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Recipes for success: Chef Alejandro Castro offers advice and a hearty pilau recipe
Updated 28 November 2021
DUBAI: An Ecuadorian chef might not be the obvious choice to lead a kitchen serving food inspired by the cuisine of former Soviet republics in Asia, but this is Dubai, after all. And if you’d expect to find that weird kind of cultural mix anywhere, it’s here.
Chef Alejandro Castro — who heads up OSH Restaurant in Dubai’s La Mer development — says it came as something of a surprise to him when he was approached by OSH’s then-head chef to work as a sous-chef at the restaurant, which bills itself as serving “a modern twist of Central Asian and contemporary Uzbek cuisine.”
“Before OSH, I was working in a French restaurant in Dubai,” Castro says. “(The head chef of OSH) saw that I had the basics of French fine-dining, and he told me not to worry that I didn’t know Russian or Uzbek food. He just wanted a person who understood high standards in the kitchen.”
A year or so later, Castro was promoted to head chef, and it’s fair to say he’s got a much better understanding of Uzbek food now. Although he admits he’s still not quite perfected the ‘plov’ that is a staple of Uzbek cuisine.
“It takes a lot of training,” he says of the rice-based dish (which he’s provided a recipe for here). “The thing you have to get exactly right is the rice, but that goes through so many different cooking procedures in the same pot that you’ve got to get your timings perfect. We have some plov masters in the restaurant who’ve nailed it, and they’re training me now.”
It’s clear from our conversation just how passionate Castro is about his work.
“The cooking world is so beautiful, so challenging, and so full of opportunities every day,” he says. “I hardly know anyone who’s regretted this career, and even those who have have learned so much that has helped them in whatever other career they’ve taken.”
What’s your go-to dish if you have to cook something quickly for yourself?
It’s a very easy chicken sandwich, done with some grilled pineapple, jalapenos, pickled onions and some spicy mayo. Just mix it up, throw the chicken in the pan, and you’re done. Twenty minutes.
What’s your favorite dish to cook?
Many things. (Laughs.) Probably the one that needs the least preparation and that makes me very happy, and everyone else around me very happy — at least I’ve heard no complaints about it — is a shrimp ceviche. It’s got a lot of vitamin C, so it’s very good after a heavy night. No fats, just some of the natural cholesterol from the shrimps, but a lot of orange and lemon juice. Lots of vitamins from the tomatoes, onions and coriander too. And it’s done in a very short amount of time.
What one ingredient can instantly improve any dish?
It’s unpopular nowadays because of some bad press in the Nineties, but it’s MSG. When you think something lacks flavor, that often means it lacks umami flavor and MSG is basically umami in powder form.
What customer behavior most annoys you?
It’s usually the modifiers. Not just for me, but for most cooks. I understand people have their own tastes and want something done a certain way, but the dishes are designed and tested. They work. When I get a complaint about a modified dish, it’s expected. A modified dish won’t be as good, or as thoroughly thought-out, as an original. At the end of the day, though, the guests are our bosses.
What’s the worst mistake you ever made in a kitchen?
Nothing. I’m perfect. (Laughs.) No… One of the biggest ones was when I was a commis-chef and I had a breakfast shift. My head chef always insisted we shouldn’t use the timer on the oven; we had to remember what’s what and how long it’s been there. I remember putting 80 croissants in the oven and forgetting about them. Once I’d remembered, I opened the oven, a lot of smoke came out and I had 80 perfect pieces of charcoal. It was horrible. I was mortified. I thought I’d be fired that day. But after you have a big mess-up like that, then never again.
What are you like in the kitchen? Are you a shouter? Or are you quite chilled-out?
I’m both. On a normal day I’m quite laidback, I like to have music in the kitchen — my team can also choose the music; something that gets them into the rhythm of working. It’s such a stressful and physically demanding environment, so you need something that pulls you through the day. And I’ve found that, for me, that’s music. And my team know they can approach me with whatever issue they may have. We really get to know each other, and we hang outside of work even. We try to keep a peaceful environment — we joke around a lot — I can probably say I’m the main prankster in the kitchen. I might hide stuff from them, or tell jokes. In terms of discipline, though, they know that when it’s cooking time, it’s cooking time. We’re here for a purpose, and if that purpose isn’t met then we’re not doing our job. So there’s happy time most of the time, but sometimes, when it gets too relaxed, then there’s not-very-happy time. I love my team, but they know that when it’s showtime, it’s showtime.
