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Dubai Chef: Mansour Memarian

Words by Eduan R. Maggo

The director of culinary and food and beverage at Palazzo Versace Dubai talks us through his career so far

Chef Mansour Memarian is recorded in history books as the first Iranian to head a Michelin-starred restaurant, a feat he achieved in 2006 at Jagdhof Glashütte — just eight months after taking over as head chef. His second came at Pavillon in Innsbruck, Austria.

In a career spanning 22 years, Memarian has built on stints at some of the most prestigious hotels and dining establishments in Europe with executive positions at luxury brands in the UAE, including chef de cuisine at the Burj Al Arab’s signature restaurant, Al Mahara.

He now heads all dining operations at Palazzo Versace Dubai as the director of culinary and Food & Beverage. EDGAR steps into the kitchen with him.

What’s your earliest food memory?

The earliest memories are from my childhood. I was maybe four or five years old and every day around five o’clock I was in front of the TV to watch cartoons. My mum would prepare snacks for me — cheese bites, fruits, nuts. Those moments are the most vivid memories related to food.

How did you enter the industry?

I have always dreamed of becoming a chef, and I had to work hard to accomplish it. Back then I was living in Germany and it was difficult to secure a job as a chef at a well-established restaurant. I started as a server, and learned everything possible — from operations and service to stewarding. Then I replaced someone in the kitchen, and everything else is now history.

Professional kitchens are renowned as stressful environments. How do you handle the pressure?

I spent 15 years of my career only in Michelin-starred restaurants, and indeed, an environment like this can be stressful. It’s a harsh world but at the same time a most beautiful one. It allows you to grow and learn, and only the strongest survive in this field.

Chef Mansour

How often do you cook outside the workplace?

Very often; more than I have expected myself to. Cooking is part of my DNA now, and I can’t stay away from it. Feeling more of the love when cooking outside the workplace has changed me as a person, and I love this new person. It’s an effortless way to make your love for your loved ones visible. I know what makes my daughter happy, so I’ll bake her brownies.

What’s the best restaurant you’ve eaten at and what made it memorable?

I have so many memories related to good restaurants around the world. At some, I’ve experienced fantastic service, at others some memorable dishes. There are also places where I had the best conversations or spent moments I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. Picking just one is hard. Every restaurant should enhance the guest’s experience not only by feeding them but by leaving something stamped on their hearts.

Conversely, what would you never eat again?

I love food, and I’m a curious person. I can eat everything that comes my way.

What’s your top life hack for the layman in the kitchen?

Sharpen your knife, learn something new every day and stay true to what defines you as a chef. I can put down on a piece of paper one million life hacks. Just one of them will take you forward in each career — stay passionate and love what you do.

What’s your one indispensable kitchen implement?

My chef’s knife I got 22 years ago. There’s no diamond more precious than this knife.

Beetroot mousse

What new trends are you seeing?

Simplicity and authenticity are the new words in the culinary world, and I hope the stress of being over creative will disappear soon. I completely love this new trend that encourages chefs to go back to basics, focusing more on the taste. People nowadays seek more interaction while dining, and they simply love the chef to prepare some dishes at the table. The old fashion of feeding stories beside food has to come back in this industry.

Who would you invite to your ideal dinner table?

My wife will always fill this seat. She’s the person I love the most spending time with and if there is a new opportunity to do this, why not invite her?

If you could choose your final meal, what would it be?

I’d have the simplest things ever, maybe a grilled piece of meat or fish with butter rice and a green salad. A tasty, ordinary dish is what I always crave.

What would you say is currently the most underrated ingredient?

I’d say the potato. In this region, people think of it as a base of our diet — you add fries or potato purée to almost anything. But it’s more than a base. I’ve experimented in so many recipes with different cooking techniques and I’m always impressed by how versatile this ingredient can be.

Which culinary destination do you find most exciting at the moment?

Beside Dubai, Hong Kong is Asia’s hotspot. The choices there are now limitless, with lots of venues and cuisines that keep foodies interested and entertained.

Is there one thing you’d like to accomplish this season?

We’re working hard at Palazzo Versace Dubai to make the property one of the first fine-dining choices in the UAE. You will all hear from us more often when it comes to food and beverage offerings, and we hope to get things right this season with some exciting new concepts.

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