Celebrity chefs Anthony Bourdain, Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert share their predictions on 2014's food and restaurant scene, as well as the region's cuisine.
Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert and co predict the tastes of the future – globally and locally
When a star-studded cast of chefs – think Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, José Andrés and two Daniels (Boulud and Humm) – congregate in one spot, the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, for an annual cookout at the start of a new year, there are two questions at the tip of my tongue. What’s the next big thing on the food and restaurant scene this year? And will we see a stronger Middle Eastern influence?
The consensus, led by the chef-cum-TV star Bourdain, veers towards a renaissance in genuine Mexican cuisine. “Authentic Mexican is what I am noticing,” says Bourdain. “Mexican chefs making Mexican food and updating Mexican food using traditional ingredients, respectful of original cooking techniques and revaluing it. There’s amazing food served at Mexican vineyards, for instance. This notion that Mexican food should be Tex-Mex, cheap and eaten in front of a football game, is not what I am talking about.”
The New York-based French chef Boulud agrees: “Mexico has a lot of the younger generation who went to Spain to study and returned to train as cooks. Plus there’s a lot of Mexican cooks now in the US and Europe.” Boulud has 13 restaurants across the United States, Canada, Singapore and London, one of which, Daniel in New York City, holds three Michelin stars.
But he and Ripert, the French seafood specialist whose restaurant Le Bernardin in New York also boasts three Michelin stars, see Korean food take centre stage this year as well. South American cuisine gets a mention, too – with a focus on Brazilian fare, given the country’s undiscovered and unusual fish produce.
Humm, the unassuming 36-year-old Swiss chef whose New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park is the biggest star of all thanks to not just three Michelin stars but also its ranking at number five in the World’s Best Restaurants, sees a strong move towards vegetables as the core ingredient in a dish. “It’s something we have more control over. We know the vegetable farmer. It’s grown in certain ways,” he says. “We don’t know where fish comes from anymore. I am building dishes around the vegetables. It’s not necessarily vegetarian but it is the main component – I would still use beef juices, for instance.”
Interestingly enough, this exact idea is echoed by the new Table 9 chef-patron Darren Velvick. He is a big fan of Humm, having eaten in his restaurant, so it looks like this global prediction will also be tried out in Dubai.
The success of chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi, whose wholesome deli-style Middle Eastern dishes in London have elevated the region’s cuisine, has brought the attention of high-end chefs looking our way for inspiration.
Bourdain, for one, is filming in Iran this year for his next series of CNN’s Parts Unknown, while his confidant Ripert is also looking to visit for a magazine feature.
Lebanon is also on the cards for Bourdain’s television show, given his huge affinity with the country. “Any opportunity to return to Lebanon is always a joy. I love the country, Beirut in particular,” he says. “Heartbreaking, beautiful, delicious, awesome place. It’s my favourite Middle Eastern cuisine.”
Another Boulud restaurant concept, Boulud Sud (the one he would happily export to the UAE, he says), features many Middle Eastern and North African dishes. “I love Middle Eastern food. It doesn’t always look pretty but it’s tasty. Kibbeh, brique, squab. Very fragrant, so good. Lebanese and Moroccan food is well recognised, whereas there’s room for development with Algerian and Tunisian dishes,” says Boulud.
But what about Dubai’s restaurant scene? Bourdain has been vocal in his books and shows that the emirate is heavily reliant on celebrity chefs and imported brands, but at the same time, he sees promise: we’re experiencing a sea change with more locally developed restaurants opening here and Emirati cuisine coming out of hiding. “The massive workforce in Dubai is bringing with it interesting food and geographically there are a lot of influences,” he says. “Dubai’s potential to me is much like New York’s. Its people are an asset, not a liability.”
He should return to see for himself.
• The next annual Cayman Cookout at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman runs from January 15 to 19, 2015, with ticket packages starting from US$1,200 (Dh4,404). Visit www.caymancookout.com