“I wonder what he’s whippin’ up in the kitchen today,” Waqas muttered to me slightly hesitant due to being gluten intolerant.
Though curious, we both knew we were in good hands.
I worked up an appetite by sitting down for a fun interview first, followed by a welcome drink, and then came the best stuff - kale salads, beef ceviche, burrata on bread for starters, followed by the risotto I had ordered, and the monk fish Waqas had.
Disclaimer: Do not google monk fish because boy does it look unappetizing, and actually somewhat demonic.
Here we go.
AB: What first got you into cooking, or culinary arts?
GR: It was my grandmother. When I was a kid, I spent so much quality time with my maternal grandparents. My grandpa is my hero by the way. I hung around him all the time, looking up to him, admiring him. I wanted to garden like him, and fish like him, and climb mountains like him. It was just such a wonderful childhood. They were truly inspirational. Everything my grandmother touched was so humble, but equally great. She made the best food. It was simple, nothing fancy, but really was a treat for the tastebuds.
AB: You’ve probably mastered dozens of recipes by now considering your long successful career, but is there still a favorite to this day you absolutely love preparing and sharing? Something that’s close to your heart?
GR: I’m going to get all nostalgic and teary eyed here now, but it’s my nana’s rice pudding. It’s absolutely heavenly and still to this day my favorite. It’s baked to perfection, has this rich creamy consistency, and just evokes some really wonderful memories of us eating it together. It’s very comforting when I reminisce about it and just takes me back.
AB: What’s the one ingredient that saves it all - the golden ingredient you absolutely cannot live without?
GR: Lemon! Most people would say salt, or olive oil, but for me it’s lemon. A little zest into a salad, or a little juice drizzled on to a piece of meat, or even lemon fruit salad is really great and truly helps to open up the flavors in the fruit. Yup, lemon works for me every single time.
AB: Sweet or savory?
GR: Savory all the time. I don’t have to end a meal on a dessert note. I’d rather end with an espresso personally speaking.
AB: I’m by no means great in the kitchen. I do have a couple things I make quite well, but I’m not adventurous or confident enough to venture out of my comfort zone. To be honest, I’m not a great cook, so what’s the one piece of advice you’d give a gal like me who works all the time and ends up ordering in?
GR: Plan your time out in the kitchen. Strategize what you want to make and how you’re going to go about making it. It really helps. Tell yourself you have 20 minutes to make a certain dish and stick to that. There’s wonderful recipes out there on the internet, pick something you like and tackle it. Cooking is trial and error. The more you do it, the better you get.
AB: Can everyone cook?
GR: God yes. Everyone can cook. We all to a certain extent know how to eat well and have a certain palette that’s developed over time, so if we put ourselves up to the challenge, we can surely learn to put together the dishes we love.
AB: You’re talking to a person who’s ruined eggs in the past.
GR: My wife has ruined water, so I think you’re ok. It’s all about applying yourself to be able to technically create something you enjoy.
AB: She’s married to you, I think she’ll be fine.
AB: What ingredient don’t you like and feel doesn’t work well.
GR: Truffle oil. It’s too manufactured and contrived. I love fresh truffles as they are, but not the oil. I find it very artificial.
AB: Which chefs have inspired you, and really shaped the chef you’ve become today?
GR: I count myself as incredibly fortunate to have worked with some of the best chefs from around the world. In my opinion it’s like a roll call of who’s who in the culinary world.
Each and every one of them have influenced my craft. You take something away from each person who’s mentored you and incorporate into your personal code.
From Annie Féolde to Roger Vergé, and Shaun Hill to Pierre Chevillard where I started my career, it’s all been one heck of a journey. I’m also a big fan of Daniel Boulud. My style is an amalgamation of the sources I’ve been exposed to. A chef is a result of his/her experiences. Even here in Dubai, I’ll walk out and have a wonderful meal in a humble restaurant nestled away somewhere on a street corner and it will blow me away. I leave wondering and thinking how I can potentially put my own spin on something I may have had for dinner that evening. It’s a fun process that keeps evolving. It’s a great business to be in because the learning never stops.
AB: Do you enjoy eating as much as cooking:
GR: I do have to say that I enjoy cooking more and sharing that than eating what I’ve created myself.
AB: There’s something incredibly filling about the process of cooking in and of itself.
GR: Absolutely! That’s a great way to put it. I like to perform in the kitchen, and dance around and get my hands dirty. For me, it’s exhilarating. The process of making something alone is enough for me. Plus, I’m always trying things along the way.
AB: A cuisine you consider to be the most well rounded and complete?
GR: I love Japanese cuisine because it’s so clean, linear, and relatively healthy. Otherwise I would have to say Thai is my absolute favorite. It offers something for everyone. I can eat Thai food 7 days a week.
AB: What’s your take on food “trends”. Certain ingredients or dishes have their moment and then they fade away. How do you feel about this?
GR: There has to be movements. If you think about what people were eating 20 years ago or how they were eating it, we’ve come a long way. Things have evolved and changed. Likes have turned to dislikes, and vice versa. The art of cooking has always depended on it. You also have to cater to what people want and are liking at a particular time. So I’m actually not opposed to trends, in fact I think if one operates in his/her own bubble, you run the risk of getting left behind. But with that being said, yes, one does wonder how long Kale will continue to be the celebrity green for, although we’re moving on from it. You heard it here first. Part of my job is not to predict trends, but rather be ahead of the curve. Innovation too is key in running a successful restaurant or instigating a movement. Trends have to be considered, but the best chefs put their own spin on it.
AB: What’s the best way to salvage the things going bad in your fridge?
GR: Oh wow… hmmm… I would have to say that eggs would always save the day there. Just turn everything into a frittata, sprinkle some parmesan on top and you’re good to go. It does taste delicious.
AB: What’s the one dish you swear you can make in your sleep without flinching?
GR: Name me a flavor of ice cream?
GR: There you go, chocolate ice cream. There’s a recipe I learned when I was 17 years old and it’s still the recipe I use to this day. I know it like the back of my hand and promise consistency.
AB: How has being a chef impacted your life?
GR: It has taught me how to be flexible, and be highly analytical and quick thinking. In the kitchen you have to act quickly and be on your feet - catering to situations on hand. The process of being a chef, I suppose like many other careers, requires you to constantly learn and adapt, and I love that.
AB: If you had to commit to eating one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
GR: PIZZA! Every. Single. Time.
AB: Good one. Mine is cheeseburgers.
AB: First thing you do in the morning?
GR: I make a cup of English Breakfast tea with a splash of milk.
AB: Last thing you do at night?
GR: Prepare that cup of tea I’m going to make the next morning. I lay out my cup, teabag, etc. and then hit the hay.
AB: Pet peeves?
GR: I can’t bear when someone isn’t paying attention. I struggle with a lackluster approach to anything.
AB: Thanks Gary! Now, let’s eat….