Patrick Ryan catches up with Eric Turgeon, the chef making waves at Lexington Grill, Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah.
The culinary landscape might be constantly evolving but hard work is still the key to success, according to Eric Turgeon, chef de cuisine at Lexington Grill, Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah.
The Canadian native has travelled across the corners of the globe to hone his craft, taking in locations like Chile, Peru, Argentina and Singapore to keep up-to-date with the latest trends in the industry. He insists that wherever a restaurant has been successful, it’s on the back of hard work and an understanding of the basics of the craft.
“It’s a different world from when I started – you have to be patient and passionate about what you’re doing. You’re going to realise it’s a lot of hard work,” he says.
“The Middle East is one of the best places to be a chef but there’s a lot happening in terms of competition. New hotels, new restaurants, lots of people coming here for food, but when you’re a young chef you need to be patient about food.”
It’s vital that chefs don’t cut corners, Turgeon insists, because the market here in the Middle East is so competitive that you will almost certainly be found out. He urges anyone interested in starting out in the industry to “start with cutting onions and potatoes”.
“Don’t learn too fast, be careful, learn your technique, technique is everything, if you don’t learn your technique you don’t have consistency in your food,” says Turgeon, emphasising that a lot of chefs jump steps when they start.
“What I would suggest is working in different areas of the industry – you can work in a butcher, make pastries or work in an all-day dining – all those outlets will provide opportunities for your development.
“A lot of my chefs want to learn molecular gastronomy. I can teach that, but learn how to cook a chicken first… learn how to cook a steak first, then I will teach you something else that you deserve to do. Right now the answer is no! Just be patient, be stable, work for the same hotel for years and years. In the long term that will be much more helpful for your career.”
Turgeon speaks from a position of authority and experience, some 17 years’ worth in fact, having started out working in a French bistro in his native Canada.
“I didn’t speak English very well because my first language is French so I moved to Alberta on the other side of Canada to work in a French restaurant. I learned a lot there, including how to speak English,” he says.
“I think travelling brings me lots of creativity. Every time I go somewhere I learn something new. I went to Chile, Peru, Argentina; I was in France for a while before going to Germany, Spain and then Cuba to see how to roll a cigar. It all helped with my imagination on how to create food.”
Turgeon has also worked in Abu Dhabi and the Philippines, so it’s fair to say he is well-travelled. Working in a steak house is not a strange experience for Turgeon – in fact he describes it as second nature.
“It’s in my blood, it’s what I used to do at home, my father owned a steak house, I know fine dining but I know about comfort food too – it’s about finding that balance,” Turgeon says.
So where does a chef who has travelled the globe to hone his craft get his influences from?
“Everything inspires me,” he says. “I think me and my team talk about food all the time and my younger staff members give me ideas and help me to think out of the box.
“There’s a lot happening in the chef industry right now, a lot of people have a lot more interest in what we do, it’s moved on from the television cliché of people screaming at you across the kitchen.”
The destination of Ras Al Khaimah has given Turgeon an opportunity to truly stand out from the pack.
“People come here to relax, to have family time with great food. There are a lot of great hotels and restaurants in Dubai but we are the centrepiece here in Ras Al Khaimah,” he says.
“We are only an hour away – you can drive for an hour in Dubai just being stuck in traffic, it’s the same thing. Since we’re not that far away, people sometimes even come out to Ras Al Khaimah just to try the quality of our food.”
So what is it that makes the Lexington Grill in Ras Al Khaimah stand out?
“It’s about communication. We plan months in advance; my plan for the calendar year ahead is done in October,” he says.
“I know I need lamb spare ribs in September for example. I tell the supplier I need this or that, so it is not left to the last minute.”
Turgeon says that while people expect a certain menu – steak tartare, mac and cheese, Caesar salad and crab cakes, to name but a few – it’s his job to keep offering more choice.
“We have to be more adventurous. Right now, I have a crab cake doughnut, why not?” he asks.
“It’s how I promote the menu and turn it around two to three times a year. Once a year I would have a meat tasting to change my brand as well. Last year I had truffle with coffee reduction, people thought it was weird until they ordered it and they loved it. It’s all about what I am going to do next year, it’s about never staying still and how I move forward.”