Intersect by Lexus head chef, Robert Stevens tells us about foraging for food near the Arctic Circle, cooking for friends and family and the one dish you need to know how to make.
We continue to shine a spotlight on the culinary geniuses that keep the Dubai foodie scene on track. This week we talk to chef Robert Stevens of DIFC's excellent Intersect by Lexus.
We talk culinary inspirations, star dishes and how to stay relevant in a crowded market.
Intersect by Lexus Herb crusted lamb loin with couscous and smoky eggplant.
Which country has had the biggest impact on your culinary career?
Growing up in Finland, a few miles from the Arctic Circle, the country had a huge influence on my relationship with the seasonality of produce and its importance. It was instilled in us from an early age that we need to make the most out of the ingredients available to us. Once the snow cover melted in the spring, it was there when we began to forage for berries, grow baby potatoes in our gardens and fish our rivers. Later in the year, before the arctic conditions returned, we roamed our forests for wild mushrooms and herbs to dry and preserve for the winter months.
What was the first dish you ever made from scratch?
I distinctly remember returning home from a fishing trip to the local river with my pals at the age of ten. Proud of our bountiful catch of European Perch and Baltic Herring, we raced home to prepare our delicacies on an open fire in the back garden. We picked baby potatoes from the ground, washed them and boiled them with sea salt and dill. This was accompanied by a simple salad of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and spring onion (from our garden). Plus a generous helping of dark, sour rye-bread from the Swedish-speaking region of Åland – a small island between Finland and Sweden – with lashings of salted butter.
What's your favourite meal of all time and why?
Ask any chef and they will tell you this is an impossible question. In fact, most of us will tell you that our favourite meal is one that is cooked for us by someone else. However, a recent trip to San Sebastian in Spain’s mountainous Basque country has stayed on my mind as the perfect culinary experience. Every meal we tried – mostly at the vibrant pintxo eateries that pair local wines with bite-sized specialties – was an unforgettable culinary journey.
Roasted cauliflower with almonds, butter and burnt leek.
What challenges and opportunities does Dubai's cosmopolitan clientele present?
It brings many opportunities, mainly for learning about new cuisines and cooking techniques. Combining traditions and tried-and-tested techniques from regions around the world makes for some incredibly delicious food. The main challenge we still face here today is the availability of good quality, seasonal local produce. Although, this is slowly starting to change through the artisanal food movement and great initiatives such as indoor vertical farms.
What's the biggest change you've noticed in the restaurant business since you first started?
These days going to a restaurant is more than just eating a meal, it is an experience. People travel the globe for food experiences and it is our role as chefs to ensure that our customers leave with a memory of something new or extra special. Whether we like it or not, Instagram has become a driver for chefs to become more inventive with their menus, and create dishes that are not only well prepared but also look beautiful.
What's the one dish you'd make to impress someone?
Cooking for friends and family is always a special treat for me as I rarely get the time to prepare meals outside of the restaurant kitchen. I love creating an environment that encourages lively discussion and social interaction, which is why I would always try to incorporate sharing dishes into my menu for my guests at home.
And what dish should the modern man be able to make from scratch and why?
Learning the fundamentals of how to cook pasta would be a great start for anyone wanting to build their skills in the kitchen. Pasta only requires a few ingredients to make, it is versatile and can be prepared for every occasion, and, if made from scratch, it tends to make a great impression.