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Sat 23 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Seasonal sources

The French Rivera's leading Neapolitan chef talks to Caterer about the importance of using seasonal products.

The French Rivera's leading Neapolitan chef talks to Caterer about the importance of using seasonal products.

Philippe Labbé can usually be found in the kitchen of his cliff-top French Rivera restaurant, La Chèvre d'Or, but for a three-day exhibition at the Park Hyatt Dubai's Traiteur restaurant, he took time out from the rigors Riviera life to talk shop about seasonal products.

In terms of quality, Labbe is the best chef on the Rivera.

This is Labbé's first time in Dubai and also the first time he's had to use English in quite a while.

"I'm not so good, you know. I speak mainly French in my kitchens so it's very difficult for me," he explains.

With a lengthy history in some of France's best kitchens, Labbé has acquired a comprehensive knowledge of cuisine and culinary skill over the last two decades working in the industry.

Under the guidance of master chef Alain Ducasse, Labbé honed his talents at Hôtel Plaza-Athénée in Paris for six years before moving on to win his first Michelin star at The Château de Bagnols in early 2001.

Seeking a new challenge, Labbé took the reins at the Château de la Chèvre d'Or's restaurant in the unique hilltop village of Eze on the French Rivera where he is executive chef and has nurtured the restaurant's two Michelin stars since 2003.

Selection First

Quality ingredients are the most essential element in creating any dish and, as part of the famed Ducasse generation, Labbé is well versed in Alain's mantra of ‘60% ingredients and 40% technique'.

"Tradition and innovation are most important for a chef and authentic dishes must be based on fresh produce of the highest quality," he explains.

Labbé mainly employs a classic French repertoire, with some Mediterranean nuances, which he picked up during his time working in the French champagne region.

He puts this subtle blend of tradition and modernity partly down to experience and mainly down to good ingredients and innovative thinking: "You have to use the season. I create dishes based on the best ingredients. You must respect quality - it's my culture," he says.

Labbé works very closely with local producers to source ingredients, which undergo rigorous selection and tasting before he creates a new menu to match each season.

"At the moment we are facing a season with a lot of seafood, also now is the truffle. Coming up is the black truffle from Italy, which is very special," he says.

Labbe uses an eclectic range of specialist ingredients in his cuisine, such as pigeon, rock lobster, langoustine and duck, which are more difficult to source in Dubai than Europe explains Park Hyatt Dubai executive chef Steffen Gube.

"I was really asking for Philippe's signature dishes so we can create something special for our guests and also arrange a learning experience for our resident chefs," Gube comments.

"It took a lot of planning to make sure we were able to get hold of the right ingredients needed for the cuisines," he adds.

Gube spent time among the kitchens of southern France, shaping his knowledge of European cuisine and as a result understands the ingredients well, so creating a menu in harmony was easy for the duo.

"I have worked in the Riveria and I know what is available this time of year so the menu was quite simple to arrange, although sourcing products was a lot harder," Gube admits.

"We're using rock lobster from Australia because bringing it from the Atlantic makes no sense - because of the shipment and also because of the cost. There are always ways to make a compromise," Gube explains.

"As long as it doesn't compromise quality," he adds.

Gube is also an advocate of ‘ingredients first' and is constantly researching the supply of good produce in and out of Dubai.

"We are now getting scallops from Europe, which are excellent and the scallops are still alive upon arrival. This kind of fresh quality product is what we want," he says.

"Its not a challenge to create a menu, the challenge is to provide consistent high quality products. This is a real challenge, especially in Dubai," he confesses.

Labbé brought with him some caviar additions and a selection of truffles for the exhibition.

"I always try to ensure that quality is at the forefront of my cooking. The best ingredients are more than half the battle when it comes to creating exquisite cuisine," he explains.

Gube adds "the quality in Dubai, in my experience, is not quite what you expect to find in Europe so you have to import high quality items that do cost more but at the end of the day our guests are very happy, which is what we're looking for."

Labbé has a unique style, and in terms of quality, is the best chef on the Rivera according to Gube.

"The Rivera is a popular area but chefs - except Alain Ducasse - are not highly recognised in Dubai which is why I wanted to bring Labbe here and introduce him to the great culinary talent we have," says Gube.

European cuisine is one of the most popular exports of most high-end restaurants in Dubai but sometimes the presentation and finishing is not up to scratch comments Gube.

"There's always a classic touch and this is the focus - 100% delivery of excellent dishes in classic style," he says.

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