Cuisine focus: American
Caterer Middle East explores how American cuisine has evolved in the Middle East
What is typical American cuisine and how popular is it in this region?
Emiliano Bernasconi, group director of culinary, JAS Hospitality (owner of Fümé): Typical American cuisine is comfort food and this is one of the main characteristics of Fümé. The cuisine is very popular, especially well-known dishes, such as burgers and hot dogs. There are more and more places coming up with new ways to put a twist on these classic staples, like our mac and cheese with truffle.
Ivan Sabol, executive chef, The Sportsman’s Arms: American cuisine is based on using fresh ingredients and preparing them through classic techniques like smoking, braising, slow-and-low cooking and BBQ. To make these authentic, it’s important to use the sauces and spices that were developed from recipes introduced to US shores by colonists, settlers, and immigrants. For example, the Reuben sandwich from Jewish immigrants or poutine from Canada. But these dishes evolve over time; mac and cheese would make lot of old Italian chefs turn in their graves, as would putting pineapple on a pizza, but twists like this come from other places. American cuisine has long been a combination of the culture of its people, which is what makes it so fascinating.
Charlie Rowan head chef, Crab Tavern: Typical American cuisine in Dubai has to be bold and punchy — crab cakes and big seafood buckets, along with tender American Angus beef. In Crab Tavern, the classic fisherman's pie and Alaskan crab are current favourites.
Phil Broad, VP, F&B, Aghanim Industries (owner of Wendy’s MENA): When most people think of American cuisine, it conjures up images of burgers and fries, which is great for me, but not for the nation. In reality, the US is a diverse country with many amazing styles of cooking, from the Cajun/creole of New Orleans to Alaskan crab, to slow roast BBQs. However, the burger craze continues; there must be more than 50 burger brands in the UAE and it’s highly competitive.
Markus Thesleff, co-founder, Whissle Group (owner of Claw BBQ, Crabshack & Grill): American cuisine is diverse. It can range from burgers and fries to ribs and wings. At Claw, we have taken our all-time favourite comfort food dishes from all over the US and compiled them into a, ‘something for everyone’ extravaganza with our own twist.
What trends have you seen in American cuisine?
Bernasconi: US street food paves the way for different food trends, such as colourful bagels, the cronut, and crazy ice creams. These trends are starting to appear on the Dubai food scene, including at Fümé.
Sabol: Firstly, the emergence of organic produce on the west coast; that health-conscious population is realising that with so much fertile space, the best thing to do is help build a sustainable food supply chain. Second, the reemergence and popularity of old-school Texas BBQ and smokehouses. When I lived in London, at one point, it seemed that pop-up BBQ places were on every corner.
Rowan: There is a big push for grilled, steamed and roasted food, and the swap from creamy mash and warm polenta to gorgeous salads. Roasting veggies boosts flavour by adding light caramelisation, without overpowering the natural flavour.
Broad: Breads are coming back with artisanal bakeries entering [the market], and food trucks are still growing and, once licensing issues are resolved, will grow even further. Breakfast has saved the revenues of some big brands and it is a great opportunity. In our business, sandwiches are getting more innovative and Mexican food is still trending, as is health (we’ve introduced a side salad instead of fries). Fast-casual is the space to watch though.
Thesleff: In Dubai there has been an explosion of ‘American’ concepts. The movement in the US is all about clean and healthy food with Pan-Asian influences on the west coast, with traceability from farm to table. The south and midwest are more focused on traditional family-style cooking. The food on the east coast is more technical, with strong European influences.
Matthew Dahlkemper, executive chef, Four Seasons Hotel DIFC: At home, international influences are always being used, as chefs love to travel and use what they’ve seen to create something different. But I’d say American BBQ is having its moment to shine. It involves cooking meat at a very low temperature for a long time, typically incorporating an element of wood smoke. BBQ in the states is very regionalised. For instance, if you talk BBQ with a pitmaster from Texas as opposed to Kansas City or North Carolina, they have very different opinions on product, techniques, and flavour.
Any challenges for chefs with American cuisine?
Bernasconi: The only challenge is to create the recipes to be as close to the original flavours as possible. Chefs will be serving a lot of expatriates that have eaten American cuisine, so they need to ensure that it matches perfectly, otherwise the guest will know.
Sabol: For me, the first challenge was to establish what US cuisine actually is, as it is a big country with people from all over the world. The challenge is also to source fresh at all times; American cuisine is rustic, home-cooked food relying on fresh ingredients — fresh seafood for the traditional southern and Pacific cuisine or the west coast cuisine that relies so heavily on fresh organic farmers.
Rowan: The only challenges I have found relate to education and supply. We have to continually educate and train ourselves to be more aware of customers’ needs and wants. If you are willing to change and be part of the food evolution, then it becomes a far easier process.
Thesleff: Like any other cuisine, the challenge is to understand the flavours. Not enough people have been able to travel to the US to eat and experience it; they simply cook the food they are told to do. At Claw, we ensure all our chefs are trained to understand the traditions and history of American cuisine.
Dahlkemper: Time definitely plays a role. BBQ isn't something you can do in 15 minutes — it takes hours, even days. Additionally, if you run out of brisket, there is no chance to recover during that service as it will take another 12 hours before the next batch is ready.
How’s the supply stream?
Bernasconi: The suppliers in the UAE are very good and so many of the products that we use are available. At Fümé we make most of our sauces; marinades; and canned, pickled and smoked items in-house, using locally sourced products.
Sabol: We use only fresh produce, sourced locally wherever possible. All of our meat has to be imported due to the standard we need; our beef is USDA Black Angus, which is great for slow-and-low cooking, and even better for burgers, thanks to its marbling and flavour.
Rowan: We have amazing suppliers in Dubai but you need to source from other countries to keep it as seasonal as possible, and maintan quality and consistency. Our crab soup is locally sourced but, of course, you need to ship in Alaskan king crab. Air freight is so advanced these days; the produce is caught and on the plate within 24 hours. It’s a great time for food in Dubai.