The culinary extraordinaire Gary Robinson is the creative mind behind Conde Nast's International Restaurants, including the soon-to-open Vogue Café in The Dubai Mall.
Stylish dining concept is so in Vogue
For a man who started his career sweeping floors and peeling potatoes in a secluded restaurant in Fort William, Scotland, Gary Robinson's success has been nothing short of a culinary roller coaster.
After learning his craft from master chefs in some of England's finest country manors, Robinson eventually returned to Arisaig House in Scotland as head chef. One day, he received a phone call that would change his life.
"It was from a member of Prince Charles's household, asking me to come to St James's Palace in London," he says. "Of course, I initially thought it was a prank."
It turned out to be anything but.
A member of the prince's staff had been a mystery diner at Robinson's restaurant and recommended him for the top job of personal chef to the royal family.
"I did several tests. The first one was to cook for Prince Charles at Highgrove one Friday night. I was shown the larder and all the produce available from the garden and estate, from pheasants from Sandringham to fresh salmon," Robinson says.
"It sounds quite corny but that's just the way the household runs. It's very organic and sustainable, as we know he champions those ethics. There was nothing bought in from Waitrose."
The dishes Robinson prepared were clearly fit for a king. He remained the in-house executive chef from 1998 until 2005.
"Prince Charles is incredibly 'local' in his tastes in the sense he won't necessarily want high Japanese pan-Asian fusion food. He wants food from the land. In hunting season around October or November when pheasant is being shot, he'll be happy to see it on the menu every other day.
"The same with wild mushrooms from Scotland. In season we would collect them in the afternoon and feature them as long as they lasted. Equally with salmon. Once caught, it would last two or three days as we'd keep reinventing it."
It may have been a chef's delight to have such an enthusiastic foodie for a boss, but what of the two teenage boys, Princes William and Harry, who also needed to be fed?
"They were hungry, young, growing men," says Robinson. "They didn't have demands or massive requests. They ate ravenously, ate well and were very appreciative. They were normal boys, very polite."
After seven years with the House of Windsor, Robinson moved to the UAE and opened his first restaurant, Mezzanine in Dubai Marina's Grosvenor House, to critical acclaim before taking on appointments in Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong.
Underscoring his appetite for new challenges, Robinson's latest role will be to oversee the roll-out of Condé Nast's Vogue Cafés internationally, an endeavour that has set him on a new and stylish track.
The food-and-fashion concept launched three weeks ago in Istanbul, and the branded eatery is expected to open in the Level Shoe District of The Dubai Mall in the coming weeks.
"Vogue is the fashion bible," he says. "So we're trying to stay true to its virtues, its iconic presence in the marketplace, and offer something dynamic, fresh, sharp and cutting edge."
Much like the fashion-forward interior of the cafe, Robinson has given thought to matching the menu with the tastes of Vogue's discerning readers.
"The food will be feminine, health conscious and sustainable," he says. "We'll have a classic garden salad with some leaves and herbs sourced locally, for example. The dishes will be on the lighter side and we're avoiding using a lot of heavy creams, butter and eggs. We'll also offer classic pasta but alternative whole-wheat and gluten-free options."
Robinson's take on a Knickerbocker Glory will be in line with the apparel theme - and probably a crowd-pleaser with shoppers craving a low-calorie sugar hit.
"It's quite traditional but we'll layer up the sundae with some ingredients that we hope will make people say: 'Oh, that's a bit different. That's a little bit Vogue,'" he says. "It's new territory for us and we're in the process of developing what we think will be cult classics for the cafe but, importantly, we're thinking about what's in demand and not what's trendy."
Vogue Café in The Dubai Mall is expected to open next month
Fashion Through the Ages is an exhibition of Vogue magazine archived images dating back nearly a century. It is currently showing at the site of the Vogue Café at The Dubai Mall's Level Shoe District.
The photograph display is free and open to the public, and will be on show until April 10. The exhibition's timings coincide with the mall's operating hours: Sundays to Wednesdays 10am to 10pm and Thursdays to Saturdays 10am to 12am.
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