Spoilt for Choix: The multi-Michelin-starred French chef Pierre Gagnaire’s first patisserie in the Middle East
Chef Gagnaire, congratulations on the opening of Choix. Why Dubai?
The hotel had a lot of faith in us getting it right and breathing life into the lobby. We had the perfect team, key competences pastry-wise and it was the perfect opportunity to showcase that. People's food habits have changed over the years and they want good food at a good price and quickly. It's sometimes just about simplicity and it's not that easy to find a good omelette or a good sandwich. Choix has that, but also sucré [sugar] – because everyone loves something sweet.
What's special about Choix's new 3-D signature cake?
It's beautiful, very special indeed. It's really a piece of art. It's 12-layer chocolate and crème-based cake with marzipan. The concept was challenging but we came up with a very ‘Dubai-specific' cake with the sunken orange layer like a sunset against a chocolate skyline of the city. The top layer in gold says ‘Salam Dubai' in Arabic. In all, 45 cakes are being prepared for our VIPs and it takes two people one week to make 10 cakes.
Reflets has been open since 2007 and you visit Dubai three times a year. Is it always purely business or do you enjoy your trips here?
I'm very happy to be here again. The people are warm and there's a very good energy to the city. When we first arrived it was complicated, to be honest, because of the financial crisis. But the arrangement of the hotel and the quality of people we had in place made all the difference. The attitude and honesty of the team was so important because I was not always here. We made it a success together and coming back for the opening of Choix is amazing.
With three Michelin stars to your name, are you still striving professionally?
Oui, but non. When I began working as a chef, it was not my choice [Gagnaire had to take over the running of his father's Michelin-starred restaurant at 27]. It wasn't a job, it was like therapy. After a few years, I began to understand that with food I could reach people – there was an emotional exchange. Through cooking I created relationships, a dialogue with the guests. So, when I opened my first place in London 12 years ago, it was through a real choice. Although it was complicated and we had 55 people in the kitchen, it was an amazing operation. It was a commercial choice and also a case of ‘can I do this?' I received my Michelin stars after working for myself for many, many years and I was always in my kitchen. Today, it's the same job, but very different. My ambition is to keep the dream from here [points to his heart].
Describe your management style in the kitchen.
I'm strict but I'm easy-going. You must respect people and be calm. But if you are too quiet you'll be considered weak.
Do you often get invited to dinner parties or are people somewhat reluctant to cook for you?
Sometimes, yes. I enjoy them but to be honest, I refuse most invitations. Why? Look, this is my life [opens an A4 pad with endless pages of ingredients and menus written neatly in pencil]. This is for London, this one Las Vegas, next page Berlin. This is my life and to do this, I have to fully concentrate. After work, there's not a lot of time left so I like to keep it for my family.
You claim not to have a favourite dish or ingredient, but love seasonal, regional food when you travel. Are you best described as a grazer?
Well, I don't like to eat too much. Twenty years ago, it was different. But the big problem in the kitchen today is that chefs don't sit down to eat. It's so tiring, it's terrible. In the end you don't end up really enjoying and tasting the food. I think it's important to try to eat your food properly because ultimately you are your first critic.
In the original headline to this article it incorrectly called Choix Pierre Gagnaire's first restaurant in the Middle East. This is incorrect and the headline has been changed to reflect that.