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INTERVIEW: Jason Atherton opens Marina Social Dubai

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Jason Atherton is a big deal. On a name dropping basis alone he’s worked with the likes of Marco Pierre White, Nico Ladenis and Pierre Koffman. He survived a decade long tenure in one of Gordon Ramsay’s kitchens, before launching his own restaurant group The Social Company with a mission to deformalise fine dining (great food, no stuffiness). Now the Michelin-starred chef is bringing his social skills to Dubai, opening Marina Social at the Intercontinental Dubai Marina on September 3. Here we chart the journey of a man who went from caravan park to celebrity status….

The dish that really made you feel like a chef… I made a Steak Diane when I was 16. It was the first dish I’d made from scratch without being told what to do. I did the flambée bit and thought it was really cool. I was working at a little restaurant called The County Hotel in Skegness, Lincolnshire at the time. It all just worked and the customer said it tasted great. I felt like I’d really achieved something.

The best meal I’ve ever had was… the new tasting menu at Eleven Madison Park in New York City. It’s just on another level, amazing. I absolutely loved it. The chef Daniel Humm makes a three course dessert with ewes milk. You start off with a cheese course, then he makes a pre-dessert with the whey and a dessert with the milk. It was one part of many special memories from that meal. I was blown away.

The one thing I can’t stand… Okra, it’s slimy. People say put it in a chilli, a curry, fry it up. No, I don’t care what you do it never tastes good. All Okra needs to be taken to the moon and blasted.

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Got an unexpected dinner guest arriving in an hour… keep it simple. Prepare a simple salad to start, buy in some good quality handmade pasta, then make a really beautiful sauce with it. Grate fresh cheese over the pasta at the table. For dessert a lemon posset is really simple – nothing more than sugar, cream and lemon juice boiled up and poured into a container to set – serve with whipped Chantilly cream. My goodness, there you go – a three course meal in no time.

Food is important, but friends are more so… I agree, there’s no greater feeling than going to a nice restaurant with friends you are really close to. One of my best friends Paul lives in London and we probably only catch up twice a year because we’re so busy. We go for a simple nice meal, relax, catch up and always have a really special night.

The city that does restaurants the best is… New York. New Yorkers have a; ‘I want what I want, so give it to me,’ attitude, which means if a restaurant is good, it’s good and will be packed out. If it’s not, it’s not and you’re dead in a week. It’s that simple.

Cooking is a necessary life skill… People always say they don’t have time to cook. Shoving something in the microwave and waiting for it to ping is actually a bigger waste of time than giving yourself a necessary life skill. Knowing how to chop an onion properly, how to make a nice salad, a nice dressing – you’re working your brain in a very methodical, relaxed way. I’d sooner do that than watch TV.

The most important thing to me is… Teaching my two daughters the skill of how to cook. They love certain things because they’re young – Pizza! Pasta! So I think if they’re going to eat it, let’s do it properly and make it from scratch. We make fresh pasta, we make a pizza dough. I don’t want them to think all their dinners come from Waitrose.

After a long day in the kitchen… I cook! People think I’m mental for cooking at home, but it’s therapeutic for me. I’m under no time constraints. I’m in my kitchen with all my own utensils. I’ll take my time and when it’s ready it’s ready.

The person who has taught me the most… Gordon (Ramsay). I was with Gordon for ten years on his ascent to greatness and I saw him grow into the superstar he is today and learnt so much from him.

What impresses me most about Dubai… I can get on a plane, fly home and return two months later and a whole new part of the city has sprung up. It’s like they pour water on it and it just grows. Incredible. No other city in the world moves as fast as Dubai.
Marina Social, Intercontinental, Dubai Marina, +971 4 446 6777, www.ihg.com

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