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Restaurant Industry News speaks with Gregoire Berger, Chef de Cuisine, Ossiano, Atlantis, The Palm

Have you always wanted to be a chef? Where did it all begin?

My experience is somewhat unusual. I knew I liked food just from being around my grandmother. She was a wonderful cook and the food at home was always delicious. She used to make this amazing Rhubarb Tart and I still remember the smell. It’s my oldest memory. Aged 16 I had the opportunity to start as an apprentice at La Closerie de Kerdrain (a gourmet restaurant in Auray created by Martine and Fernand Corfmat) and walking into that kitchen was like experiencing real magic. That’s really when I knew what I wanted to be. The smell, the hum, the vibrations. I just watched them create this art from simple ingredients and it blew my mind.

You have worked in some prestigious restaurants around the world, has this helped to expand your knowledge and culinary techniques?

Yes, absolutely. It’s so important to see how others are doing things and it’s impacted how I run Ossiano greatly. When I worked in the Nordics, I learnt how to take care of my staff. In Japan I learnt how to really build the experience and in the USA, I learnt how to do fine dining in a big restaurant on a big scale.

Whilst at Ossiano you have been the drive behind menu creation. What are some of the dishes you have created and which are you most proud of?

I am always looking for the visual aspect to define the taste in my dishes. A favourite – both with myself and the diners – is the croque monsieur, a ham sandwich revisited made with veal ham. It is served in the shape of a clock with the time going backwards in order to take diners on a path of nostalgia – we are inviting guests to go back through time. The veal ham is from Italy and it really is extraordinary. Then there’s the “Candle,” which looks like a real table accessory – we even light it! But then we slice through it and you realise that there is foie gras inside and the ‘candle wax’ is made from the fat of the foie gras.

I think my proudest dish however would have to be the Kerguelen Island legine (also known as Patagonian toothfish). I won the S. Pellegrino Young Chef competition with this dish and it’s potentially the trickiest I’ve ever created. Comprised of pretty much just fish, leaf and sauce there is nothing to hind behind. It has to be perfect. I’m leaning more and more toward these simple dishes as it’s here that I find the challenge. It’s so hard to make something simple, memorable and tasty and this is where my focus will be for 2020. I’m more mature and I have less to prove. I’m letting my ego take a backseat.

Does Ossiano’s underwater setting have any influence on the menus?

No, we do serve seafood on the menu but this isn’t inspired by the aquarium, it’s just because some dishes need to be done with seafood. In terms of influencer on the diner, less and less so as my food now does most of the talking. I think that some people still come for the aquarium of course, but I’m happy to say that most leave only talking about the food.

What is your favourite dish to cook?

Lasagna. I love good lasagna. Otherwise rhubarb pie. When we were kids, we used to spend our holidays in Normandy at my grandmother’s. There was rhubarb in her garden. When we came back from the beach, my grandmother used to bake cakes for us. Her rhubarb pie is the cake that impressed me the most. Its sourness most of all, but also the rhubarb with its beautiful green color. It is always a very comforting memory for me. This is also how sour tastes began to fascinate me.

Dubai is known to be a luxury hotspot in the world, how do you ensure that the service in your restaurant lives up to the highest standards?

It is true that in this city, you come in daily contact with almost 70 different nationalities… We meet people who travel everywhere in the world. Naturally, because of our classification, we deal with very demanding customers and we must be aware that English, Japanese or French people do not have the same expectations. We try and tackle this by ensuring my Manager Badr and I are always on the same page, we have the same vision about how guests want to feel in Ossiano. We also travel a lot, we read everything so we can constantly benchmark ourselves. I also think there’s a lot to be said for just listening to your guests. For example, last year we got a little excited and kept adding dishes to our experience menu, which increased the length of it to around five hours. Some guests just didn’t factor in spending that much time in Ossiano, so we tweaked the order of service as well as a few ways of working between FOH and BOH and got it down to three.

Is the ethical sourcing of ingredients important to you?

Sustainability is also at the forefront of everything that we do at Ossiano. We are very careful about traceability and only use sustainable varieties of the local and international species. We achieve this by working with local fisherman and small suppliers in various locations, who know and love their seas and have an affinity with that location. For example, our seabass is live caught from a small town in France, and some of our fish are supplied by France Ikejime, a company who use the more humane Japanese ikejime method of processing their fish. The company pride themselves on using small boats and knowing the fisherman who catch their fish. I also always endeavour to use every part of a food item, meaning if it’s not eaten then it’s turned into stock or an Amuse Bouche.

Who are some chefs that have influenced you throughout your career?

I would say that Benoît Violier has certainly influenced me. What he did was genius and I think to reach his level for classic fine dining would be a dream. I’m also a great admirer of two Michelin star chef, Stephane Buron and obviously, Daniel Humm, who is the chef and co-owner of Eleven Madison Park (number one on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants) and The NoMad in New York City. The dishes he creates with simple ingredients and seasonal flavours are astonishing.

Where would be your dream destination to cook?

Back in Brittany, since I left, I’ve never gone back to cook.

2019 was an outstanding year for your career with a variety of awards and sell-out dinners. How do you hope to top this in 2020?

From an Ossiano perspective, we will be involved in more Four Hands dinners as they are an invaluable way to learn from each other and to exchange ideas so that we can all grow as chefs. We will continue with projects that elevate Ossiano to Michelin-level and we are also in the process of finessing our branding in order to further elevate our status on the global market. My manager Badr and I are also in brainstorming mode. Lots of exciting things to come.

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