This is the fourth article of a ten-part series featuring interviews with chefs competing in the S.Pellegrino Cooking Cup 2014.
Meet Christopher Graham, a British chef heating up the dining scene in the United Arab Emirates. His passion for fine dining has taken him from Michelin-starred restaurants in London to five-star hotels in Dubai including the Burj Al Arab. Most recently, he opened the BVLGARI hotel as executive sous chef under the consultancy of legendary French chef Alain Ducasse. He's currently chef at the Atlantis The Palm Hotel in Dubai.
Graham will be joining nine other chefs in Venice where they will compete for the title of the Acqua Panna & S.Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year Award at the upcoming S.Pellegrino Cooking Cup 2014. As you may know, this one-of-a-kind event is a special regatta that features a sailing and cooking competition.
Participating chefs come from all over the world and will also compete for the People's Choice Award and the first-ever Critics Choice Award, both sponsored by Acqua Panna. A panel of judges, which includes Gaston Acurio and Helena Rizzo, will examine the dishes and deliver their verdict.
The 14th annual S.Pellegrino Cooking Cup will take place June 13th to 14th. In anticipation of the big event we reached out to Chef Graham. Here's our exclusive interview with this very talented chef:
Describe yourself in three keywords.
Passionate, Outgoing, Focused
How would you define your cooking style?
Modern interpretations of classical ideologies
Which is your signature dish? Can you briefly describe it?
My signature dish is a Mi-Cuit of salmon, cured in beetroot juice, served with a jellied oyster, pickled cucumbers and nasturtium leaves.
Who or what is your main source of inspiration? Why?
Probably the array of talented British chefs around at the moment. People like Jason Atherton, Tom Aitkens and Phil Howard. These people are paving the way in Britain for the next generation of chef, using their experience and talent to nurture the young chefs of today and help Great Britain become a top culinary destination.
Tradition and innovation: which is the relationship with these words in your cuisine?
These words are fundamentally important to me in the way that I cook. Being a chef in these times is all about innovation and how you can use new techniques and different ingredients to get that edge and find something new and different, we are always learning, but you can never forget the classics, these are what built us and the style in which we cook now. You have to pay your respect to tradition.
What is fine dining for you? How do you think the new generations are changing this idea and making it evolve?
For me, fine dining is not just about a fancy table cloth or a crystal wine glass served in a starchy environment. Fine dining is about passion. Passion for top quality ingredients, cooked with love to its full potential at the height of its season. Passion for a top quality wine, served at the perfect time and the perfect temperature. Passion for excellent, attentive service that is personalized and warm but not intrusive.
All of these things come from people who have spent their life gaining knowledge about something they love; this can only be done if you feel passionately about something. This has been influenced a lot by the new generation. It’s now possible for a small restaurant in Japan with one old man making perfect sushi to get 3 stars, or a pub in England to get 2 stars. The new generation seems to concentrate more on the quality of the product than the setting, which is refreshing.
Next big trends related to food and conviviality?
I think a big focus on simple comfort food is coming around. A kind of striped back ,‘back to basics’ approach. I think the focus on organic produce and foraging that has come around in recent years will continue. People are more educated about food these days and are more conscious of the ingredients they eat and they aren’t worried about looking far to find them. I also think informality will continue to become more popular in the restaurant industry and the independent businesses selling artisan food and beverage products such as microbreweries and food stalls will flourish too.
The food you’d happily die eating:
A really good pizza
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
Someone training to be a chef
S.Pellegrino and Food for Soul, the non-profit organisation founded by Lara Gilmore and chef Massimo Bottura, form a new global partnership to drive social and environmental change and promote a sustainable food culture.