Chef Alejandro’s Osh Pradznichny with Achichuk salad
INGREDIENTS For the main dish
650 gm lazar or basmati rice
50 gm chickpeas
250 ml sunflower oil
750 gm lamb leg, boneless
250 gm white onion, sliced
850 gm yellow or baby carrot, cut into long pieces
1500 ml water
3 gm cumin seeds
12 gm salt
50 gm yellow raisins
5 quail eggs
For the salad:
500 gm tomato
350 gm red onion
25 ml olive oil
5 gm salt
1 gm pepper
1 gm basil
1. Wash the rice in cool water and soak the chickpeas the night before.
2. Heat oil in a heavy-bottom pot or kazan (traditional Uzbek iron cast pot), until it begins to smoke, then cook the lamb leg in it until brown. Remove the lamb and add the onion. Repeat the process for the carrot. Finally, add the lamb and onions. After five minutes, add water, cumin and salt. Check the seasoning, then add rice. Add the raisins and the chickpeas. Cover and place on medium heat.
3. Hard boil the quail eggs, then peel and halve.
4. Once the rice has absorbed all the liquid, give it a quick mix in the same pot, making sure everything is cooked al dente.
5. Serve on a big sharing platter with the halved quail eggs around the rice.
6. For the salad, slice tomato and onion. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped basil. Serve on the side of the rice.
Salt Bae’s Nusr-et restaurant promises and delivers in Riyadh
Items on the menu like the porterhouse bring Salt Bae himself to the table
As of 2021, the chef has branches in Turkey, Greece, the US, the UK, the UAE, Qatar, and now Saudi Arabia
Updated 25 November 2021
Zaid Khashogji & Rahaf Jambi
RIYADH: When you think about the restaurant Nusr-et, what comes to mind is salt, meat and a great show. And this is what you get when visiting Nusr-et in Riyadh U Walk, an area known for its high-end dining experiences.
Turkish celebrity chef Nusret Gokce, better known as Salt Bae, opened his first restaurant branch in the Kingdom last week and his 28th overall.
Arab News paid a visit to see what he had prepared.
Customers are met with a warm and inviting atmosphere upon entering, with friendly and smiling staff. Walking through and looking around, there are golden, embossed and emblazoned items everywhere. The walls, the furniture, the bar, and even some items on the menu tell you exactly whose restaurant this is.
“It’s marvelous, the food, the show, everything. The guy (Nusret) performs, he’s a phenomenon,” Guillaume Rochette from France told Arab News. “Only he could warrant SR1,000 ($267) a head for one dish, but it’s fantastic. I ordered the ribeye, mashed potato, the Nusr-et signature salad and, of course, the baklava.”
When going to a restaurant famous for its meat, vegetarian dishes would not necessarily be thought of as its forte. But Nusr-et’s signature salad fared well, dressed with walnuts and a balsamic vinaigrette, ticking all the boxes and filling you up just enough to prepare your stomach for the star of the show.
Tender, juicy and rich with fat that flavors the beef, the Wagyu porterhouse steak is the one to order. At a steep price point of SR1,500, the portion size is large and can be shared between two or three people.
Items on the menu like the porterhouse bring Salt Bae himself to the table, where he showcases his knife skills on your steak and, of course, executes his signature salt sprinkle at the end.
Some of the other popular meat dishes include the meat sushi, the meat spaghetti, and the Ottoman steak, with the cook on all prepared to the liking and taste of the customer.
In addition to preparing and seasoning the meat, Gokce also likes to take pictures with diners, which makes for a more special experience.
The name of the restaurant chain is a play on his own name and the word “et," meaning meat in Turkish.
As of 2021, the chef has branches in Turkey, Greece, the US, the UK, the UAE, Qatar, and now Saudi Arabia.
The restaurant has received mixed reviews since it opened in London and divided people on its prices.
Rochette, who co-founded his own hospitality company, said: “The whole key (concept) Nusr-et has achieved here is driving sales by delivering quality. Sure, it’s expensive but it’s quality.”
The atmosphere at Nusr-et is classy during the day, with movie-themed soundtracks like “The Godfather” playing in the background. At this time, you can expect a quieter and more intimate experience before it starts to get busier around 7:00 p.m.
“Saudis like going out late, it’s always more exciting at night,” Rochette said. “It’s not a place you want to be early for, I think you want to enjoy the buzz later on.”
