Michelin-starred chef Greg Malouf opens Clé Dubai restaurant amid bevy of celebrities
The stars turned out in force on Friday night for the grand opening of Clé Dubai, Michelin-starred Australian celebrity chef Greg Malouf’s first restaurant in the region – and even by Dubai standards, it wasn’t your average restaurant opening,
Malouf, who is renowned for his contemporary Middle Eastern cuisine, hosted 250 VIPs for dinner, the guest list packed with celebrities.
American socialites Paris Hilton, her sister Nicky and Khloe Kardashian were there, as was Bollywood A-lister Hrithik Roshan. Also in attendance from the Bollywood set were Zayed Khan, Dino Morea and Chunky Pandey. The American hip-hop artist Akon also turned up.
When they weren’t posing for pics, the stars got a glimpse of what Malouf is known for: an innovative, modern take on traditional Middle Eastern dishes.
He served kibbeh nayee (tartare) with salmon instead of the usual beef or lamb. He baked free-range chickens, chickpeas, spinach and raisins wrapped in a Saj bread parcel. His stone-roasted Gulf prawns were marinated with traditional Middle Eastern chermoula and served with pomegranate mayonnaise. His very first dinner service in the Middle East was very much a star-studded success.
To have the kind of success Malouf has had during his career, it takes more than a deep understanding of food. He has patience and ambition and has never strayed from what his heart wants. Even when it failed him. “I’m 55 with a 28-year-old heart,” says the chef.
Malouf, who has a genetic condition that causes his body to make too much cholesterol, had his first heart transplant at the age of 30 and a second transplant 14 years later. Worldwide, only about 5,000 people from 50,000 candidates receive heart transplants annually.
“I’m pretty resilient,” he says. “I’m a lucky guy.”
He also loves to eat. When he learnt he needed a second transplant in 2004, he had to face the possibility that he might not get it. But, while eating one of his favourite meals – a brain sandwich – he got the call that confirmed a new heart was ready for him. “Since then,” says Malouf, “I take really good care of myself. I’ve lost 16 kilograms. I go to the gym now. I want to be well enough to just carry on.”
The chef is excited about his new restaurant, which opens to the public tomorrow and will highlight all his favourite Middle Eastern dishes on a menu that will change seasonally. Among the staples, expect to find his famous bisteeya (sweet-spiced duck pie) and a biryani with quail eggs, aubergine and raita.
“There’s no such thing as documented recipes in Lebanese food,” says Malouf. “It’s all about using your senses. A lot of it is based on childhood memories.”
Malouf’s eagerness to share his food with people in the region is palpable. “For the first time in my life, I’ve been ‘regenerated’,” he says. “You don’t want to be over-cocky about things, but there’s a lot of confidence. It’s been a great journey. There’s still plenty more to discover with Middle Eastern food and that’s what I do – I’m a chef.”
Malouf grew up in Melbourne, the second of three sons born to Lebanese parents. His childhood is filled with memories of his mum and aunts cooking Lebanese dishes. “My mum’s kitchen was the best – but all Lebanese boys will claim that,” he says, adding that his mum’s cooking inspired him to be a chef, even while she discouraged it. “There’s always an army of women in Lebanese kitchens. I was never allowed to do anything in there. They were always pushing me out.”
At the age of 15, he wrote a note to his father telling him he wanted to be a chef – “I spelt ‘chef’ wrong,” he says, laughing – and left home to spend three months in Sydney working in a Mexican kitchen. When he returned, his parents realised there was no stopping him.
“They were happy I was back,” he says. “They let it go. They said they were happy for me.”
Malouf went to culinary school – the William Angliss Institute in Melbourne – and poured all his effort into it, training in international cuisine in Australia, Italy, France, Belgium, Hong Kong and England. But he knew his calling was Middle Eastern cuisine. Early in his career, he “campaigned to put Middle Eastern food, particularly Lebanese food, on a platform. I wanted to cook Middle Eastern food expressed in the best Western style”.
Malouf was the head chef at the award-winning restaurant MoMo in Melbourne for 11 years before leaving in 2012 to take over the famous Petersham Nurseries in the United Kingdom. He helped the restaurant retain its Michelin star – which was awarded a year earlier – based on his Middle Eastern menu. He’s also written six cookbooks – a seventh is coming soon – and produces his own line of spices.
• Clé Dubai, at Al Fattan Currency House, DIFC, in Dubai, will be open daily from tomorrow from noon to 2am (lunch is served from noon to 3pm; mezze from 3pm to 7pm and dinner from 7pm to 11.30pm). Call 04 352 5150 to book a table