DUBAI: Chef Dennis Koll is something of a gastronomic visionary. The German culinary maestro, currently at the helm of Dubai’s fine dining restaurant Reef and Beef, has captivated diners with his finesse, ambition and unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of taste.
Koll’s passion for cooking has been evident since his early years. “It was very much inevitable that I would become a chef. My mom is a chef herself,” he tells Arab News.
He started his career in Germany, working in Michelin-starred restaurants, then moved to Dubai in 2014, working at several properties within the Jumeirah Group. He joined Reef and Beef earlier this year.
His passion for his work is apparent throughout our conversation. “You have to cook with your soul,” he says. “You have to smell it, feel it, taste it throughout the process to understand what is happening. It’s like making a nice painting — there is no recipe for that.”
Here, Koll discusses exploring new flavors and the importance of quality ingredients, and shares his beef tartare recipe.
When you started out as a professional, what was the most-common mistake you made?
I underestimated the precision and sharpness of our tools. I still have the reminders on my hands.
What’s your top tip for amateur chefs?
The main thing is to cook from the heart. With that said, you should focus on your ingredients too, because if you don’t start off with amazing quality ingredients, you cannot produce amazing quality food. Ingredients are the key to success. But you have to respect them; you have to cook and prepare them with love. One more thing: Don’t be afraid of failure. If you make 10 dishes and nine of them go wrong, it’s fine. The one that goes right will make up for the mistakes.
What ingredients can instantly improve any dish?
Coriander and lime. I once served a coriander ice cream for a starter. People were a little confused. There were so many red flags about doing this, but when they tried it all the red flags vanished. They were like, ‘Wow, this is genius!’ So, it’s not a magic ingredient, but when you eat it, it feels like magic.
When you go out to eat, what’s your favorite dish?
Over the last three years, I frequently find myself eating (the traditional Gulf dish of meat, rice and spices) mandi. I even tried to cook it once in Germany, but I wasn’t happy with it. If I’d served this to someone in the Middle East, then they would have probably laughed at me. There are certain things that are better left to professionals. The culinary world is so complex, you don't have to be perfect at everything. Focus on what you’re good at.
What’s your favorite dish to cook?
Maultasche (a German meat-filled dumpling). My mom makes it better than anyone else in the world. She made it significantly less frequently than (I would have liked) because it needs a lot of work, so I understand, definitely. But every single time she made it, I’d be excited all day at school about what’s for dinner.
What behavior by customers most annoys you?
When they think they know everything better than you. I've had a few encounters where they literally talk you through how to do your job. So, you’re like: ‘OK, well, I’ve been doing it for 17 years, why don’t you put on my chef jacket and show me how it’s done.’ You know, I always try to respond with humor.
As a head chef, what are you like? Are you a disciplinarian? Or are you laid-back?
I’m always supportive. I’m always there for you. I’ll never give you a silly answer unless you’re asking me a silly question. However, during service hours, when we have people paying good money to enjoy high-quality food, there’s no room for error. That’s the time where I switch character to a person more focused on details.
CHEF DENNIS’ BEEF TARTARE
For the main dish:
100g tenderloin beef; 2g chopped capers; 3g chopped shallots; 3g chopped gherkin; 2g chopped parsley; 2g chopped chives; 3g base mayo; 3g lime juice; 3g tabasco; 3g ketchup; 2g Dijon mustard; pinch of salt and black pepper; 3g truffle shavings; 5g truffle mayo; rice cracker
For the base mayo:
200g egg yolk; 30g Dijon mustard; 10g salt; pinch of white pepper; 100ml corn oil
15g lime juice; 40g rice vinegar
1. Cut the beef into small cubes. Place in a salad bowl, add all the ingredients and mix well with a fork. Put the beef mixture into a ring mold and place in the middle of a plate.
2. Gently press down on the beef, remove the ring and cover the beef with the base mayo, truffle mayo, and rice cracker, then drizzle with olive oil.
For base mayo:
Place the egg yolk in a salad bowl, add mustard and whisk. Slowly add the corn oil and continue to whisk until it becomes thick. Add in the rest of the ingredients and whisk well.