Cuisine Focus 2015: French

The challenges facing French chefs in the region

French cuisine relies heavily on fresh produce.
French cuisine relies heavily on fresh produce.

Shaheen Nouman takes a trip down the French Riviera and speaks to some of the chefs in the region who work with the classic flavours of France

Meet the Experts
- Frédéric Vardon, chef patron, La Résidence Restaurant & Lounge
- Nalinda Perera, executive chef, Lavarenne, Doha
- Rory Duncan, executive chef, La Petite Maison Dubai
- Daniel Höfler, chef de cusine, Traiteur, Park Hyatt Dubai
- Rizwan Kassim, owner, La Cantine du Faubourg

Would you say French cuisine is popular in this region?
Frédéric Vardon, chef patron, La Résidence Restaurant & Lounge: Dubai has become a major destination for both tourism and business, and the city welcomes gourmets from all over the world. In this melting pot of cultures, many French and European chefs have settled down and made Dubai their home, giving French food a place in the city’s F&B scene.

Also, a favourable business environment and a well-developed logistics network means that it’s a great place to open a restaurant and that you can find all the best products. Rory Duncan, executive chef, La Petite Maison Dubai: Generally, it is very popular. French food with a Mediterranean influence is even more popular due to the climate, as the dishes prepared are light, fresh and healthy.

Daniel Höfler, chef de cusine, Traiteur: Yes, it definitely is. The large numbers of expats assist in driving the demand for French food. French cuisine seems to have a fine-dining image that, in Dubai at least, makes it rather popular.

Rizwan Kassim, owner, La Cantine du Faubourg: French cuisine has managed to root its traditions here in the UAE, with many successful and high-end French restaurants and chefs based in the region. Also, the French community here is also increasing, leading to the popularity of this cuisine.

How authentic is the preparation of French cuisine — are recipes tweaked to suit the local audience?
Vardon: We cook as we know how, the way we do it in Paris. It is all about flavours, quality and sincere taste, and respecting the seasonality of the produce. Also, French cooking is rich and diversified and allows us to include several recipes of meat, fish, seafood and vegetarian items in our menu. We have a variety of options to satisfy all types of palates, while still respecting our French identity.

Nalinda Perera, executive chef, Lavarenne, Doha: The biggest difference is not using alcohol in the recipes. Many French dishes call for it, but we choose to work without it as we want to ensure that our menu is available to all. We also take inspiration from local cuisine, and incorporate elements of it into our menu where possible.

Höfler: It is very important for us to regularly receive our guests’ comments about what they like and what they think we could do better.

Kassim: Most of the produce we use today at La Cantine du Faubourg are the same as the ones used at our Parisian venue. For example, the crab and sole are sourced from the same suppliers.

Do you rely on importing ingredients or are there local products used on the menu?
Vardon: We do use produce that is local as well as from the neighbouring countries but for the most part, it comes from France. We try to stick to our roots as much as possible and stay true to our image. This allows us to truly introduce a new cuisine to the local market.

Perera: The supply chain is a little unreliable. We do import directly from Rungis market, ensuring we can offer a consistent menu. The food we serve is simple and is not overworked, so we need fresh, naturally grown products for it.

Duncan: We do rely on importing especially important ingredients like meat, seafood, flour, spices but we are slowly sourcing locally-produced organic products. Our tomatoes are about to be supplied from a local farm, where they are specifically grown for our consumption.

The supply stream is very difficult to work with as most of the products are supplied from abroad. Unfortunately, in this market, there are a lot of middle men, and very few producers in the country, which makes it a challenge sometimes, as consistency is important to us.

Höfler: The ratio of local to imported ingredients is 30-70%, especially for vegetables. Also, when ingredients are shipped via air and sea, the deliverables are sometimes affected, leaving us no choice but to discard unfit produce.

Kassim: French cuisine demands freshness and freshness lies in proximity. We don’t ‘betray’ French cuisine if we use local produce; this is a cuisine that relies heavily on cooking techniques and ingredients that are fresh.

What are your biggest challenges with French cuisine?
Vardon: Finding the best quality products throughout the year.

Perera: The biggest challenge is the supply chain.

Duncan: The biggest challenge for us in this region is getting products that match our expectations.

Höfler: Importing such a high percentage of ingredients means that it is difficult for us to control quality and aesthetic appeal.

Kassim: Our challenge lies in market perception. We have to work hard and strive towards Dubai to accept a hybrid concept.

What is the latest trend in French cuisine?
Vardon: French cuisine respects the planet; it’s sustainable, ethical and protects natural resources by promoting responsible farming, and by fighting against an intensive agricultural production.

Duncan: Deformalised bistro by a Michelin-starred chef is the next big thing in French cuisine.

Höfler: The latest trend is reverting back to basics and steering away from concepts such as fusion. It is an attempt to recapture the basic techniques and flavours from which French cuisine was born.

Kassim: Chefs today are going back to basics, to local agriculture and organic products. Many now have vegetable or herbs garden near the restaurant. Nature is back on our plates, with fresh-from-the-market and seasonal specialities. Another trend is the end of over-sophisticated, aesthetic, scientific dishes. French cuisine is definitely shaping into a more simple, ingredient- and taste-driven expression.

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