x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Up for the Gordon Ramsay challenge

Scott Price, the executive chef at Verre, on the restaurant's new menu and working for the notoriously difficult celebrity chef.

Scott Price developed the menu for Verre's reopening.
Scott Price developed the menu for Verre's reopening.

Scott Price seems remarkably relaxed for one who's taken over a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. He's just been installed as the executive chef at the newly refurbished Verre in the Hilton Dubai Creek, having landed in Dubai five weeks ago. But while workers fiddle with the door fixtures in the restaurant's new private dining area, traipsing back and forth over the carpet's protective plastic sheeting, he remains unflappable, a useful quality in a chef.

"Even the day before we opened it was pretty much a shell," he says nonchalantly, gesturing towards the private dining room where finishing touches are being applied. "I went to bed and the next day the carpet was down and the lights were on. We've got a party of 14 in there tonight." After closing for three months for work to be carried out, Verre reopened at the end of February. The restaurant remains minimalist. Crisp, white cloths cover the tables, sturdy black leather chairs surround them and grey and black carpet lines the floor.

Price had no hand in the refurbishment. Instead, he took charge of the menu, which is modern European in feel and excitingly creative. Starters include foie gras terrine with almond and rhubarb crumble and salmon gravadlax with crispy Loch Fyne oysters and baerii caviar. The main course options include plenty of seafood dishes, butter-poached Scottish lobster, sea bass and scallops among them. There's sea bream with "balsamic glazed watermelon", puddings such as toasted fennel crème brûlée, which Price dished out at the Taste of Dubai festival last weekend, and, for the ultimate foodies, a seven-course tasting menu at Dh615 a head and a chef's table.

"It's a relaunch, so I wanted to open it with a brand new menu," Price says. "I've taken dishes that I want to do and from dishes I've done in the past. And we'll just keep pushing and evolving it." Inspiration comes from Price's stints at Gordon Ramsay restaurants in London. His CV lists Claridges for nearly five years, Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospital Road for four months and work in preparation for the forthcoming and third reopening of Petrus - an enormously significant launch for Ramsay given his acrimonious falling-out with the previous Petrus chef, Marcus Wareing, and in which he has invested £1.8m (Dh9.9 million). It's due to open on Monday after months of delay. Price worked on the menu "right from scratch" with the head chef Sean Burbidge.

"I will miss the opening a bit, yeah," he says wistfully. "We were doing all the tastings for Gordon. It was pretty scary. We had all the head chefs from other [Ramsay] restaurants come over to try 17 dishes, the whole menu." Price mentions two female stars of the Ramsay family who were there: Clare Smyth and Angela Hartnett. "But the feedback was amazing, really great for your confidence." Petrus is one of several Ramsay openings at the moment. "I've only just realised he's opening Maze Melbourne on the same day," says Price. That opening comes on the back of Maze Doha's launch earlier this month. Ramsay, who has been accused of spreading himself too thinly for the recession, has admitted that he was nearly pulled under.

"He said himself he expanded too quickly," says Price. "I've spoken to him and heard things about it. He didn't realise all the costs involved, especially in America." He has since trimmed things down, Price says. Price has much to thank the big man for. Ramsay's annual scholarship programme brought Price down to London from the Lake District, where he was previously a chef in a hotel. He reached the scholarship finals for the UK and Ireland at the age of 21, and, though he didn't win, a year later he joined the Claridges team.

He admits he was terrified of his boss to start with, but apparently is not any more. "It's more respect than terror," Price says He is now 28, still young to be running Verre and the all-day dining restaurant, Glasshouse, which sits across from it. But he's obviously one of the blossoming Ramsay stars, having now been trusted enough to work on book launches and television programmes with the famous chef.

It's a line of work that comes naturally to Price, who grew up in the kitchen. His grandfather was a chef on HMS Belfast during the war, his uncle cooked for the Royal Air Force and his mother is a restaurant manager in the Scottish Borders town of Gretna Green, traditionally the venue for elopements in Britain. "There were a lot of weddings and buffets and all that, so I got chucked in the kitchen washing dishes when I was about 12," Price says happily.

His relative youth means that Price has yet to develop a signature style. "Ask me again in a year," he says. "I'd like to be able to answer that but I just want to find my feet properly and develop my own style. I've been working for Gordon for so long. It's not that you don't have your own style but you learn how to cook in a certain way." These methods apparently don't include shouting in the kitchen. "I don't think you need to, you know?" he says. "It's not always the best way to get the best out of your staff."

Again, he displays a level of calm - and diplomacy - that suggests he'll go far.

Verre, Dubai Hilton Creek, 04 227 1111.