Chef Mauro Colagreco’s restaurant Mirazur in France was recently named as the world’s number one restaurant in the highly acclaimed 50 Best Restaurant Awards. Fresh of the back of his recent win, he’s arrived in Dubai to take over all F&B operations in the One&Only Royal Mirage in Dubai. The Pro Chef Middle East sat down with him to learn more…
You’re originally from Argentina but you have built your career in the gastronomic capital of the world – France. What was it like moving there, were you fearful of taking on the French food scene?
When I started to cook, I really didn’t know anything about French cuisine. In Argentina, the fine dining scene was always focused on French cuisine, but I wasn’t a regular on the fine dining scene. My early education in the culinary arts was far more casual. But then when I started to study at culinary school, when I was 20, I figured out quite quickly that what I was really interested in was learning Western cuisine styles, and for that, I knew I would have to take a leap, and go to Europe. It would have perhaps been easier for me to go to Spain because then I wouldn’t have had to learn a new language. But every great chef, not just French chefs, but Spanish chefs, American chefs, professionals from all over the world – they all spend a period of their career in France. So I decided I needed to go to France. I thought I would be in France for two to four years maximum, but I moved from Argentina in 2000, and its now 20 years later.
And you’re still there. So when you got on stage at 50 Best Restaurants to accept the award for the world’s number one restaurant, you had four flags with you. Why did you decide to carry four flags on stage?
I carried four because it was hard to pick just one. It was very special because these four flags represent a lot of my life. Of course, Argentina, because that’s where I am from, and the French flag, because I trained and have worked there for twenty years. But the Italian flag was there because I have Italian roots, but also for my team too, a large number of the people on my team are Italian. And then the love my life, my wife, is Brazilian. But it was not just about these four particular flags. At Mirazur restaurant, our approach to food is not about nationalities. We don’t believe in borders. We have a global point of view, the idea that we are all in this together.
Mirazur has almost been a family project, in the sense that your wife works front of house at the restaurant. What is that like?
It’s very hard, but it’s great because with family you can build for the future. With family, you share the same philosophy and goals. And certain things are easier because we can build for the long term. So that is extremely important for us. She is also my eyes in the dining room of the restaurant, she manages the administration side, she works a lot. My wife is my most honest critic, so sometimes that’s not easy of course. When we leave the restaurant and we work at home, it’s hard … mixing work with our private life. But its something we work on because it’s important to be able to put work aside.
So you mentioned before that you worked with Bernard Loiseau. What do you think about the Michelin guide? Is it, is it a force for good? Is it a force for bad? Obviously, you have three Michelin stars.
No, I think it’s a very good thing. And I think the gastronomy … The level of the gastronomy in Europe, in general, is so high, that a guide like Michelin is essential for sure. Because it pushes people to increase the quality and to keep innovating. But I think, from my experience on how we live life with Bernard, which was terrible for me. You need to never work for the accolades. You need to work for your guests and for yourself.
You made the decision to come out to Dubai, why work with the One&Only?
I am so proud and happy to be working with the One&Only. Dubai is an interesting city, and for the hotel to still be on top after 20 years in the city is an achievement, it’s a very competitive landscape with new openings every year. I first heard about the project when my friend, [3 Michelin Star French chef] Yannick Alleno said to me, “I want to introduce you Mr Louis from the One&Only because he looking for a celebrity chef for his Celebrities restaurant.” After our chat, I looked into the hotel’s history here in Dubai and the history of Mr Louis as well, and One&Only brand, and I said, “I think the hotel will be a good partner.” It’s really beginning of course, but we believe we are building from a good place. Louis believes in quality, he believes in building real quality for the long term, because that’s what will keep people coming back. He also knows the market extremely well, his focus on quality was what really sealed the decision for us.
Your name is attached to the Dubai restaurant now, which is great. However, you can’t be here all the time. So how do you ensure the standards stay to your high standards even when you’re not here?
Of course, it’s a big challenge and we need to keep always very careful about that. But we started seven months ago, prior to the official launch to work. Part of my team, I have a corporate team who travel a lot, and I think they travelled in the last seven months once or twice a month every month. Sometimes every couple of weeks, to meet the suppliers. Our pastry chef from Mirazur came for a month and a half during the low season in France. And then we worked for six weeks in the soft opening. So during this time, we changed a lot.
