountain Terrace. Chef de cuisine Rachel Wiener sources pigs locally, alongside finest American wagyu from Idaho and seasonal vegetables from local farmers, all of which might find their way on to the Traeger Grill.


In the Maldives, St. Regis guests can take things a step further by enjoying a mobile barbecue station with a bespoke menu anywhere from rooftop to the terrace – and even on the beach itself. Expect to feast on rib-eye steaks and the freshest grilled seafood. The Royal Villa at The St. Regis Mauritius offers a similarly luxe take on this al fresco classic.


Our appetite for this natural form of cooking shows little sign of abating, with built-in charcoal barbecues, wood-fired ovens, and even smoking sheds de rigueur in the homes of fashionable food lovers. This fire is not ready to be put out, so let’s throw another steak on the grill.

Your address: The St. Regis Deer Valley; The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort; The St. Regis Mauritius; The St. Regis Singapore


Flame reaction

Chicken char-grilled to perfection. The sophistication of today’s grilling methods means almost any food can be thrown on the griddle... even ice cream

(Photo: Gallery stock)


Kitchen Confidential

Oscar Portal is the innovative head chef at The St. Regis Mexico City, where he oversees six restaurants, from the King Cole Bar to private dining. Prior to moving to Mexico, he was pivotal in transforming the gastronomy scene in Madrid, while one of his first projects at St. Regis was creating a refined fish-and-chips pop-up called Krug & Chips.


What do you eat when you’re home alone? Because I cook so much at work, when I’m at home I often eat takeaways: pepperoni pizza, cheeseburgers, sushi, and Chinese dishes like vegetable spring rolls, rice soup and dumplings. If I cook, it’s only because my two-and-a-half-year-old son has to eat well. What I eat is not good for my health!


What would you order from your own menu? Clarified chicken broth or fish broth, then short-rib glaze [roasted short ribs] followed by Parmesan ice cream.


What is your favorite dish to cook? Anything with fish or seafood. These dishes are a real challenge to cook, because their taste – particularly turbot – is so delicate.


Any local food that particularly inspires you? There’s a really spicy dish I love from the coast of Mexico called aguachile – thinly sliced shrimps, lime and vegetables, which can be cooked in different sauces. I also like mole, an ancient Mexican sauce that’s really complicated to make; some recipes use over 100 ingredients.


The proudest moment in your career? The first was when I was working in a restaurant called Pinera in Madrid and the newspaper El Mundo voted us Restaurant of the Year in 2010. Considering how many restaurants there are in Madrid, this was a huge achievement. The second was moving to Mexico City and becoming executive chef at St. Regis.


Which dish are you most proud of? Smoked eel salad with tomato gel, watermelon and prunes. It’s molecular cuisine; I created it at Pinera in Madrid and it’s as beautiful as it is tasty.


The most delicious thing to eat in Mexico City? Taco al pastor. You can find it in local taquerias, but it’s best bought as street food. You should buy it the minute you arrive. For simple, tasty food, there’s nothing better. I particularly like the corn tortillas filled with marinated pork, curry sauce, onion, pineapple and coriander.


Which meal would you have again, if you could? One I had with my wife when she was pregnant with our first son. We’d been apart – I was working in Mexico while she was at home in Madrid – and we reunited in San Sebastian during Holy Week at [our friend] Martin Berasategui’s restaurant. We ate lobster salad, hake in green sauce and chocolate mousse. It was one of the best meals of my life.


The secret to running a restaurant? There’s no magic formula, but you do need to make sacrifices: you work long hours and you give up holidays. If you don’t love it, there’s no future.


What was your favorite food as a child? A soup my mother used to cook, cocido madrileño, and my grandmother’s meatballs. I could eat these foods every week and never get tired of them.


What reminds you of home? Every Saturday, my whole family gathers around my mother’s table. I go home twice a year and we still do it. Sitting around that table makes me feel like a boy again, and brings back memories of helping my grandmother in the kitchen when I was little.


