Cuisine focus: French
Caterer Middle East explores how French cuisine has evolved in the region
How popular is French cuisine in the region?
Anthony Ekizian, head chef, Aubaine: French cuisine is proving popular here, showcasing traditional cooking methods reinterpreted in a contemporary fashion.
Jonathan Vercoutere, co-founder, Bistro Des Arts: French cuisine in the region is far from being the most popular, for several reasons. Firstly, most of the French restaurants are classified under the category of fine dining, which makes them inaccessible to many. Also, [due to the demographics] in the UAE and the GCC in general, most people prefer food to be spicy or served in big portions, from Asia and other nearby regions. French food is more unknown; terms and names are hard to pronounce and understand. The food is more focused on the quality of products and techniques, and not on the size of the portions or the amount of spices.
Rory Duncan, head chef, La Petite Maison: As a general appreciation in the public, it is very popular. French with a Mediterranean influence has even more leverage because of the climate.
Francois Xavier Simon, chef de cuisine, Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire: French cuisine is the base; everything starts with it and it is still the most renowned type of cuisine. There are so many products, so many recipes and when it comes to fine dining, everyone follows French cuisine. In Dubai there are many French restaurants, but more [focused[ on fusion with Asian, Japanese or Thai — only few traditional French.
Jérémy Degras, executive chef, Chez Charles: French food has long been a popular choice among all nationalities. There are thousands of French expats living here, but the entry of some of Frances’ most respected chefs into the market has broadened the appeal of our cuisine to a wider audience. Restaurants like Stay by Yannick Alléno and Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire showcase the very heights of classic-meets-contemporary French food, while others like Bistro Madeleine, Le Classique and La Petite Maison offer special dining experiences with a Gallic influence.
Sofiane Kaced, chef de cuisine, Brasserie Quartier: French cuisine is considered as the most refined and sophisticated. When most people think of French food they instantly think of romance so it's often the go-to option for a romantic dinner. That perception isn’t just in Dubai and the Middle East, it also applies all around the world.
What are the latest trends in French cuisine?
Ekizian: French cuisine focuses on great ingredients and techniques — but that doesn’t mean complicated. I feel that the trend in French cuisine is going back to something even simpler, more authentic, and focusing on the excellence of the product and its sustainability, without over working the dishes, just keeping it simple.
Vercoutere: The latest and most used new trend in restaurants is ‘back to basics’. From Michelin-starred chefs to French-style restaurants, everyone realises that what the market is now looking for is value for money and everyday meals instead of a ‘once a year’ amazing experience. People are very focused on how much they spend due to the economic climate, but it doesn’t mean they want to stop going out or have fun. Therefore, the offer has changed and tend to try to provide good experiences without breaking the bank.
Duncan: Sustainable food sources and cooking methods are the top culinary priorities. The focus is on the product and being able to reflect the true flavour. People want good, honest food based on amazing ingredients, but cooked in a simple way.
Degras: We have noticed a trend of ‘fleeting pleasure’; those moments where a dining experience appeals to all the senses, from the visual appeal and artistic presentation to the smell, taste and creation of a lasting memory. Also, a revival in traditional French cuisine. Simplicity, emphasis on the ingredient and creating a variety of textures in a single dish to create an outstanding experience are other trends that are coming to the fore within French kitchens.
Kaced: All the old classics are making a comeback, so dishes containing the likes of beef cheek, tail and traditional vegetables are all seeing a surge in popularity. These are my personal favourites to dine on and prepare.
Any challenges associated with French cuisine?
Ekizian: Staying true to ourselves and not giving up on our principles. Some people might feel that French cuisine its old-fashioned, which is a misconception in my view. French cuisine is almost a philosophy; we keep our old values by not denaturalising the product, but one can see that French cuisine has evolved.
Vercoutere: To manage to fit the product to the market and stay true to the essence of the food that you serve. The naming is additionally a difficult task as some of the dishes can’t be translated and can only be understood by French speakers — and when they are translated, they lose meaning.
Duncan: Getting the best, freshest possible product that meets expectations. I aim to work with fresh product only by the end of this year, by removing the freezer from the kitchen.
Simon: My challenge is still the same as in the beginning: keep learning everyday all about French cuisine. We have to respect the base and find our own interpretation.
Kaced: French cuisine is focused on seasonal ingredients. Since they are not available all year long, this can sometimes be challenging. On a positive side, it gives us a great opportunity to keep our menu updated and fresh, and so we can be creative to find new ways to present traditional French foods with a bit of a twist for modern tastes.
Do you import ingredients or use local products?
Ekizian: We use authentic seasonal ingredients from France, such as cheese or seafood. Sometimes it is difficult to get what you need from the particular regions, so our chefs are always on the look for new products local or imported.
Vercoutere: Using local products if they were of a good enough quality would be great. Unfortunately. due to the climate here, it is nearly impossible to find quality all year round. Most of our products come from high-end suppliers that source from high-end producers in France.
Duncan: We focus on non-GMO and organic ingredients. We support local farmers, as long as quality meets expectation, such as Green Heart Farm in Sharjah, which offers great vegetables specifically grown for our consumption.
Degras: Our policy and our priority is always to use fresh, high-quality products. The terrain and climate of the UAE means that while there is a growing market for local food, organic produce, and homegrown fruits and vegetables, we are ruled by seasonality and the temperatures. Therefore, we import a large percentage of our specialist ingredients and produce in order to deliver authentic French cuisine.
Kaced: About 90% of our ingredients are imported from France to recreate all the recipes to perfection, using top quality products. Brasserie Quartier receives two to three deliveries a week from the Rungis Market in Paris to make sure that we are serving authentic French food at the very best quality. This enables us to deliver guests our culinary promise, which is to honour France’s deeply rooted gastronomic traditions. And I feel that the best way to do this is to create food with love using authentic French ingredients. Of course, whenever possible and where we can, we use local suppliers to support local businesses.