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Friday, October 9, 2009

Behind-the-scenes in a Michelin-starred chef's kitchen and the kindness of chefs

Being able to spend a night in the restaurant kitchen of a Michelin-starred chef - in this case that of Pierre Gagnaire at Reflets, Dubai - is one of the delights of our job. It wasn't our first time - which was Bacchus at Read's, Mallorca, where we dined at the Chef's Table and Terry did a Master Chef experience with Felix Eschrich - but our night at Reflets was probably one of our most enlightening and educative experiences in a restaurant kitchen. And Terry and I have both spent a lot of time in kitchens. I worked in Sydney cafes to put myself through uni and during high school for pocket money, while Terry did a stint working weekend nights in the kitchen of a friend's Surry Hills bistro to keep himself out of trouble when I went to South America to do my masters. But these were no fine dining restaurants! It would be inconceivable to think that a chef in a Michelin-starred fine-diner would retrieve a salad he'd dropped intentionally on a dirty floor, plopping it back in a bowl to be served to an impatient customer as one drug-crazed cook did in the kitchen of a popular Balmain cafe I onced worked at. What I also find inconceivable, after these Michelin-starred kitchen experiences, are the abusive Ramsay-like tirades of the kind we see on Hell's Kitchen. Because the atmosphere we witnessed in both kitchens was one of calm. No yelling. No screaming. No chaos. Very little confusion. Over the course of 3.5 hours of service at Reflets, we only heard the head chef shout "Allez! Allez!" a couple of times and witnessed a few minor moments from the sous chef, irritated with the energetic expediter who could occasionally be a little too eager to send unfinished plates out. In stark contrast, the chefs were cool and composed, the kitchen quiet. There was still a buzz, a real energy about the place, but it was a positive one. Throughout the night, when not checking plates, watching his team or talking to diners, a patient Pierre Gagnaire took time to explain, answer questions, and even ask us about our work and travels. He brought us delicious morsels of food that we savoured - some foie gras here, lobster ice-cream there - while Head Chef Olivier Biles brought us bottles of water and periodically asked if we were okay. Servers ducked out of range of Terry's camera and apologised for getting in our way, when we were the ones clearly in their's. What struck us is how extraordinarily professional, how kind, and how hospitable chefs of this calibre can be. It's their generosity in such stressful conditions that is most remarkable. But then it really shouldn't be surprising because when we talk to chefs about why they do what they do, mostly they say they do it to give pleasure. And how very pleasing the experience was. I'll let you know when the story's out.

Pictured? That's me chatting to Pierre Gagnaire.

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