Your address: The St. Regis Mexico City


Oscar Portal


Kitchen Confidential

Widely regarded as one of the top chefs in Italy, Valeria Piccini’s restaurant, Da Caino, in southern Tuscany, has held two Michelin stars since 1999. Three years ago, Piccini was invited to team up with The St. Regis Florence’s executive chef, Michele Griglio, to create Restaurant Winter Garden by Caino, the hotel’s fine dining experience, housed in an exquisite former courtyard with lofty ceilings and sumptuous décor. From day one, the collaboration between these two culinary masters has been a resounding success: in 2014 the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star for its unique take on classic Tuscan cooking.


What do you eat when you’re home alone?


V.C. Spaghetti and eggs with tomato sauce.
M.G. Something very simple like a beef fillet.



What would you order from the menu at Restaurant Winter Garden by Caino?


V.C. Right now I would order the homemade ravioli stuffed with grey mullet on a cream of fresh peas and grey mullet roe.
M.G. For the ultimate experience you really have to try the tasting menu.



What’s your favorite dish to cook?


V.C. Definitely pasta and desserts.
M.G. Spaghetti with tomato sauce.



Are you inspired by local ingredients or traditions?


V.C. Always. We try to use local products as much as possible. For example the grey mullet and the grey mullet roe both come from Monte Argentario [a peninsula off the southern Tuscan coast].
M.G. I’m constantly inspired by Tuscany’s incredible culinary tradition and all the outstanding products the region has to offer.



What’s been your proudest or most memorable moment during your career?


V.C. When I was awarded a second Michelin Star at Da Caino. And when we received our first Michelin star at Restaurant Winter Garden by Caino.
M.G. In 2005, when I did my first service alone [as head chef], in charge of an entire kitchen staff.



Which dish you’ve created are you most proud of?


V.C. It’s impossible to choose just one. My favorites are tortelli pasta with Cinta Senese [a type of pork], tortelli with cacio cheese and pears, and I always love cooking anything with pigeon, because for me it’s the best meat.
M.G. I’m very proud of my risotto with peas and squid.



What’s the best thing to eat in Florence?


V.C. Lampredotto, which is a traditional Florentine dish made using part of a cow’s stomach, boiled in a broth with tomato, onion, parsley and celery.
M.G. You can’t beat a Florentine steak.



If you could revisit any meal in your life, what would it be and why?


V.C. It has to be lasagne – I love it.
M.G. I’m a big fan of jerk chicken, a typical Jamaican dish. One day I would love to recreate it with a touch of Italian style.



What’s the secret to running a restaurant?


V.C. Never losing the passion you had at the beginning, constant research, and humility, which I’ve noticed seems to be decreasing.
M.G. I’m still trying to find out, but passion and constant dedication are without doubt the starting points for a successful restaurant.



When you were a child, what was your favorite type of food and do you still eat it now?


V.C. For me it was always pasta with butter and Parmesan cheese, but to be honest I don’t eat it very often these days.
M.G. I always loved dark chocolate. It’s one food I’ll never give up.



Which dish or meal most reminds you of home?


V.C. I’ve always had a nostalgia for foods that are derived from the cheese-making process. My parents were dairy farmers, so I always loved eating “cuculo”, which is the spun curd before it becomes cheese, and “scottino”, a combination of hot ricotta cheese, buttermilk and bread.
M.G. Sunday roast beef always makes me think of home.


Your address: The St. Regis Florence


Michele Griglio and Valeria Piccini have joined forces to create a menu of Tuscan dishes with a contemporary twist



Mare di champagne (sea of champagne)



Sella di lepre (saddle of hare)


Kitchen Confidential

Having first started cooking at the age of 15, Egyptian-born chef Michael Mina made a name for himself at Aqua in San Francisco, from where he established – with tennis star Andre Agassi – an empire of 18 restaurants across America. Since being named the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year in 1997, he has won several awards, fronted a TV program and written an eponymous cookbook.



