Frédéric Vardon: a Dubai home from home
His CV reads like a who’s who of modern French cuisine. Frédéric Vardon has worked beneath and alongside the likes of Alain Dutournier, Alain Chapel and Alain Ducasse, experience which he used to the fullest effect when he opened Le 39V Restaurant on George V Avenue, Paris, which was awarded its first Michelin star within two years of opening. He’s also behind the highly successful Zinc chain of restaurants, of which there are now four across France.
Located in Wafi Mall, La Residence is his first venture in Dubai and combines all of his expertise in a classic French dining experience. He spoke to ShortList about his culinary journey.
The dish that really made me feel like a chef… was something called la Toque du président Adolphe Clerc that I cooked when I was working with Michelin-rated three-star French chef Alain Chapel. It was an extravagant, towering pie filled with poultry, rabbit, partridge, truffles, pistachios, amongst other things, and it was incredibly difficult to make. I don’t know any restaurants that serve it now because some of the ingredients are so controversial.
The best dinner I’ve ever had was… a bouillabaisse (Provençal fish stew) that a friend spent two days preparing. It was beautifully arranged but what stayed with me more than the presentation were the flavours. I think eating with friends added to the experience. Socialising around food makes for a memorable meal, no matter what you’re dining on.
The one thing I can’t stand is… pois cassés (split peas). I hate everything about them: the taste, the texture. As a child, my school canteen used to force us to eat them and it totally put me off for life!
Food is important but friends are more so… so my restaurants are all about socialising around simple flavours. My Dubai eatery, La Residence, is not a seafood restaurant but if you’re up for sipping on chilled white grape and digging into shucked oysters on ice and a covetable seafood spread with friends, try the seafood platter. It epitomises the spirit of sharing that I love.
Got unexpected dinner guests arriving in an hour... No problem. Remember, it’s harder to impress with chicken and potatoes than it is with caviar so keep things simple. Eggs slow cooked in butter with a little truffle and served with hot, butter-roasted bread is delicious, as are slow-roasted tomatoes served with salad leaves and topped with fresh bread to absorb the aromatic juices.
When you’re cooking, stick to… three, maximum four, flavours. When you’re plating, colour is important, but know why you have an ingredient in the dish in the first place. I would never add tomatoes to something just because I like red. It’s true that you first eat a dish with your eyes, but at the end of the day your food isn’t a painting – it’s meant for eating. Focus on the flavours, and enjoy it with friends, if you can.
The ingredient that epitomises French cooking… for me it’s piment d’Espelette, a type of pepper that you’ll only find in Espelette in the South West of France. While you can use it when it’s green, I love cooking with it once it’s dry. It develops this deep red colour and is ever so slightly spicy – perfect for seasoning lamb, chicken, fish and vinaigrette.
If you’re looking to impress with something sweet… try your hand at raspberry vacherin. It’s a lush French dessert composed of layers of meringue, freshly whipped cream and raspberries. It looks and tastes incredible.
The thing that’s most impressed me about Dubai so far… is seeing an Emirati man in a traditional kandura sitting down at a restaurant in The Dubai Mall to eat French toast and ice cream at teatime. You’d never see a Frenchman sit down to tea by himself, so I was really impressed.