After the lights dim, around 8:30 p.m. and more people have arrived, the place comes alive.
“It was my first time here at the Riyadh branch and it was very enjoyable, very good meat. It’s a great experience everyone should try at least once,” the Frenchman said.
New York’s French chef Daniel Boulud voted world’s best
Updated 23 November 2021
NEW YORK: French chef Daniel Boulud, who has been living in New York for almost 40 years, was named best restaurateur in the world by Les Grandes Tables du Monde on Monday for his flagship restaurant “Daniel.”
The association of 184 top restaurants worldwide said that the Lyon native, who moved to New York in 1982, “embodies, for many North Americans, French gastronomy, or even gastronomy, period.”
Boulud, 66, defines his cuisine as French in its cooking and textures but with American products and flavors. Besides “Daniel,” which has two Michelin stars, in New York, the chef has other restaurants in the United States, Canada, Dubai, Singapore and the Bahamas.
Boulud told AFP after the news broke that this latest in a long list of honors represented a “professional dedication and really a sign of friendship and support from colleagues” in an environment widely seen as extremely competitive and high-pressure.
Like all New Yorkers, Boulud took a big hit in the Covid-19 pandemic that killed at least 34,000 people in his adopted city, which bore the brunt of the first wave of the virus in the United States in early 2020.
Some of his establishments closed, but “Daniel” kept going, setting up a terrace of covered shelters on the sidewalk “with heating in the winter and air conditioning and music in the summer” for die-hard fans.
Emerging from the pandemic, Boulud thinks New York will remain “one of the five most attractive cities in the world” and will always enjoy a prominent place in French gastronomy.
The economic and cultural capital of the United States and a cultural mosaic of 8.5 million inhabitants, New York is home to 183 French restaurateurs, according to the French consulate.
“In love” with New York and now an American citizen, Boulud still boasts of being “the most French of all French chefs in the United States” thanks to a “cuisine which has its French references” but which “never stops innovating.”
The price of one of his “exceptional” dinners runs to about $300 a head including wine and service, according to the restaurateur.
“Customers want to have fun, to splash out on wines, they go out a lot. We see them with a regularity and a loyalty that reassures us,” said Boulud, who is now looking forward to the return of visitors from Asia and Europe.
Riyadh, Dubai celebrate World Week of Italian Cuisine
Updated 22 November 2021
ROME: The Italian embassy in Riyadh is celebrating the World Week of Italian Cuisine from Nov. 22-28 with a series of themed dinners celebrating the country’s famous dishes.
The selected audience includes individuals from the Saudi political, cultural and entrepreneurial scenes, the diplomatic corps in Riyadh and the Italian community living in the Kingdom.
Along with signature Italian dishes, the dinners will feature a display of excerpts from the virtual exhibition “Caruso, Di Stefano, Corelli. The legendary Italian voices.” The project by Italy’s foreign ministry was produced by the Teatro alla Scala Foundation and Museo Teatrale alla Scala in Milan, and directed by Mattia Palma.
It celebrates the 100th anniversary of the death of world famous tenor Enrico Caruso and the birth in the same year of Giuseppe Di Stefano and Franco Corelli, two unforgettable protagonists of the national and international opera scene.
The exhibition can be viewed online on teatroallascala.org and italiana.esteri.it, the portal of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs dedicated to the promotion of Italian culture, creativity and language.
The events will also celebrate Dante Alighieri on the 700th anniversary of the most prominent Italian poet’s death. The “Divine Comedy” author’s prodigious life and work will be highlighted by an installation, which will showcase the key messages of the Florentine poet’s literary immense production that still resonate to this day.
The dinners will all be hosted at the residence of Italian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Roberto Cantone.
They will also feature an exhibition by several Italian companies operating in the Kingdom, such as Montegrappa, Versace, Ferragamo and Etro.
In Dubai, a special cooking class dedicated to authentic Italian food culture — organized by the Italian embassy in cooperation with the Italian Trade Agency and the local General Consulate at La Scuola Italian cooking school at Eataly in Dubai Mall — recorded a significant turnout.
The celebration of traditional, authentic Italian food was held on Nov. 21 and focused on the iconic dish ravioli pummarola and burrata. A question and answer session was also held on the techniques and ingredients used the dishes, before attendees sat down to enjoy traditional Italian aperitivo.
