Dubai’s newest celebrity chef chats to Liz O’Reilly about humble beginnings, refusing to be sacked, great meat and bringing CUT to The Address Downtown Dubai.
Cooking wasn’t my first choice of career. At 13 or 14 I wanted to be an architect, to build the Empire State building.
My second choice was to be a pastry chef. I was going for an interview and I walked right through some trays of biscuits which had been set on the floor to cool – not a very good beginning.
I got a job through my mother’s friend in a small hotel. After three weeks the chef tried to fire me. My step-father was a bit crazy and I didn’t want to go home so I went to the town bridge planning to jump off. Fortunately the hotel owner sent me to another hotel working with a woman chef who was very nice. After the third year of my apprenticeship a chef from a restaurant in France came to do speciality dishes and I applied to go.
It was Aux Trois Faisans at Dijon and after a year they got a Michelin star. Having got one, I wanted to find a three star and the first one was L’Oustau Baumanier Provence.
That’s really when my life changed in cooking. Raymond Thullier was there and at 73 years old he had the passion of a young person. He liked me because I wasn’t scared of him, I always told him to add a little something to his sauces.
After relocating to the USA I eventually went to work at Ma Maison, in West Hollywood.
My first pay cheque bounced and instead they gave me ten percent of the restaurant! That was in 1975 and at the time the place had terrible food and I remember there were six regular kitchen fridges rather than a proper catering fridge! After about six months it started to get busy, we had some celebrities come in and Gene Kelly was one of the investors. Orson Welles used to come for lunch every day and Billy Wilder was a regular.
Five years later the turn over was $350,000, when I started it was $18,000! I thought it was time I opened my own restaurant and in 1981 I found a place on the Sunset Strip… and when Spago opened in January 1982, it was an instant success.
It was a neighbourhood restaurant with a very small menu including five pizzas with toppings like goat cheese and smoked salmon. The people who had come to Ma Maison came, apart from Orson Welles, he couldn’t get up the steps.
I’ve had the same meat guy since 1975. When I started at Ma Maison there was an old guy who used to give me a hard time and I didn’t get on with him. A young guy came in from Newport Meat Company who was able to supply the same great quality without the attitude and I’ve been using them ever since.
The first Cut was opened in the Beverley Wilshire Hotel, Beverley Hills, and it was very successful with visitors like Tom Cruise and Jayzee.
Some of the meat for the Dubai restaurant will be coming in from LA but there’ll also be senchal beef from Austria for zwiebelrostbraten, mini steak with onions on top, and wiener schnitzel because I like them and my kids like them – I’ll be bringing my kids to Dubai later in the year, when it’s not so hot!