Michelin Star Chef Alfredo Russo was in town last month to showcase his new menu creations for this season, which are based exclusively around Mozzarella cheese, and Catering News was on hand to put them to the taste test.
Vivaldi by Alfredo Russo at the Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel & Towers is an old local favourite, where residents and visitors alike have enjoyed fine Italian food and spectacular views of Dubai Creek for many years, provided by consultant chef Alfredo Russo.
Born in Turin, Italy in 1968, Russo found his passion for cuisine at the tender age of 13, when he helped out in the kitchens of local restaurants, and upon completing hotel management school he apprenticed at three Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy’s Piedmont region.
Today, Russo is world-renowned for his respect for Italian culinary traditions combined with a constant drive for innovation, and is best known for his modern Italian fine dining restaurant Dolce Stil Novo alla Reggia (“Sweet New Style in the Royal Palace”), in the stunning Palace of Venaria, a former 17th century Royal Palace on the outskirts of Turin, since restored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Since opening Dolce Stil Novo alla Reggia in 1990, Russo has racked up the accolades, including a Michelin star for the restaurant within its first three years, and personally being entered into the Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe.
Russo became consultant chef at Vivaldi some 18 months ago, and was in Dubai last month to showcase his seasonal menu, which will run from now until November, designed entirely around Mozzarella cheese.
Russo explains: “Mozzarella is one of the most widely used Italian ingredients, but many people underestimate it as simply a white ball, but in fact every region of Italy has its own shape and style, depending on the milk used. I want to give our customers a chance to see the differences.
“I have also reinterpreted my menus so classic dishes have been reinvented to challenge conceptions, while remaining respectful of their origins.”
Examples of these interpretations include a classic caprese salad, where the cheese has been replaced with a mozzarella flavoured ice cream. Or the mozzarella soup, made by squeezing out the juices of this wet cheese. “The risk is to flavour, it is all about finding the right balance – the balance between my new interpretations and the classics. I must maintain a link to the original. Many customers have never heard of the cheeses I am using let alone my interpretations on the dishes,” says Russo.
The innovative menu includes several varieties of mozzarella, all air freighted to Dubai two to three times per week. “The best way to try mozzarella is on the day it is made and it should never be put in a fridge, but to get it here to Dubai we have no choice. Instead, we fly it in so it arrives as quickly as possible unchanged. After all it’s a fresh and live cheese,” says Russo.
Commenting on the culinary scene in the UAE, Russo says: “Dubai is booming with new construction and new restaurants coming on stream all the time. This is very exciting for tourists and residents, giving them new experiences to discover, but it can be challenging for the chef in keeping ahead of the innovation.
“As one of the richest cities in the world, diners in Dubai are not just seeking the best food but also the best show. Also Dubai is a disconnected city of many towns and each requires its own approach to food in terms of the type of diners attracted,” says Russo.
Speaking of his future plans for the region, Russo says: “My initial concern is to create consistency here. This hotel is one of the oldest in Dubai, it is the real Dubai, and we want to turn it into more of a tourist attraction. But I am also open to new opportunities, should they arise.”
Russo’s restaurant received its Michelin Star in 1993, but Russo is not a man to sing about his accolades, believing customer’s satisfaction is more important than any prize. He says: “My focus is not gaining new awards. If they come in we will celebrate with champagne, but I do not work for them. I work for my customers. The prize is a consequence of the job but the focus is always the client.
“I have seen three star restaurants with unhappy guests, but the goal should always be guest satisfaction,” he says.
Today, Chef Russo is not as hands-on in the kitchen as he would like, with his time occupied by his managerial responsibilities. “I love to cook, to feel and smell the ingredients. I love to create, but then at home I like to make simple food like salads, steaks and pasta.
“But my favourite dish, my signature, is my oyster ice cream. You see, I believe people must be able to recognise the ingredients in their food to thoroughly enjoy and remember it. I like clean and pure tastes, with a limited number of ingredients. The memory of taste is stronger when you recognise what you eat.
“A single taste can link memories, and in my dish there is just one ingredient – the oyster.”