Renowned for its sustainable, traceable and responsible models of consumption and production, the Italian food cultivation industry employs 1.4 million people. Italy has the largest number of certifications of origin of agri-food products in the EU.
The country’s top exported products are olive oil, coffee, pistachios, cheese, wine, pasta, processed vegetables, fish and meat.
Other popular items include free-from products, coffee, juices, dairy products, chocolates and sauces.
“Italy is known across the globe for its unique and top-quality products, and I’m also delighted to see that the Mediterranean diet is also becoming more widely recognized for its health benefits,” said Italian Ambassador to the UAE Nicola Lener.
“Italy has one of the most dynamic and advanced food and beverage industries in the world. This is thanks to our long-standing tradition in production, as well as our focus on cutting-edge technologies in the traceability of products, sustainable manufacturing and environmental protection. In fact, I’m proud to say that Italy is now home to 60,000 organic farms.”
Revolutionary type 2 diabetes pill introduced in Saudi Arabia
GLP-1 RA controls blood sugar through 4 key mechanisms, removing the need for injections
Updated 21 November 2021
JEDDAH: In Saudi Arabia, one in five people are diagnosed with the chronic progressive disease type 2 diabetes. This figure is double the global rate, meaning that the disease represents a serious public health issue for the Kingdom.
If ignored, the disease can cause serious medical complications. The usual treatment for controlling blood sugar is regular insulin injections.
Leading global health company Novo Nordisk recently launched the first-ever oral medicine to control blood sugar for type 2 diabetes patients. It is now used in the Kingdom and across the Arab world.
The announcement was presented in a press conference in Jeddah with the presence of elite international and local endocrinologists, family medicine consultants, media and press representatives, and health specialists.
The pill, GLP-1 RA, is certified by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority. The importance of this revolutionary treatment lies in its pill form. Medical director and quality manager of Novo Nordisk, Motaz Yahya, told Arab News: “The treatment of GLP-1 RA has been there in the market a long time ago in injection form, but our team created this innovative pill to help patients with diabetes to have a normal lifestyle.”
• The Kingdom approves pill form GLP-1 RA type 2 diabetes medication.
• Almost 70 percent of type 2 diabetes patients in the world cannot reach the required levels of control.
• GLP-1 RA pill will help people with type 2 diabetes to control blood sugar and lose weight.
GLP-1 also helps patients in three main areas including controlling high blood sugar rates, reducing body weight and avoiding episodes of hypoglycemia. Like other treatments, it also helps patients control the disease at an early stage.
How does the GLP-1 pill work?
Patients with type 2 diabetes have to learn to live with the disease and control it for their whole lives. One of the panelists at the press conference, Dr. Ashraf Ameer, family medicine consultant and CEO of executive medical services at the International Medical Center, said that GLP-1 RA works in the body through four main mechanisms, describing it as a “qualitative leap” in the world of type 2 diabetes medication.
It is administered once daily, Ameer said. “GLP-1 works through four mechanisms, including preventing the liver from secreting the complex glucagon that is secreted in the blood and causes high sugar levels dramatically.
“The second mechanism works to stimulate the cells of the pancreas, the beta-cells, to secrete an amount of insulin, and when this amount is secreted into the blood circulation, it breaks down all the sugars, thus it helps the first mechanism in lowering the level of sugar in the blood.
“The third mechanism helps to empty the stomach by keeping the food in the stomach for a longer period, giving the patient a feeling of early satiety.
“As for the fourth mechanism, GLP-1 stimulates the satiety centers in the brain, which gives the patient a sense of mental satiety,” Ameer said.
These four mechanisms facilitate the prevention of hypoglycemia. It also aids weight loss, therefore improving insulin resistance in the blood.
“Patients of type 2 diabetes need to reach a good level of awareness about following a healthier lifestyle to be able to control their blood sugar levels. This requires a positive interaction with the disease and a sort of medical commitment,” Ameer said.
According to the latest report by the Saudi Ministry of Health, about 4.3 million adults with diabetes were recorded in the Kingdom, leading to high recorded prevalence rates of type 2 diabetes in about 25 percent of the population. The figure is expected to reach 50 percent by 2030.
Yahya told Arab News that the innovative drug’s clinical trial program was tested on 9,543 adults with type 2 diabetes in the Arab region, but none from the Kingdom. However, he added: “In 2022, clinical studies and trials will be conducted in Saudi Arabia and will include Saudi investigators, doctors and patients from the Kingdom.”