What’s your favorite dish to cook?


Anything cooked outdoors. At home, in northern California, I am blessed to have an outdoor kitchen in the garden with a wood-burning oven. Often, I’ll give guests a basket to pick vegetables from the garden, which we then cook over wood. I love things like fresh vegetables on pizza, or côte de boeuf cooked on the flames. I adore shellfish, too, particularly abalone from the Bay area, which I grill with lemon, egg-batter with brown butter or sauté, niçoise-style, with olives, capers and lemon.



What do you eat when you’re home alone?


Spaghetti with thinly sliced garlic, cooked nice and slow in olive oil with a hint of red chili and lemon.



Anything local you’ve been inspired by?


Greens that we don’t get anywhere else, exceptional seafood and wonderful tomatoes. My wife makes the most amazing Bloody Mary using them.



What’s the dish you’re most proud of?


A dish I made for my wife on our honeymoon in Hawaii. She wanted caviar, so I found some and served it to her in bed with warm potato cake, smoked salmon and eggs. It’s a dish I now serve in all our restaurants.



What’s been the most memorable moment of your career?


Winning the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef in the United States. I was so proud, as it was my first award, and because there are so many young talented chefs. Another great moment was my son being accepted into the Culinary Institute of America.



Are there any foods that are overrated?


Anything that’s out of season. And beef that’s called “Kobi” or wagyu beef but isn’t. Real wagyu is one of the most amazing products there is, but the term can be used rather loosely.



Are there any particularly fine ingredients in California?


So many. Particularly good are sanddabs, which are like little sole. We fry them in a pan with a little oil and butter and serve them with lemon.



What do you like most about Dana Point?


The community, which is made up of arty surfers. They’re very social and love interacting with our staff, which makes the restaurant relaxed and fun.



If you could revisit any meal in your life, what would it be and why?


A dinner at Sushi Kanesaka in Tokyo, which was the most perfect meal I’ve ever had. The chef cooks for only four people at a time and everything he did was unbelievable. We had 28 courses, including several kinds of tuna, each of which had a different fat content, and spiny crabs that were cooked, taken out and mixed with their roe, then put back into the crab shell.



What’s the secret to running a restaurant?


Having balance; precise but engaging service; and connecting, making friends and building long-term relationships with each other and our clients. Having the right chef and the general manager is essential, too, as they are the mother and father of your new restaurant family.



What was your favorite food as a child?


Hamburgers, which I still love. But they have to be perfect. The bun (ideally potato) has to be toasted right. The meat has to be ground quite coarsely, then flattened just before it’s cooked, so it’s still full of juicy air pockets. Extras should be simple: I like a piece of cheese, ketchup, onion and pickle.



What meal most reminds you of home?


Kusheries, which my mother has made all my life. It’s a typical Middle Eastern dish, made with rice, lentils and chickpeas in a spicy tomato sauce with caramelized onions. It’s not something you can just whip up: the lentils and chickpeas need soaking overnight and the tomato sauce has to cook for a couple of hours. But it’s worth the effort because it’s so delicious.


Michelin-starred chef Michael Mina




Whole fried jidori chicken for two, one of Stonehill Tavern’s signature dishes



The restaurant’s imaginative tasting menu uses the freshest local ingredients



Kitchen Confidential

Austrian-born chef and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck came to the US in 1973 and has since built an international culinary empire. The Michelin-starred chef, who caters for the Oscars and is the star of TV food shows, is also active in philanthropic endeavors through his charitable foundation.


How did your cookery career begin?


My mother was a professional chef, so from the age of about 13, I used to go with her to work; it was either that or learn to be a bricklayer or a mason with my father, and I hated that! I loved the pastry section at the restaurant my mother worked in. They made incredible Baked Alaska, and it’s where I tasted canned fruit for the first time. I had some pineapple and thought it was just amazing.


