As the world’s leading masterchefs and gourmands ready for the third Gourmet Abu Dhabi, a 16-day culinary festival starting February 2nd, one of the haute cuisine event’s most high profile stars, three-Michelin-starred Frenchman, Yannick Alléno, has hailed it as a platform to “accentuate the exchange of knowledge and skills with others cultures and chefs.” Alléno, the man the media have dubbed ‘The Superstar Chef With The Rock Star Looks’, is headlining this year’s hallmark Gourmet Abu Dhabi cast of 17 International Masterchefs - with 22 Michelin-stars and three Chefs Hats between them – and celebrity guests as 57 events roll out across 29 host venues in 14 of the emirate’s leading hotels.
Alléno, who will host a four-day Epicurean Promotion at ‘Bord Eau’, Shangri-La, Qaryat Al Beri, from February 3-6th, as well as an already sold-out masterclass at the Armed Forces Officers Club on February 6th, is expected to attract a sizeable portion of the spotlight. Pressure, however, is something the Secretary General of the Academy of Bocuse d'Or Award Winners, one of global gastronomy’s most-revered accolades, is no stranger to.
“My third star results from 22 years of work, passion and a desire to be the best at all times,” said Alléno. “It is a tremendous responsibility and it is now up to me to make it shine. More than ever, I want to progress and perfect my work to offer our clients real consistency and a true gastronomic signature.
“I want to affirm this wish through a cuisine that is forever more rigorous, finer, and more creative, and to pass on this quest for excellence to represent and promote French gastronomy. Even though my culinary identity is French, my opening to the world helps me to understand and approach the cuisine of other cultures.”
With masterchefs working in four different continents Abu Dhabi-bound this month, Alléno stressed the importance of knowledge-sharing as the foundation of fresh, innovative cuisine creation. “We live in a world of globalisation and naturally our cuisine benefits from it,” said the Head Chef of ‘Hotel Le Maurice’, one of the grandest establishments in the French capital. “It has modernised our vision of the work, bringing new materials, cooking styles and ingredients that offer us the opportunity to have no limit in our creativity and to accentuate the exchange of knowledge and skills with others cultures and chefs. A chef is always taking his inspiration from the beauty of the place, the genius of the human and from the culture surrounding him.”
With a cooking methodology based on the principle of absorption, Alléno, who devised the menu at Dubai’s One&Only The Palm, is keen to continue expanding his culinary influencers on his latest trip to the Emirates. “Abu Dhabi is taking a specific path, based on culture and entertainment. Abu Dhabi is working with some of our world’s great designers for their museums; it is a great challenge and I really appreciate this way of making and creating a destination’s identity.”
The UAE’s culinary history, he added, offers an intriguing case-study. “Over the centuries, the Emiratis have brought influences from many continents. The country is now a place where culture and food products cross each other; there is meat from Australia, spices from India, and cooking techniques from Europe. It’s very interesting to discover such a diversity of tastes, flavours and colours. Traditional Emirati dishes are centuries old - untouched and undiscovered, I really appreciate this.”
Despite an apparently internationalist view, Alléno believes a chef’s immediate surroundings, their everyday environment, offer the best inspiration. The patriotic Frenchman is a vocal advocate of locally-sourced produce and wants to see more of his contemporaries source their ingredients from close-to-home suppliers.
“French cuisine was born on the Ile de France and surrounding villages, using local products,” said Alléno, who was bestowed with his country’s National Order of Merit in 2007. “When the first restaurants opened after the French Revolution, chefs used what came from the countryside near Paris, it's time to get back to the future!”
To achieve this, the Parisian - born to bistro-owning parents – has dutifully embarked on a mission: to re-establish his home city’s reputation as the world’s culinary capital. “French cuisine is structured and complete: techniques, creativity, savoir faire, know-how, great products, are among the identity pillars of our cuisine - few cuisines in the world are so complete. This is really important to me because it’s the basis of my culinary identity; I’m a French chef and my contemporary culinary art is coming from the tradition.
“Paris, like every other region of France, has its own, specific culinary cultures. I wanted to highlight this ‘Terroir’ by referencing all the producers of this unique soil. From these products, I started to recreate forgotten dishes in a contemporary culinary way. Cuisine is one of the world’s most interactive and alive arts; each creation is a new discovery, a new experience and in this way, each one of it tells a story.”