Head Chef at Masterchef, the TV Experience restaurant, Margarita Vaamonde believes in the power of culinary innovation. Here, she speaks to Hotel & Catering News Middle East about the latest at the venue, located in Millennium Place Marina.
What does food mean to you? What was your first memorable culinary experience?
To me, food is not just about nurturing somebody with what you do, but the ultimate expression of art. One of the key elements taught in art school is to look at contrast, texture, movement and in food; we have all those different elements to play with as well.
Professionally, my most memorable experience was meeting 3-star Michelin and “World’s Best Chef” recipient, Chef Pierre Gagnaire, for the first time during my time at Reflets.
What’s your take on Dubai’s culinary scene?
Dubai is one of those places that are considered go-to destinations for amazing food and a variety of options. However, in my opinion, there is also an over saturation of certain trends. As it often happens, when a novel idea becomes successful, more people in the industry try to adapt it, thereby making it inauthentic.
When it comes to dining out, people are becoming more conscious of their spending habits and the expected experiences. Hence, they now opt for authentic meals and restaurants that have proven to be reliable.
How do you think Dubai dining differs from other experiences in Latin and North America?
Geographically, Dubai is the ultimate culinary destination. Its proximity to Europe, Africa and Asia, offers access to several cuisines and varying cooking methods. Restaurants have the privilege of taking advantage of this by being more creative and playful in the kitchen, with a variety of easily accessible ingredients and a multitude of ways to incorporate them.
In that sense, Dubai has a good advantage over North and South America. Although we do have amazing produce such as avocados and tropical fruits, these are also readily available in Dubai.
What are your thoughts on diversity in the culinary industry? How do you feel you have contributed as a woman?
There is a limited number of women holding top positions, as executive or head chefs, and this is evident in the inclusion in regional culinary awards. I’m proud to be one of the few and dedicated to doing my part to make the industry more inclusive with an increased representation of female chefs, especially in regional media.
It’s great to see more and more women in the industry, especially those beginning their journey.
Who are your female role models or sources of inspiration in the industry?
I would say, Dominique Crenn; she’s an amazingly talented 3-star Michelin chef who has paved the way for many women in the industry. Her culinary creations are so beautiful, equivalent to art pieces, and this makes her a huge source of inspiration.
I’m sure many female chefs in the industry will agree and share the same sentiment. The second is Carolina Bazán, the chef of Bistro Ambrosia, an amazing restaurant ranked as one of the top 50 best restaurants in the world. The type of food she makes, the fusions, the way she presents the food and herself – I find it very relatable.
What have your biggest achievements been, over the past six months?
The team and I have been super busy crafting an all-new menu and revamping our signature Mystery Box experience. As things are slowly returning to normal, we saw an opportunity to get people excited about dining out again and we’re excited for everyone to try them. We have put together a new menu, which I personally curated with original dishes and a few from past finalists.
The Mystery Box, available daily, gives guests the opportunity to be adventurous and explore an array of exceptional dishes and flavours across a three, four or five-course menus. It’s such a unique concept, and you have to experience it!
What was your inspiration behind the MasterChef’s new menu? What’s your personal favourite dish and why?
A lot of the inspiration behind the new menu follows my own life experience and journey as a chef. I grew up in Venezuela, where I discovered my love of cooking and drew a big part of my inspiration from. Over the years in the industry, I have incorporated French, Asian and Middle Eastern flavours into my repertoire, which can clearly be seen in this new menu.
It’s difficult to pick a favourite, for obvious reasons, but I have to say, I love the Josper Grilled Pinsa. The dough is a mixture of flours, including rice and soy, making for a base that is lighter than traditional pizzas but still packed with flavour. Topped with shallots, wild mushrooms, mozzarella, and truffle oil, it’s great as a shared dish or main.
What can guests expect from the new menu and revamped Mystery Box experience? How will this set MasterChef apart from the rest of the dining scene?
MasterChef is the perfect place in Dubai for guests to step outside of their comfort zone and try eclectic food, in an approachable way. We use familiar ingredients, in an unconventional way, ensuring we stay true to the brands ethos of ‘from the ordinary to extraordinary’ in order to create recognisable dishes with a MasterChef twist.
For example, our Caesar Salad contains Chorizo crumbs instead of bacon, and it’s topped with Katsobushi, or bonito flakes, which plays with the seafood element, anchovies, in an Asian way.
What would you consider to be your standout dish, which guests would not be able to get anywhere else in Dubai?
Our approach to Beef Picanha is unique, not just in the region, but internationally. Firstly, it’s a cut that is not often seen in restaurants globally, but is extremely popular in South America, especially in Brazilian cuisine where it is prepared churrasco style.
We serve ours steak with chimichurri sauce, using clarified butter, not olive oil, for a more intensely creamy, buttery taste which compliments the Picanha nicely.