Interview: Rick Gonzalez on heading The Restaurant at Address
Having worked all over the world, Rick Gonzalez is now heading The Restaurant at Address, an outlet which hasn't closed since it opened
You could say that the restaurant business is in Rick Gonzalez’s blood. Born in the US to a Spanish father who owned a restaurant, Gonzalez spent his summers in the kitchen, surrounded by food and learning firsthand about the business where he would eventually make his career.
Formally trained in Switzerland, Gonzalez went on to work with Michelin-starred chefs across the globe, including Jacques Chibois, Alain Senderens and Michel Guerard. It seemed that the Middle East was the only region missing in his career repertoire, until most recently.
The affable New Yorker sits down with Caterer Middle East to talk about his latest undertaking. He says: “The first time I was approached for the opportunity, I was speaking to Pascal Dupuis (general manager of Address Boulevard) and he talked about the concept. This new Address hotel was going to be something totally different and, so I thought, it would be great to be part of the pre-opening team and to work in another region in the world. I’d never worked in the Middle East and I thought Dubai would be a great opportunity. There’s a lot going on here.”
The aforementioned conversation went well and Gonzalez was handpicked by Dupuis for the role of executive chef at The Restaurant at Address which launched earlier this year. The space is reminiscent of a refined Parisian apartment with a living room, study, dressing room, library, games room and music room, as well as a secret and private dining room. However, the restaurant’s USP is less about the space and more about how it operates. Gonzalez explains: “The design is a bit different because within the space, you have different spaces. It’s not just one large space where you’re next to everybody so it’s different in that way. And then, it’s a 24-hour concept so you can have a breakfast item at any time. Most places will serve breakfast until 4pm max but here it runs 24 hours.”
It’s an impressive claim but the chef is keen to stay clear of an ‘all day dining’ moniker due to its less than stellar connotations. Gonzalez prefers to think of the venue as a restaurant that doesn’t close, but changing people’s ideas of what to expect from this type of restaurant is no small feat. However, a shift in perception is exactly what Gonzalez is aiming for. “We don’t want to be known as an all-day dining restaurant and that’s our major challenge. We’re a restaurant that’s open 24 hours. We’re the only restaurant in a hotel and you have to please the hotel guests and then you have walk-in clientele so you have a lot of different people to please. If a hotel guest wants a dish that’s not on the menu, we have to do it, we can’t say no.”
There are also logistical challenges associated with the unpredictability of those overnight hours so Gonzalez and his staff have devised a system which seems to be working: “We usually keep most of the team until about 1am, and then from 1am until 6am, we keep a skeleton crew. Most of the time, we don’t have a lot of people so they do mise en place for breakfast. Sometimes when it does get busy, it’s hard because you might have a chef de partie in charge but I don’t know exactly what’s happening until I come in the next day and find a surprise. You never know. Sometimes I’ll come in in the morning and they’ll say ‘Man, we had six tables’,” says Gonzalez.
Cognisant that he isn’t going to be at the venue all the time, Gonzalez set about building a solid kitchen team who would be able to think on their feet and execute the menu to the standard set during normal operating hours. “Without a team, without good people, you can’t do anything. I wouldn’t be here. I can’t say that enough. Without a good chef de cuisine (Giorgio Maggioni), we can’t do anything. That’s the most important thing. People. There are individuals out there who think that they can do it on their own because they have the experience but you can’t do it without a team, it’s impossible,” affirms the chef.
When it comes to the menu, the charismatic, jet-setting chef describes the cuisine as ‘global’, inspired by flavours from all over the world, yet simple and ingredient-driven. Gonzalez elaborates: “With the food concept, there’s no ‘fusion confusion’. If we do combine flavours that are a bit different, which is nice to do, we try to stay within no more than three flavours at a time. We don’t get carried away by combining too many things.”
Another thing the chef doesn’t do is compromise on quality. The menu is void of dishes comprising bells and whistles used to mask inferior products. The ingredients and their quality are a major concern for Gonzalez. Where possible, they prepare everything in-house but he also stresses the importance of building relationships with suppliers, saying: “It’s very easy. In Dubai, you can get everything and anything. Most of our supply chain comes from Europe and you have flights coming in daily.” He continues: “You get everything you want from the freshest seafood to heirloom tomatoes to seasonal vegetables. We have very reliable suppliers. We try to deal with a limited amount of suppliers, give them the business and in return, they give us good service. They’re always there when we need them.”
It’s almost impossible to talk about ingredient-driven food in a laid-back setting without referencing bistronomy (a portmanteau of the words bistro and gastronomy). The movement, which originated in Paris a couple of years ago, gained popularity with relatively inexpensive Michelin-starred restaurants such as Frenchie and Septime. Hopeful that it will catch on in the region, Gonzalez is a proponent of the movement: “We’re not about molecular gastronomy or that style of food. Ferran Adrià did it but we’re not about that, we’re about respecting the product and trying to do really good food in a casual environment. We do global bistronomy. It’s not a pretentious setting and does not have elevated prices but we definitely pay attention to the quality of the food.”
While the bistronomy movement may still be in its initial phase in the region, Gonzalez is impressed with Dubai’s dining scene. “You have to look at the history and the number of years that a city’s been around. It takes time. I’d say it’s developing and that the new generations are accepting new concepts. You have an eclectic combination of ethnic groups here from Europeans, to Asians, North Africans and other Middle Eastern countries so everybody’s here and it’s growing very quickly. It’s just amazing,” he concludes.