What sort of food did you eat as a family back home?


I grew up on a farm, so when my mother made soup, or a salad, she’d just go into the garden and pick what she needed. As soon as the first tomatoes were ripe we used to make delicious sandwiches on dark rye bread with butter, parsley and a little onion. It sounds so simple but when the ingredients are straight from the ground, it’s an amazing thing.


Your first job was working for the legendary chef Raymond Thuilier at his restaurant L’Oustau de Baumanière. What was that like?


Raymond was about 72, and he had this passion and love for ingredients that I’d never seen before. When I met Raymond I just thought, “Wow, I want to be like this guy. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” Famous people were coming in all the time, even the Queen of England and Picasso. When Peter O’Toole was making a movie in the area, he always used to eat lamb, well-done, with a Cartagena Pinot Noir, and we’d stay up chatting late into the night. Then I’d take him back to his room on my little motorbike; he used to drink quite a lot of whisky after dinner.


What’s the best meal you’ve ever had cooked for you?


One of the most interesting was recently at the Carolina restaurant at The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort in Mexico. The young local chef there, Jose Mesa Arroyave, cooked my wife and me the most amazing Mexican food ever. It was so beautifully presented and not what you’d expect: charred octopus on a crispy tortilla with a black bean purée, a deconstructed tortilla soup served in a spoon as an amuse-bouche, a quail taco and ceviche… I don’t often get surprised, but this was a revelation to me.


How would you describe your new Spago restaurant in Istanbul?


It’s in one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever been to. Every room has an amazing piece of art in it, and the restaurant itself is on the eighth floor with an incredible view. We have a big, beautiful terrace that takes up almost half the space. It’s not too formal, just cool and relaxed, and in the evenings it’s like one big party. We have a DJ at the bar and everyone goes from table to table. It’s great if you’ve just arrived in the city, because you can still sit by the bar and relax, soaking up the atmosphere.


How have you gone about planning the menu?


The very first thing I always do in a new place is to go to the farmers’ market and the fish market and see what ingredients are best in the area. I love to support the local suppliers and they have amazing fish in Istanbul – turbot, wild sea bass, shrimp – and the lamb is the best that you’ll find anywhere. We do an amazing Chinese-style dish with it where the lamb’s marinated in soy sauce, chilli flakes, mirin and spring onion, and then just grilled over a charcoal fire. Of course, if you still want our signature smoked salmon pizza, you’ll be able to order one here, too.


Any ingredients that you’re particularly fussy about?


I love proper chocolate, and I get that from Jean-Paul Hévin in Paris. I always have some in the freezer. I won’t touch cheap chocolate; it has to be 70 per cent cocoa and it has to have some flavor. And if I’m ever hungover, I have to have proper coffee. I’ve been into the kitchen of one of the fanciest hotels in Paris to show them how to make a cappuccino right. For $800 a room you deserve good coffee.


Who would you love to cook for?


Picasso, because I’d love to talk to him. Mozart, because maybe he could play the piano. And Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, because I love them. They’d have to enjoy food, though; there’s nothing more boring than cooking for somebody who doesn’t really enjoy great food and wine.


Your address: The St. Regis Istanbul


Wolfgang Puck in the kitchen


 Yuzu blueberry Baked Alaska

The terrace at Spago at The St. Regis Istanbul, which
serves Puck’s cutting-edge, farm-to-table cuisine

