Gastronomy in Egypt... what do the chefs think?
Ahram Online interviews three international chefs in Cairo to see what they think of gastronomy in Egypt and where they like to eat
What is the state of Egyptian gastronomy in hotels versus the street?
Victor Garrido: In terms of hygiene, it is not the strongest point in the city. But if you are willing to take the risk you will enjoy...Hotel staff do apply food safety standards. On variety: hotel chains have the possibilities to get almost whatever a chef needs.
Mark Iten: You are better off in a street restaurant than a hotel. Why? Well, let’s say price-quality comparison is not realised in hotels. Click here to read the rest of Chef Iten’s interview on eating out.
Thierry Papillier: Hotels are certainly more advanced in terms of gastronomy versus the street, partly because most of the hotels employ chefs who tend to be more aware of proper techniques and food trends.
What is your favourite restaurant in Egypt? (other than yours!)
VG: The Fish Market in Alexandria. The food is amazingly fresh...you look for a crystal-clear set of eyes and a fresh sea spray smell. All this is complimented by a tremendous assortment of 10 oriental mezza items!
MI: NONE, home, I guess, and Nicola’s kitchen (not a restaurant, but a good friend). Not one [restaurant] could give me the same meal week after week...If I am lenient: Charwoods in Mohandessin, Allegria in the SODIC Golf Club, Bua Khao in Maadi, Andrea – Pyramids for a good roasted chicken and in Zamalek: La Bodega, Pub 28, Trattoria, Sofietl El Gezirah Kebabgy.
TP: Hana Restaurant in Zamalek: this is a very convivial Korean restaurant with the barbecue in the middle of the table.
Do you have suggestions for gourmet-ifying Egyptian food?
VG:In my personal and humble opinion, three things. High quality products and consistency in the delivery. Think, imagine, combine and eat crazily! Every day I ask my colleagues or staff to stop thinking that if they have something sweet with any spice or chilli that it will cause a headache. In Mexico we eat mango with chili powder when we are just 5 years old - or even younger. Never say No. Taste first! At this moment what comes to my mind is: Canapé of Mini tammeya and lobster medallions with coriander alioli. King crab and konefa rolls, orange and horseradish marmalade…. read more of Chef Garrido’s highly creative suggestions in his full interview.
MI: Well simply, healthy and tasty foods, where the hot food is served hot and cold food cold, appealing and safe food both in the summer and in the winter. For operators, the direction to go is also easy. Keep it simple and tasty at the highest possible quality, make a plate, make a recipe, establish the standard and NEVER EVER compromise on it.
TP: Take the time to do the food properly. Don't rush, and maintain a high standards in hygiene and techniques.
What are the most important skills of a modern-day chef?
VG: Easy and effective communication, computer and accounting skills (average check, sales of the day, revenue, forecasting, …etc. If you guys think you will be away from math… you are so wrong.)
MI: Modern or old (I am old) has no meaning. What matters is: "That I am only as good a chef as my last plate served to a customer or friend." This means great love and dedication for your work - never mind the hours - but only have the customers in mind to fulfil their needs.
TP:Standards. It doesn't sound like a technique, but you will be surprised how many chefs are not consistent. The entire reputation of the chef will be based on consistency of their product, presentation and taste.
What are the newest trends in gastronomy?
VG: I need to update but… I think the following three are the stronger trends: Molecular Gastronomy: Which applies chemical, technological or physical methods to transform the original state or structure of foods. Sous Vide Cooking: Low-temperature cooked items in high vacuum packets to preserve their organoleptic properties. Japanese and Latin cuisine and their methods. Ceviches are becoming popular: Mexican, Peruvian and Jamaican. Simple BBQs, citrus-marinated ceviches, dried chilies and orange and herbs marinades.
MI: Light, healthy, tasty, appealing, fresh foods. In any cuisine those are the basics. If provided, anywhere in the world, it benefits the customer, the restaurant, the city and the country itself.
TP: Local available seasonal product cooked fresh from farm to table.
What is being appreciated around the world and what is being opened here in Egypt?
VG: Fresh seafood: specifically, those that have never being frozen. Organic products
Care about the endangered species such as: Chilean sea bass, dolphins and wild lobsters
Vegetarian options: Now many people are going green. Still a long way to bring innovative and cuisine to Egypt’s restaurant tables that could be accepted 100 per cent.
MI: Quality before Quantity. Egypt is still lacking behind in this aspect. Education, training, availability of quality foods is a must to get any simple operation up and running.
TP:Sushi is very popular around the world and has really caught on here in Egypt. As we can see now in Egypt a lot of sushi restaurants have been opening these last three years and they are all working well.
How much do you rely on molecular gastronomy?
VG: Not that much. I have read some books...It’s a complex gastronomy, which I respect and still unknown to me. It’s also a matter of the market and what your guest demands. For example, in a resort restaurant in Mexico’s tropical zones guests are looking for fresh jumbo-sized, spiced grilled shrimps with a Tequila and citrus butter sauce: a chilled beer Michelada (imagine this and your table just five steps away from the white sand and warm beach water). You don’t need a 24-hour roasted beef with kalamata caviar with reggiano foam, do you?
MI: None whatsoever. I have seen it, I have tasted it. I prefer a good meal with actual foods and natural flavours. Full stop.Trends like that [molecular gastronomy] are not there to stay. Customers maybe want to experiment once in a while, but in the end always prefer a good straightforward meal. Read Mark Iten’s full thoughts on these questions.
TP: This is a skill that requires the right equipment, personnel in the kitchen, training, ingredients and customers. Only a few restaurants around the world can successfully pull this off. Here in Egypt these "new techniques" are not pretty, as they are too avant garde.
What are the newest trends in the restaurant business?
VG: Healthy food. Let’s talk about Fairmont: you will find our Life Style Cuisine Plus Menus available in all the outlets worldwide. From five years or so, the company has been pushing the Culinary division to read and learn more about diseases or complications in the health.
MI: Modernising Egyptian street food to be served in restaurants. Regional-Traditional cuisine in Europe, Asian cuisine keeps on growing in popularity worldwide. Western fast food concepts are losing in popularity - or so I hope. I also believe Michelin star restaurants and chefs will be less popular in the future.
TP: The introduction of technology and how it can be used within the business. Examples include kitchens that are completely paperless. iPads offered as menus with a picture so that the guest can now know how these dishes will look like in advance. Click to read the rest of Chef Papillier's interview.
Who is your favourite chef?
VG: Two chefs: Chef José Socorro, at the Fairmont Acapulco Princess Banquet I had the pleasure to work under as one of his chefs de partie. I learned from him by watching and listening at a distance, while slicing 70 kilos of beef fillet. Everything, based on calculations and numbers made him able to take the best decisions and defend them with knowledge and assuring every banquet service went spectacularly. One day he asked me to count 3600 pieces of shrimp. On TV? Definitely Spanish Chef José Andres...Fresh, simple and innovative food, using Spanish and Latin ingredients presented in funny ways.
MI: By all means, a bit loud and vulgar by times, but a topprofessional, Gordon Ramsay.
TP: Thierry Mark, as I have been working for him and also because he is one of the "out of the box" chefs.