Internationally-acclaimed chef Grégoire Berger has made a name for himself once more on the world stage in recent months. In a succession of honours, chef Grégoire scooped The Pro Chef Middle East “Chef of the Year” title, before becoming the only full-time, Dubai-based chef to be named in the Best Chef Awards 2019 – coming in at 49. Here, he reflects on an incredibly successful 12 months and reveals what’s in store at Ossiano in the coming year.
Of all your career highlights to date, which are you most proud of?
Being listed amongst the top 50 chefs at the Best Chef Awards 2019 takes things to a whole new level. It is a fantastic honour as it is an exceptional and truly international awards process. With something like this you don’t just compete with regional peers; you are thrown into the ring with all of the world’s greatest culinary stars. It also serves as an amazing opportunity to meet, and be inspired by, the world’s best chefs – such as chef David Muñoz, the creative force behind Madrid’s three Michelin star restaurant DiverXO, and chef Björn Frantzén from Stockholm’s Frantzén/Lindeberg. I was also very honoured to win the the ‘Fol-LOVERS’ award for the second year running.
What advice would you give to chefs looking to emulate your success during their careers?
Learn the basics from the best, because that’s the foundation of your career. Training is very important. In my kitchen, I have 11 different nationalities and I make sure that every individual knows the basics. I am very proud of my team — they are very strong, passionate, and hard working. That is the key to success, and to me, Dubai sets a high benchmark; people are very hard working here.
Tell us about some of the standout dishes on the menu at Ossiano currently…
I am always looking for the visual aspect to define the taste in my dishes. A favourite – both with myself and the diners – is the croque monsieur, a ham sandwich revisited made with veal ham. It is served in the shape of a clock with the time going backwards in order to take diners on a path of nostalgia – we are inviting guests to go back through time. The veal ham is from Italy and it really is extraordinary. Then there’s the “Candle,” which looks like a real table accessory – we even light it! But then we slice through it and you realise that there is foie gras inside and the ‘candle wax’ is made from the fat of the foie gras.
Are there any ingredients you’re particularly enjoying working with at the moment?
Kumquats from South Africa. They are wonderfully fragrant and are the perfect accompaniment with the foie gras. They are also great for desserts as they have a good balance between bitterness and sweetness. My fondness for hibiscus is also well known and we concoct a variety of hibiscus infusions at Ossiano. We don’t use red wine in our cooking, so we use the tannic part of the hibiscus to create a flavour profile of wine. One of our typical welcome drinks is made with white tea and hibiscus which purifies the system, cleans the palate and prepares you for the meal.
How do you seek to minimise waste and ensure sustainability throughout the restaurant?
My focus is on the sustainable use of ingredients and working to prevent food waste. I aim to use all parts of an ingredient, and always try to use seasonal produce, along with ethical ingredients. We recently introduced set menus with the option of four, five or seven courses. This has also helped us to achieve our goal of less waste, as there is no longer an a la carte menu.
Where/who do you look to for culinary inspiration for new dishes?
Everything. Architecture, poetry, the aquarium at Ossiano, colours, shapes, textures, music – I love rap music. I compare one of my favourite rap artists, Furax Barbarossa, to a three Michelin star chef because the more you listen to one of his songs, the more you understand what he is saying and the more you realise how perfectly it is made – there are layers upon layers in his compositions and it’s only after you’ve heard one 50 times that you realise how powerful it is! His music is very personal and he doesn’t follow any rules; that’s because with real art there are no rules.
What do you believe diners of today looking for?
The change in Dubai is coming from the chefs and the new experiences that the chefs provide. There are a lot of restaurant franchises in Dubai and these do not always have a lot of personality. The homegrown restaurants like Rüya and La Petite Maison provide something different. That’s what people in Dubai are after.
You recently joined forces with fellow French chef, Jean François Piège. Tell us more about the experience…
We showcased the classics from Chef Jean-François Piège’s two Michelin-starred Le Grand Restaurant in Paris, along with a selection of complimentary dishes from Ossiano. It proved to be an exciting two-day collaboration which afforded Dubai diners to experience Chef Piège’s restaurant in France, but in a unique setting and one that did not require an expensive airfare! We both created classic French dishes, which is not our usual style – our dishes are usually modern and cutting-edge.
What were the menu highlights from the evening?
We produced a real two-starred dining experience; classic Paris on a plate. Chef Jean-François Piège devised a menu that is very representative of classic French gastronomy, and I used this as template to devise dishes that fit into his cooking universe. Highlights included some of Chef Piège’s famous dishes such as his sweet bread, as well as a special dish of beetroot cooked in sea lettuce juice served with warmed caviar. We also created a version of Chef Piège’s very famous blancmange which we combined with Ossiano’s classic Pear Genesis dessert to present as a pre-dessert.
As we kick-start 2020, how do you see the world’s culinary landscape developing?
Less and less boundaries. Today, chefs are in collaboration with one another. You can travel the whole world in 18 hours, Dubai is very representative of this; Dubai represents the world – we are at its epicenter. From an Ossiano perspective, we will be involved in more Four Hands dinners as they are an invaluable way to learn from each other and to exchange ideas so that we can all grow as chefs. We will continue with projects that elevate Ossiano to Michelin-level and we are also in the process of finessing our branding in order to further elevate our status on the global market.
Details: To make a reservation at Ossiano, Atlantis The Palm, call +971 4 4262626.