A Culinary Genius In Doha

The Scottish-born chef Gordon Ramsay originally set out to become a professional soccer player, switching to catering college at age 19 following a knee injury. He went on to train under chef Marco Pierre White before deciding to specialize in French cuisine, working alongside Albert Roux at Le Gavroche in London and Guy Savoy and Joël Robuchon in Paris. His first Michelin star came in 1997, when he was chef at Aubergine. When he was 33, his own venture, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, was awarded three Michelin stars. Today, his ever-growing chain of restaurants stretches from Los Angeles and New York to Paris and Hong Kong, and he continues to appear on television series such as Kitchen Nightmares and MasterChef. The chef launched two restaurants in 2012 at The St. Regis Doha: Opal by Gordon Ramsay, which serves classic western dishes in a bistro-style environment, and a fine-dining space, Gordon Ramsay Restaurant.
Which dish do you most enjoy cooking?
I love cooking all sorts; what I make depends on what mood I’m in and how long I want to spend in the kitchen. In my recent TV cooking series Ultimate Home Cooking, it was all about making tasty food at home: nothing too fancy, but great fish dishes, pies, desserts.


Is there anything you’d rather buy than make?
No. Cooking your own food is always a better and healthier option. I’m a big believer in cooking at home with the family. My kids do a lot of the cooking in the house and it’s much more enjoyable.


What do you eat when you’re home alone?
Something quick and simple, such as a good-quality steak with salad and a homemade dressing. I always like to see what’s in the cupboard: you’d be surprised what you can make with just a few staple ingredients.


What would you order from the menu at The St. Regis Doha?
From Gordon Ramsay Restaurant, I would choose the carpaccio of Scottish scallops. At Opal, the lamb burger with mint is one of my favorites, although I try different dishes every time I am there. I always ask the chef to create mini versions of dishes on the menu so I can sample all of them.


How do the dishes there differ from your other restaurants?
Opal is very similar to Bread Street Kitchen in London, and obviously Gordon Ramsay Restaurant is inspired by my three-Michelin-starred flagship restaurant. However, we do make changes to reference the local culture, the flavors that are popular in the region, and the fresh ingredients that we can get.


When you were a child, what was your favorite food?
Eggs Benedict. I’ve always loved having it in the morning; it’s all about the hollandaise sauce.


Which meal most reminds you of home?
Beef Wellington, which has become one of my signature dishes. It’s very versatile: you can change what meat you use (I recently used lamb) as well as the spices and secondary ingredients.


Which is the dish you’re most proud of?
King crab tortellini with lemongrass and tomato vinaigrette. It is simple and fresh and always impresses.


What’s been the most memorable moment of your career?
Getting the first Michelin star for Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (and of course getting three a few years later). But every time I’ve opened a restaurant it has been a really proud moment. I now have 25 globally and 13 in London, and there’s more to come. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have my restaurant business, TV career and wonderful family.


Are there any foods that you think are overrated?
No, although anything that is processed or poor quality is never good in my book. I grew up in a household with very little money so we ate some horrible food – spam. That definitely isn’t something I’d eat now.


What do you enjoy most about Doha?
The people. They have always been very friendly and extremely professional.


If you could revisit a meal that you’ve had in the past, what would it be?
I’m very lucky in that I eat out a lot and get to experience lots of different styles, concepts and cultures. The most recent amazing meal I’ve had was at Quique Dacosta in Spain. I was in the area filming for television and found myself in a terrible restaurant. We wanted to show them what amazing service was, so I took them to Quique Dacosta; it was fantastic.


What’s the secret to running a restaurant really well?
You have to have a great team. I definitely do, and when I’m asked who does the cooking when I’m not there, I say it’s the same people as when I am there. To run a restaurant, and certainly to be a chef, you have to have passion for what you do, work hard and persevere.
Your address: The St. Regis Doha





Ramsay’s repertoire
Bleu lobster salad, croquant of celeriac and apple
with homardine sauce

Terrine of duck foie gras, dried apricots and almonds,
strawberry vinaigrette

Buttered truffle and guinea fowl with sweet potato purée,
chestnuts and mushroom mix


Issue 2 - The Spice of Life - Atul Kochhar - Image 1

The Spice of Life

The first Indian chef ever to receive a Michelin star, in 2001, Atul Kochhar is famed for bringing his country’s cuisine to the forefront of fine dining. His simple, elegant take on traditional dishes has made Benares, his original restaurant in London’s Mayfair, known across the world, and he’s had a series of equally successful ventures since. Growing up in Jamshedpur in East India, all of Kochhar’s menus focus on fresh, local ingredients, of the kind that his father used to take him to source when he was younger. His new restaurant, Simply India, at The St. Regis Mauritius Resort, serves tandoori specialities and Goan delicacies in a colonial-inspired setting.


