Chef Interview: Gregoire Berger
Atlantis The Palm's Ossiano chef de cuisine talks about ingredient sourcing, training, and winning awards
Grégoire Berger entered the hospitality industry when he was 18 years old in 2004, and since then, he hasn’t looked back. Starting his career at the 16th century Domaine de Rochevilaine in Brittany, France, he joined the Michelin-starred hotel restaurant as senior chef de partie as part of his studies at the CFA.
His journey since then has come with its fair share of obstacles — soon after he graduated from the CFA, he had an accident which resulted in six broken bones and hospitalisation for 12 weeks. His entry into the UAE was not without problems either; he moved to the country for a restaurant located in DIFC which never opened. But that did not deter him.
After the non-opening, Berger immediately sent his CV out to look for potential work, and he was called back by Gilles Perrin, who was then the executive chef at Atlantis, The Palm. And since February 2015, he was been the chef de cuisine of Atlantis’ Ossiano seafood restaurant.
Under his leadership, the restaurant has continued to win awards including with sister title Time Out Dubai. More recently, Berger represented the Africa & Middle East region at the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Awards 2016 — fighting off tough competition to be among 20 from across the world to compete in the finals in Milan. While Berger did not win the title, he has, unbeknownst to him at the time of the interview, snagged the crown of Young Hotelier of the Year in the Hotelier Middle East Awards 2016.
“I joined Atlantis with a very strong team — Ossiano had already won awards. [When I joined] I started to work on my new menu and new dishes. I tried to build a sense of trust between all of us in the restaurant to make sure there is no separation between front-of-house and back-of-house — and that we work all together as if it’s our own restaurant,” he explains.
His new menu moved away from a classic style of starters and main course listings, and is now a two-page set menu with the option of four, five or seven courses.
“Guests can choose as per what they need, and the dishes are all the classics in seafood. The new menu is very experimental, very fine dining, very well plated, it has a great taste and I believe, it is affordable,” he adds.
Berger also heavily focuses on training and development. His kitchen receives more cross training requests than any other department — all from chefs across the resort who want to learn from Berger. He is modest and says: “I didn’t realise this before but it seems as if a lot of people are following me. I am a strong chef, sometimes I am picky. So I’m pretty difficult but those who want to learn, they want to learn with me because I give them a lot of skills.
“They learn a lot working with me — and they get involved with the creation, I don’t do everything myself. My team does the job every day, it isn’t just me.”
Berger continues: “Training is very important and in my kitchen I have five different nationalities, so you need to make sure that people are well trained to reproduce what you are doing.
“I am very proud of my team — they are very strong, they are passionate and are hard workers. That is Dubai for me — people are very hard working.” It’s this attitude that has allowed him to retain all his staff members this year.
Another passion point for Berger is the sustainable use of ingredients, and working to prevent food waste. His aim is to use all parts of an ingredient, and says he prefers to use seasonal produce, along with ethical ingredients.
He tells Hotelier: “This is what I am trying to do deeply in Dubai. All our products come from all around the world — this is good because we get good products but there can be a lot of wastage.
“For example, we can spend a lot of energy to get a kilo of vegetables.
“So I try to educate my chefs firstly about what is good food. I try to meet the suppliers, I try to meet the producer. I explain to my team, to the waiter for example, that he should respect the plating of a dish because we have spent a long time in the kitchen, but also because there are a lot of people working on the product before we get it.”
He adds: “I use less products but better products, like they do in Japan. I try to avoid wastage to create something to serve to the guest. Not as trimmings, but to be really creative with it.”
What’s next for Berger? He’s aiming for the top and wants to gain Michelin stars — in Dubai. And why not, we reported earlier in 2016 that it is “only a matter of time” before a Michelin Guide is published in Dubai and the first Michelin stars are awarded to the region’s best restaurants. That was according to Michael Ellis, international director of Michelin Guides.
At the time, Ellis said to sister title Caterer Middle East: “We are looking at Dubai [for a Michelin Guide]. It’s one of the reasons I’m here. Dubai is an emerging market, and we want to see what’s going on. We’re a mirror of what’s happening in the restaurant industry.
“It’s only a matter of time before we launch a Michelin Guide here.”
So, Berger says: “I want to be a Michelin-star chef — that’s my dream. I would like to stay as long as possible in Ossiano because it’s a very good restaurant, it’s the perfect fit for me. I have carte blanche in my menu, my management believes in me. Serge Zaalof, the number one of Atlantis, has done a lot for me so I’m very grateful.”
He concludes, happily: “When you’re 30 years old, it is very difficult to get a position at a restaurant like this in Europe.”