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FOOD & DRINK

Dubai Chef: Alejandro Castro from OSH

Words by Nathan Irvine

Oh my OSH

Uzbekistani restaurant OSH made a splash as soon as it landed in La Mer, Dubai. It's traditional cuisine is full of Middle Eastern flavours that have long delighted diners from all over the UAE. To get an idea of what makes it so popular, we spoke to Ecuadorian head chef Alejandro Castro about his career so far.

What was the first ever dish you made from scratch?

I believe everybody’s first dish is an omelette. I can’t say I remember my first omelette, but I am pretty sure it was dry, a bit burned, over salted and just terrible. I’m happy to say that I've improved a bit since then.

Which country has had the biggest impact on your culinary skills?

If we were talking about food taste, definitely my home country, Ecuador. But skillswise, French cuisine gives you that classical training that aids you in any preparation that you decide. It is usually a good base to start from.

However, in the last few years, I have had the chance to cook Uzbekistani food, which has its own unique methods and styles. I have become passionate about this style of cooking as it is quite versatile and I can bring in various flavours from The Silk Road, and influences from global dishes while still keeping the traditional and authentic Uzbek flavors.

I can also say that I was really surprised by the high level of quality of the fruits and vegetables that we receive at OSH from Uzbekistan. The ingredients are naturally ripened, organic and from a very fertile soil. That too has built my interest in developing Uzbekistani recipes for the local market, but with a modern twist.

Mol Go'shti Osh - one of the signature dishes at OSH

Dubai is a melting pot of different cultures and tastes – what advantages and challenges does this offer to you and your team?

The great thing about having such a big variety of cultures is the amazing diversity of cuisines, flavours and techniques that are on offer. The diversity brings with it a rich history, but also history is being created by the top chefs in the country. It’s a very trendy city in that way.

The not so ideal part of it is that due to a huge demand, a lot of things are imported, and you’ll have a hard time finding certain distinct products. Unfortunately, you don’t get the same taste from an apple that’s been harvested in its peak from the source location having received the right amount of sunlight and nutrients until the perfect picking moment. Instead we get access to the apple that was harvested two weeks before it reached maturity and ripened in a carton box in the dark while in transit to the UAE.

This is a bit of challenge, but one of the silver linings comes from the great farming and produce that is being grown and harvested in the UAE. We get more and more access to great ingredients and that helps us with our jobs.

While there are many ingredients that we source from the UAE, at OSH, we import the majority from Uzbekistan because it is one of our key promises to offer a truly Uzbekistani dining experience. We want each bite to take the diner to that special valley where the ingredient was born.

How has the dining scene changed since you started out?

I believe the so called “fine dining” is fading out and a new type of scene is gaining strength. It is a dining experience that doesn’t discard the “off cuts” and gives you value for your money. The new dining scene also has bigger vegetarian options, with the aim of a higher participation in sustainability. Additionally, nowadays, people are much more informed about what goes on their plate, so it’s hard to get away with mediocre cooking, splitting the real deal dining experience from the imitators.

What are the key ingredients to delivering the perfect brunch for foodies?

What exactly is a foodie? It is very difficult for me to understand who a “foodie” is, because to me a foodie is a person who appreciates all types of dining and tries new things. What we are seeing these days is a foodie defined by their photos on social media. So, from the latter perspective, I don’t think about foodies when creating new dishes or developing menus. I create them for everyone looking to experience delicious taste and the unique emotions tied with a dish that is very much enjoyed.

Also, brunch in the UAE is very different from elsewhere in the world. We don’t offer brunch at OSH at the moment, but it is something that we might start soon. However, we will be looking into creating a brunch in its true form and to offer something very special in the city.

At the same time, I also appreciate the amazing variety offered to diners looking for that distinct “UAE Brunch Experience”. Brunch in the UAE is more of a social experience as opposed to a dining experience.

What star dish should everyone be able to make?

While there are amazing dishes to make, I’d say, let’s go back to basics and start with a proper omelette. If you can learn how to make a good omelette, that can be paired with a bottle of grape you’ll never need to go to a brunch again.

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