What’s your earliest food memory?
Going to the local market with my father in India. He was a caterer, and sourcing fresh local produce was important to him. The colors and smells were so vibrant and exciting. I would always look forward to our trips together.


What is the dish your mother used to make that you still love?
Rogan josh. It’s a dish I’ve had on my menus many times, although my mother makes it best. It’s a classic Indian dish with lamb and lots of spices, such as cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, plus ginger, tomato paste, crushed almonds and yoghurt. It’s something my whole family used to enjoy together around the dinner table, so it has a sense of nostalgia for me as well.


Do you have a trademark dish?
I have a couple. But one of my favorites is my chicken tikka pie with wild berry chutney. It’s made with a great light pastry shell and filled with chicken tikka. We then use seasonal wild berries to make a sweet and savory compôte.


How would you describe your cooking?
Modern Indian. It’s a combination of the recipes and cooking techniques from my upbringing, with twists I’ve picked up along the way. I also adapt traditional Indian recipes to incorporate seasonal ingredients of other countries.


Who taught you to cook?
Both my parents. I have so many memories of my mother in the kitchen, cooking and showing me how to prepare dishes. However, my father taught me everything I know about the quality of fresh local ingredients.


Which chef has had the most influence on you?
Albert Roux [the French-born co-founder of London restaurant Le Gavroche, whose first job was as cook for Nancy Astor]. His passion and skill is so admirable, and he has been a mentor to me over the years.


What are the most important three ingredients to have in your store cupboard?
Spices! My favourites are coriander, cinnamon and cloves.


What’s your favourite late-night snack?
I hate to say it, but just simple cheese on toast. After a full day of tasting, I like to give my palate a break.


Why do you think Indian food is so popular worldwide?
It’s a very diverse cuisine, and I think the complexity of the ingredients and the fresh spices make it really well liked. Indian food has gained an incredible amount of popularity in the past ten years. When I first arrived in London in 1994, things were very different.


What do you think are the global trends in restaurant cuisine?
I believe Korean food will become very popular this year because it is bursting with bold flavors, and is pretty nutritious to boot. As always though, locality and seasonality needs to remain constant over trends, which change so quickly.


How does the food at your new Simply India restaurant at The St. Regis Mauritius Resort differ from what you serve at Benares in London?
There’s more seafood on the menu because I try to source everything locally. We do a delicious starter of lasooni scallops, with garlic, cauliflower purée and piccalilli. And there’s a wonderful main course of samundri do pyaaza – squid, scallops, prawns and fish, all cooked with tangy onions.


What’s your signature dish at Simply India?
Konju moille. It’s a beautiful dish made with Madagascan lobster, cooked with coconut and curry leaf. It’s very succulent.


What local ingredients do you use at Simply India?
The Madagascan lobster is great, and we use a lot of local coconut oil and coconut milk. The variety of seafood on offer in Mauritius is incredible.


Where is your favourite restaurant in the world?
D.O.M. in São Paolo, Brazil. It serves up all manner of exciting ingredients from the Amazon rainforest, such as cambuca fruit, manioc root and tucupi juice, which are so exotic. But I love the markets in Jamshedpur in India where I grew up, because that’s where my culinary journey first started.


Do you ever dream about cooking?
Yes, I think it would be hard not to when it’s on your mind all the time.


What would you have for your last supper?
A simple vegetarian curry with fresh naan, eaten with all of my family.


Which person, living or dead, would you love to cook for?
My father.


Your address: The St. Regis Mauritius Resort