Meet the world-renowned chef who is baking up a treat in the Middle East

Thomas Keller poses outside his first-ever outpost in Dubai. (Photo supplied)
Updated 18 December 2017
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Meet the world-renowned chef who is baking up a treat in the Middle East

DUBAI: For a chef of Thomas Keller’s caliber — he has multiple restaurants with long-held three Michelin stars, has concepts that are regularly rated among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and he has several James Beard awards under his belt — entering a new market is no light matter. With a successful career spanning more than 40 years behind him, and his name firmly embedded in the culinary world’s hall of fame as one of the greats, he probably does not even need to expand across the globe.
However, he has entered the Middle East region for the first time with not one but three outlets of Bouchon Bakery — one in Dubai and two in Kuwait — and he credits this entirely to Mohammed Al-Shaya, scion of the Al-Shaya retail and F&B empire that brought the franchise here.
“He made me come here. His organization and team gave me a great sense of confidence for us to be able to execute what we do at home, here,” said Keller, who made a whistle-stop trip to the region to officially launch the Dubai outlet recently.
“It’s all about relationships for me. Ours began over three years ago and he’s proven to me that not only is he a wonderful human being, we have a wonderful friendship that’s come out of this, but his business sense and ability to perform is unparalleled.”
Keller’s first encounter with the region was, in fact, nearly 10 years ago, when he had come here on a recce trip, during which time he had advised the authorities that they need to invest in farms and education to develop the culinary scene.
While that side of the industry has definitely evolved, he still feels that it might be a bit too premature to think about bringing some of his other upscale restaurant concepts — like The French Laundry and Per Se or even Bouchon Bistro — to the region.
“Right now, this is the right brand for me to put my foot into the Middle East, without becoming too ambitious,” he explained. “A restaurant is very different, you have to get too many different (fresh) ingredients and that requires a lot of time to source from the right people. It’s too early to start thinking about bringing other concepts here. We have to think about building relationships with suppliers, with the farmers and fishermen.”
Describing Bouchon Bakery as a traditional French boulangerie, Keller states clearly that he is not reinventing the wheel. “I’m trying to create a café that you would find in Paris, or Lyon or Marseilles… that’s always been what Bouchon Bakery is about, it’s what you would find in an urban area in France. And it’s nice to see all the little details we worked on come together here.”
All the Middle East-based locations manage to recreate that authentic French café vibe quite successfully — from the elegant, warm décor complete with bistro chairs, coffered walls and vintage lamps to the fittingly-traditional food.
The menu includes delectable pastries, artisanal breads, a selection of salads and sandwiches and mouthwatering macarons (they do gift boxes too) all freshly made on-site, plus Keller’s custom coffee blend created by Equator Coffees and Teas.
Some tweaks tailored to the region have been made, however.
“We’ve made certain modifications and introduced some things specifically for our Middle East outlets,” he said. “The rosewater Paris-brest or the mango éclair, for example, is very regional for us, but apart from a few items on the menu, most everything else is exactly as it would be at home (in the US).”
The standard of food and service is also on par with his international outlets, something Keller appears to be very happy with. “I’m so proud of the quality of work the team here does — the kitchen team, the baking team, the service team — I think they are doing an extraordinary job,” he says. “I had this meal prepared for me by some of our chefs in Kuwait and I was blown away with the food. The chefs here, they get it.”
This humility and generosity of spirit seems integral to the success story of this no-nonsense chef and astute restaurateur, although he puts it down to hard work and dedication. Passing on most of the credit to the team on the ground, he uses the analogy of a sports team to define his trajectory.
“Being a cook is exactly like being an athlete. We practice and practice, sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don’t — but we always want to come back and do it all again tomorrow. Every athlete is emotionally attached to their job — that’s what cooking is like,” he said. “And the other aspect is having a strong sense of collaboration with the team. I believe in recognizing people for what they’ve achieved, because the more elevated you become in your career, your job becomes that of being a leader, of teaching and mentoring and that’s very important. The chefs in my team are better than I am — if they weren’t, that means I haven’t done a good job.”
If his measures of success are a strong team and “giving guests an experience they will remember,” then do the numerous awards he has garnered mean anything?
“I can’t explain why I’ve got all these awards — I go to work, do my job. Someone wants to give me a medal, I say thank you very much and go back to work,” he said matter-of-factly. “But remember, every award that you receive is for what you did yesterday — what are you doing today and what you are going to do tomorrow, that’s more important. We’re working on today and tomorrow.”


Expert calls for self-examination for early detection of breast cancer

One in every eight women will suffer from breast cancer in her lifetime. (Shutterstock)
Updated 23 October 2018
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Expert calls for self-examination for early detection of breast cancer

  • Women in Saudi Arabia have become more aware of the disease and receive support from their families

JEDDAH: In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Amel Merdad is providing a helpful guide about the disease to women .
Recent statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that more than 1.2 million breast cancer cases are diagnosed worldwide each year. Breast cancer kills more than 500,000 women a year. The disease ranks second in cancer incidence, after lung cancer, worldwide.
One in every eight women will breast cancer in her lifetime.
The evolution of scientific research and increased awareness have contributed significantly to the increase in recovery rates, as a result of early detection of the disease.
Ten percent of breast cancer cases occur as a result of genetic mutations inherited by the generations in a family.
The incidence of breast cancer increases with age, and it usually occurs after age 40. The average age of breast cancer patients in Saudi Arabia is 48 years and it is so worldwide. Dr. Merdad provided her advice on early screening methods. “Periodic self-breast examination helps women to be aware and familiar with their breasts so they can take care of them, being healthy and not only pretty.
Dr. Merdad added that self-breast examination is to be done once a month on the sixth or seventh day of the menstrual cycle from the age of 20 and forward. “In the case of menopause, self-examination takes place on the same date every month,” she said.
She also gave these useful guidelines:

Self testing
Stand in front of the mirror and look at the breasts to check for anything unusual, such as the presence of lumps or differences in the size of the breasts or the presence of swelling or changes in skin or nipple.
Put your hands behind your head to notice in the mirror for any difference in the lower part of your breasts. Put your hands on your waist and bend forward slightly with the pressure of the shoulders and elbows forward to check for any change in the shape or size of the breasts.
Lift your left hand and use three fingers from the right hand to examine the left breast in a circular way from the outer edge of the breast and in the direction of the nipple, focusing on the area between the breast and armpit and area under the armpit.
Repeat this step with your right breast. Press the nipple gently to observe any abnormal discharge. Repeat the previous steps while lying on your back.

Screening
Age 20-40 years old: Self-examination is recommended monthly. Also check with your doctor every three years. An ultrasound is recommended for the breast examination only if necessary.
Age 40-65 years: Self-examination is recommended monthly and check with the doctor every year. Mammograms are indicated once every one to two years for all women.
More than 65 years: Monthly self-examination and check with your doctor annually. Schedule a mammogram every two to five years.
Dr. Merdad said that taking care of a woman psychologically plays an important role in enhancing the cure rate.
“To all women. Protect your health, have a great life, and screen yourselves for breast cancer,” she added.