We chat with Dubai-based Frenchman Grégoire Berger, who was named the world’s 10th best chef at the prestigious awards last month
Dubai's Grégoire Berger gains top honours at Best Chef Awards
It might be known around the world as a shoppers’ paradise, but Dubai also enjoys a stellar reputation for fine dining, with an enormous selection of restaurants serving food that’s beyond compare. And when it comes to “location, location, location”, few get it as startlingly right as Ossiano in Atlantis The Palm, Dubai.
An enormous dining space, its stunning backdrop is the aquarium that Atlantis is famous for. Unlike some establishments with mesmerising views, Ossiano gets the food right, too. The venue’s French-trained chef de cuisine, Grégoire Berger, was named the world’s 10th best chef at The Best Chef Awards in Poland last month. This is one of the biggest competitions of its kind, judged by a panel of journalists, photographers, masterchefs and bloggers, where 300 international chefs competed for top honours.
To even be nominated for such an award tells us a great deal about Berger, who has been running Ossiano since February 2015. He shares that top 10 space with a number of two- and three-starred Michelin chefs (the legendary guide is yet to reach the UAE, but never say never). To be in such great company, a chef must display extreme individuality, culinary talent and flair – attributes Berger has won multiple awards for in the past. And, get this, he’s only 31 years old.
November is a busy time for Berger and his team at Ossiano, as they join in celebrating Culinary Month at Atlantis. As part of this, the chef is teaming up with two-starred Michelin chef Stéphane Buron to host two gourmet experiences called Four Hands, on November 23 and 24. Before he gets even more insanely busy, then, we caught up with the maestro in Dubai to put a few questions to him and get some insight into what makes the man tick.
Congratulations on winning your recent award – how big a deal is this to you?
It’s been an absolute highlight of my career. Personally, I put 100 per cent into everything I do, and professionally, I am always seeking to challenge myself, to constantly achieve my goals and consistently raise the bar. Therefore, to be recognised for an accolade of this level was most gratifying, to know that my hard work has not gone unnoticed. To be positioned among so many talented chefs whom I really admire, is a dream come true.
Why do you believe you were placed so highly?
The only thing that I can say for sure is that I’m fighting every day to be better. This is something that runs through all aspects of my life, from my work to my home and family.
Apart from being an “underwater” restaurant, what makes Ossiano stand out?
The team continuously works to stay at the front of consumer and culinary trends, to help us lead the way for fine dining in the region. This includes everything from sourcing new products, creating new techniques and providing new experiences for our guests. I tend to try and find the most reliable suppliers, and work with Classic Fine Foods to import them into Dubai. We source our truffles from Gaillard in France, the olive oil comes from Xavier Alazard in Les Baux, Provençe, and we get the most amazing asparagus from Sylvain Erhardt, which harvests just 30 tonnes every year in France.
So could you say Ossiano is an “ethical” restaurant?
Sustainability is at the forefront of everything that we do. We are very careful about traceability, and only use sustainable varieties of local and international species. We work with local fisherman and small suppliers in various locations, who know and love the sea. For example, our sea bass is caught off a small town in France, and some of our fish is supplied by France Ikejime – a company that uses the more humane Japanese ikejime method of processing fish. The company prides itself on using small boats and knowing the fisherman who catch their fish. And I also always endeavour to use every part of a food item, meaning if it’s not eaten, then it’s turned into stock or an amuse-bouche.
Isn’t there more to it than food, though? What about standards of service?
I think my relationship with our front-of-house manager, Badr, can also be regarded as a huge differentiator for Ossiano. He is my right hand and responsible for delivering our vision as soon as the food leaves my kitchen. We also never let a day go by without running through the guest feedback from the previous evening. Business and making money is, of course, essential, but customer satisfaction is the cornerstone of our success.
What are the hallmarks of a great chef?
To be inspirational. I would not be where I am today without the influence of many great chefs before me. To my mentors, I have a lot to be thankful for and I try to take this gift I was given and use it with my team. I constantly try to instil passion, creativity and drive.
What do you make of the dining-out scene in Dubai?
It’s still young and in the process of finding its personality. The diversity is fantastic and the culinary scene will soon mature into something well-rounded and confident.
What is your signature dish?
My prized floating island. This is essentially a take on my absolute favourite French dish: the Galette de Sarrasin [Breton-style savoury crêpes].
Any advice you can give to aspiring chefs?
Cook your salmon in oil at 48 degrees; it will have the perfect texture! I am joking, of course. Really, though, I would say it is to be positive, choose a great restaurant to learn in and don’t be afraid to work hard. I’d also say to travel as much as you can, constantly seek new ideas and inspiration and always ask. Asking questions is the best way to accumulate useful information and to continuously progress.
What’s the biggest no-no?
I really don’t like music in the kitchen. Cooking requires focus, and music is disturbing in my eyes. Being late is also a big no-no – timing is a big part of the consistency and rigour. However, my main thing is I have no time for laziness.
What sort of food do you prepare for yourself at home?
Like many chefs, I don’t cook that often when I get home, and, luckily, my wife is an amazing chef. She’s from Morocco, and her signature dish is a delicious Moroccan couscous. If I do cook, it will be a raclette and a good lemon cake. If I am in a hurry, I make pasta with pesto.
Are other people nervous when they cook for you?
Yes. I’m extremely sharp and picky regarding the details of the dish. I just can’t help being unforgiving with food mistakes as I’m a perfectionist at heart.