After receiving a culinary education from his idol, Nores made the decision to explore his love for cooking and became enamoured with street food
Had it not been for the intervention of one man then Juan Pablo Rey Nores’ career may have gone in a very different direction. Now the head chef of Gaucho Dubai, it was only at the suggestion of famed Argentinean chef Francis Mallmann that he decided to make the move from the dining room into the kitchen.
Despite always having a passion for gastronomy, Nores spent close to a decade working in a variety of positions in the front of house. Then at the age of 26 he was convinced by Mallmann to finally take his first tentative steps inside the kitchen.
“I started working when I was 16 and I was in all the positions inside the restaurant,” recounts Nores. “I was a food runner, a waiter, a bartender, a barista and then eventually I became a sommelier. But it was when working as head waiter in Francis Mallmann’s restaurant in Buenos Aires that he told me I should cook.
“When someone like Francis tells you this, then it is an opportunity you can’t say no to. So I started to cook with him and develop my skills. He is an icon in Argentina, a true culinary legend and his renowned ‘burnt’ food is to die for. So it was a tremendous honour to work for him and I will never forget what I learned.”
After receiving a culinary education from his idol, Nores then made the decision to further explore his love for cooking. Inspired by his grandmother’s ability to create hugely flavourful dishes with simple ingredients, he became enamoured with street food as travelled to the likes of Brazil, Uruguay and Thailand.
Discovering new techniques and tasting varying local ingredients, Nores returned with his knowledge enhanced and was able to open his first restaurant back home in Argentina. Yet within two years he was persuaded to once again leave the kitchen and this time work as general manager of a hugely popular restaurant in the city of Santa Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
“It was a great opportunity and fortunately I was able to have input in the menu as the head chef was the nephew of the owner and needed some guidance. He was still very young and the menu was huge with more than 90 items, and there were all sorts of influences from Peru, Brazil, Mexico. We even had sushi,” explains Nores.
“But then I had the chance to come to Dubai as my wife got a job with Emirates and my very first interview was with Gaucho. I didn’t speak any English at all and they couldn’t understand why I wanted to work in the kitchen having seen that I had lots of management experience. But I explained that I wanted to work on the line and learn as much as possible.”
For two years Nores was part of the team that helped establish the reputation of Gaucho in Dubai. As his skills in the kitchen improved, so did his English. Inevitably that led to offers and a stint at the Conrad Hotel as a sous chef. But soon he returned to Gaucho and this time it was as head chef.
“There is no deconstructing of ingredients or fancy foams, instead the focus is on top class ingredients that have been expertly seasoned.”
“When I interviewed to return to Gaucho as head chef I was actually feeling a little drained as I had been working 13-14 hour days, with no weekends off. Then I saw that the menu had just been copied and pasted from the UK and I just told them that I wanted to create my own dishes,” says Nores.
“Luckily they agreed and I started the process. First I did the bar menu and now we only have one or two dishes remaining from the UK. Gaucho have shown great confidence in me and now I feel as though I can create Latin American dishes or take influences from other countries, and it will be fine.”
At Gaucho Nores has been able to express himself and is constantly working to improve the menu. Yet with the Argentine at the helm, you should not expect to see molecular gastronomy. There is no deconstructing of ingredients or immersion blending for fancy foams, instead the focus is on top class ingredients that have been expertly seasoned.
As Nores explains: “In fine dining you find lots of techniques and methods to do textures, but in terms of seasoning it comes from the heart. That you cannot teach in a culinary school. That is why my grandmother is such an inspiration from me. For her, the kitchen was always about keeping it simple.”
Nores has the same philosophy and is determined to keep things simple at Gaucho. At the same time though he is also trying to forge an identity for the Dubai branch of the restaurant. He wants to separate the chain from the outlets in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong and is aware the menu must reflect the tastes of those in the Middle East.
Having arrived in Dubai six years ago he now has expert knowledge on local vendors and is working more and more with fresh seafood.
“I love cooking with seafood and creating ceviche’s and main courses,” adds Nores. “We now have three different types of fish in the main courses and an amazing king crab salad. It comes from
Russia and you barely have to do anything with it, just some olive oil and it is amazing.
“In Dubai we get to play around with different types of food and presentation has become very important. People here are more visual so our dishes are different to the UK, they are a little more complex. That has helped us find our soul and now we are continuing to make small transformations for the market.”
Of course when it comes to Gaucho the vast majority of patrons will choose a steak for the main. The restaurant has become renowned for using the very best beef from Argentina and diners will receive an education from the waiting staff on the different cuts and even how the animals were raised.
It is something Nores takes great pride in, and his dedication to learning the art of cooking the perfect steak has seen him recently heading to London in order to work on one of the busiest grills in the capital.
“I was more of a chef than a griller so I went to London in February in order to do some training and really feel the pain,” says a clearly passionate Nores. “In all the other aspects I know what I am doing and even though I know how to grill, there is nothing quite like going to Piccadilly where you have 1,500 guests and you are grilling all the time. I was intense and super good at the same time.
“I wanted to improve on the grill and I certainly suffered for that. But it was only right as I was always told in Argentina that the best meat was exported. And when I arrived in Dubai I knew it was true as I had never tasted a steak quite like it.”
With Nores leading the success of Gaucho in Dubai, there are also plans for the company to expand their presence in the Middle East. And despite being sworn to secrecy, he couldn’t help but provide a small insight into what to expect.
“Sadly I can’t say too much but we will be opening another Gaucho in the Middle East very soon,” confides Nores. “We are also brining our sister restaurant CAU to Dubai very soon. It is a beautiful concept which is more fresh and familiar. That will happen very soon and I can’t wait to continue my journey with Gaucho as it feels like my home.”
WORDS: ADRIAN BACK