FACT caught up with the culinary maestro at Pierre’s Bistro & Bar at the InterContinental Hotel Dubai Festival City.
What is the perfect recipe for launching a restaurant in Dubai?
In Dubai, like anywhere else, you need someone who can embody the venue. When I travel, I like to spend time with my team, eat with them, create real links to understand me, my philosophy, and give this identity to the place. This is maybe our signature. One part of a hotel or standalone restaurant’s success is the staff’s personalities who embody the place. Especially today, when everything is getting more virtual. What is important is the physical presence — you need to feel the people with your senses.
What is your favourite dish at Pierre’s to prepare for guests?
The souffle! Many people are talking about that. We also have pizza, tartare, lobster and morels. We offer something simple and something sophisticated.
What is it about the cuisine at Pierre’s that has resonated so much with Dubai diners?
The service and the welcome. We are realists, it may not be the most ‘bling bling’ place in the city, but it’s quiet and we have good service. We know everybody and it’s important. We will imagine a bespoke menu for you upon request. If guests want a special dish, we can do that. It’s the little additions that count.
Whats the story behind Choix Patisserie and Restaurant par Pierre Gagnaire?
Choix marks the guest’s arrival at the hotel. It’s perfect for a morning coffee and croissant or afternoon tea. After seven years, we want to enhance and refresh the ambience. We also offer the only afternoon tea by a Michelin Star Chef in Dubai.
What is it about the region that attracts you to the Middle East?
The opportunities. We began to work with Fouquet’s at Louvre Abu Dhabi six years ago. It’s iconic in Paris and the company decided to develop the name. In this case, it’s a real French Brasserie. Very elegant, very Parisienne and the chance to be in the Louvre is amazing.
You are seen as a pioneer of fusion cuisine. Can you please describe your creative process?
I don’t like the term fusion. Fusion equates to confusion. I want to tell a story and create. When I began working in 1982, a famous conductor had an interview with a famous newspaper in France. He said he’d eaten in a restaurant in Saint-Étienne, but he didn’t know what he had eaten. All he knew was that it was very good. This is my identity.
My ambition is to create something totally different. For example, when you eat ratatouille, you don’t eat eggplant, tomato, garlic and zucchini. You eat ratatouille. If you have ten chefs who prepare ten ratatouille dishes, they will each translate the chef’s story. That is our mission.
It’s the same when we prepare white pizza. It’s our white pizza, and it’s a little bit different. You must work, you must be honest, and you must love your job. If you don’t put love in your cooking, it’s dead.
In terms of the culinary experience. How does Dubai compare to your restaurants in Paris?
It’s totally different. Here in Dubai, it’s more about the climate and the fact that it’s a new world. It’s not the same way to live and attitudes are different. Following covid, we were surprised that the restaurant was fully-booked, and in September, we have a few ideas to re-connect the place. I can say at this time though, that the prices are very reasonable.
How did your story start?
I have spent a part of my life trying to give meaning to my life by doing a job I haven’t chosen. This was quite complicated to start with, I must admit. On the one hand, I had to deal with one psychoanalytical issue and on the other hand, I was trying to create something through cooking which was more like an experiment than cooking. This is something I can explain today in a few seconds, but it took me 20 years to come to this statement.
When I got my third star, I started to take some distance and realised I didn’t have the right location, which was Saint Etienne. So, I got rid of everything and I started a business in Paris with all the success that you know. And from 1996 to 2004, I finalised my culinary concept as I had reached maturity and over these eight years, I built something solid with a strong team — my team is the cornerstone of my success. Sorry for the analogy, but I am a bit like Jesus with his apostles — the cornerstone of my business is the people I work with (my disciples) with whom I establish a professional and effective relationship. So, when I have to export my cuisine overseas (London was my first project), I could rely on them to export my philosophy elsewhere. My team is why everything has meaning today.
What is your main goal with cooking?
This morning I had two women who said they cried while eating my food at Pierre’s Bistro & Bar. This happens now and then to be honest. The cuisine I propose creates some emotional reactions—my goal is to create emotions—in every plate I’m cooking, this is my battle, this is really my story.
So, are you an artist?
Cooking is not an art per se. Even though a few other chefs and I consider food as art, for most people, cooking is considered as a craft or a skill. Craft is also refined though. When the craftsman is preparing a pepper steak, he will do it according to a formatted recipe, with the same measures and it will always taste the same way. When it comes to me, you could be either amazed or disappointed, and I assert my right to make a mistake.
Speaking about taste, are you adapting your cuisine to the local taste in Dubai?
There is no local taste — especially in Dubai — you can find all types of tastes, French, German, North African, Iranian, American, you name it! When I export my cuisine, I have a different approach. I’m trying to pay tribute to honour a country or a city through my own sensitivity. My aim is not necessarily to please everyone. First, I’m trying to understand what the market has to offer in terms of fresh ingredients and I will try to adapt the format taking into consideration the latest trends of the markets. In recent years the market evolved toward more laid-back channels with less interest in fine dining cuisine. And that’s exactly what Pierre’s Bistro & Bar aims to offer – a relaxed ambience with good-quality food to share. The spirit of sharing, mezze is everywhere in Dubai probably because of the strong influence of the Levantine culture.
What matters more – taste or presentation?
The presentation has always been essential for me but maybe less than before. Plate Presentation is very important because it is an invitation to the greed and it is also a mark of respect. Today, I’m less obsessed with the form and I taste my food more often. However, cuisine is like a magazine. If you want people to read a magazine, you need to have some appealing images and create a stunning layout!
Share with us your tips for preparing the perfect weekend family dinner?
I won’t give you a product/dish but a tip. When you choose to throw a dinner for a large group, you don’t want the cooking preparation to spoil the pleasure of hosting an event or the quality time you spend with your guests.
So, go for something already prepared and that you can warm up without altering the taste — something slow to cook like a stew, a tagine, couscous, a roast leg or a paella. The main goal is to spend time with your loved ones and not slaving over a hot stove.
I remember once I invited chef Alain Chapel, who was like a master to me and I really overwhelmed myself by cooking for hours to please him. In the end, I put so much energy and emotions into it that I tired myself and did not enjoy enough of the time we were meant to be together.