But the most important to understand is that Celebrities restaurant is Celebrities, and Mirazur is Mirazur. The important for us is to bring the Mauro Colagreco philosophy of the restaurant and to not make a copy of Mirazur because it will be a bad copy of Mirazur. Because Mirazur is not just me, it’s not just my team. It’s the place, it’s the product, it’s our gardens, it’s a whole experience. And it’s impossible to reproduce Mirazur here. So we believe in building something new, something with its own roots. It’s like a son. It’s not a copy.
At Mirazur you have a zero kilometre philosophy when it comes to your produce. How does that translate to Celebrities in Dubai?
It’s very difficult, but early on in the process, we started to look for the local farmers. I met with a farmer in Dubai just yesterday, and its something we will continue to invest in here, but it’s not something that will happen overnight. It’s something we are trying to bring to the restaurant here, using as many local products as possible, bringing in Arabic flavours but not to create a ‘fusion concept’. We’ve looked at local flavours from spices and dates, but we don’t want to make a copy of what has already existed in the market. We want to build something with its own soul.
Aside from your zero kilometre philosophy, you’re also passionate about eco-friendly methods…
Yes, I think its something that translates to the economy in general. In the F&B industry, we pollute a lot. Restaurants and hotels are some of the worst offenders. We really use a lot of plastic, we source products from all over the globe, the print of carbon is so high. So the big challenge, and that is we need to act really fast, is to encourage local producers, to motivate local producers to increase the production, to consume less and encourage less plastic to be used at every stage.
What do you look for when you are hiring chefs?
I really look for someone who understands the environment, the land, the most important thing is not their experience. The most important is the courage, and the drive and energy to learn. It’s the desire to learn which gives you the capacity of observation that you need, you need to be open-minded, not already stuck in your ways. I have two kids and they’re 10 and six. They’re obviously at school, but its a very different type of learning. At school, they’re trying to tick boxes and make everyone the same.
What first inspired you to get into the food industry?
It was when I was living in Argentina. It was a very new approach in terms of the sauce. It was something that really changed my way of understanding the kitchen because the chef, worked on it a lot. The chef was one of the first to make the sauce with just vegetables, which at the time was a very new idea. Then, later on, my master, the French master, Alain Passard, who has his restaurant in Paris, decided – when I was working for him – to stop using meat and to focus on vegetables. And one of the dishes was this was cooked beetroot dish which was served with balsamic vinegar. It was so simple, but it was so crazy and delicious. So that’s for sure was one of the plate that changed and inspired me, by changing the way I saw vegetables. It was like, treat the vegetables, like meat, like a protein. So that changed for sure. One of the dishes that changed my approach, my vision.
What’s the best meal you have ever eaten?
I think one of the best meals in my life was in 2005 in a restaurant in the Basque country, in Spain. It was a mix of plenty of vegetables and herbs served with the Amazonian flower. And they served that, with a kind of soup, which was very tasty, and it was mixed with a typical Basque cheese, it was so nice. Every spoon was an explosion of flavours. Another dish that I loved was a soup, I don’t know the name of it. But it’s a Chinese soup which I tried in the city of Nanjing in China. It’s a very typical soup for the province, and the sheer quantity of different textures in this soup totally changed my understanding of textures in a dish. You know, because in Europe, when we find three different textures, it’s already impressive. But in this soup, there were around 10 different kinds of textures. I understand the importance of the texture in the Chinese cuisine, but what I realised is that it was something we could bring to our Western style of cuisine at the restaurant, at that point, I started to work more and more with the texture. I realised it was the third dimension on the plate.
And finally, if you could go back and say one thing to your 20-year-old self, what would you say?
Oh. Believe in you. It’s not about working towards accolades, the Michelin Stars or 50 Best Restaurants awards. The most important is to believe in you and to work for you, and of course, to work for your guests.
Chef Mauro Colagreco will return to One&Only Royal Mirage, Dubai on 8 March 2020.