DUBAI: Chef Steven Gibbs likes to laugh. Throughout our interview, Gibbs — the executive chef of Scott’s Riyadh — jokes and smiles. But underneath the jovial exterior is a serious mind focused on serving a great experience to customers.
He also likes crab, which makes him an ideal fit to head the Riyadh branch of Scott’s, the hugely successful London-based seafood restaurant.
Gibbs began his career at another London hotspot: the legendary theatre eatery The Ivy, under the restauranter Des McDonald, and has worked at several other high-profile eateries, including Gordon Ramsey’s Verre in Dubai, London’s Soho House, and event production and catering company Urban Caprice, before his move to Riyadh.
Here, Gibbs talks co-cooking, mellowing with age, and burning toast.
Q: What’s your top tip for amateur chefs?
A: If you’re cooking at home, for a dinner party, for instance, I’d advise asking someone to do it with you. It makes it a more enjoyable experience. And if I was cooking for three or four people, I’d definitely want someone helping me.
What was the most common mistake you made when you were starting out?
I think most chefs burn toast a lot. (Laughs.) It’s very common during service. When I worked at The Ivy, we used to have eggs Benedict on the menu and I used to burn the English muffins all the time; I’d put them on the grill and just forget them.
What one ingredient can instantly improve any dish?
I’m going to go back to when my dad used to cook. He was a terrible cook; he was so bad that I developed a phobia about mashed potatoes — I couldn’t eat them until I started working in restaurants. So, salt and butter. That’s all I can say.
What’s the most common issue you find in other restaurants when you go out to eat?
Sometimes, I think people try too hard. Like, if the server is a little shy or unsure, it adds a bit of humanity to the experience. I never criticize — I don’t do reviews; I prefer a casual approach.
When you go out to eat, what’s your favorite cuisine/dish to order? And why?
I don’t have a favorite cuisine – I like all food. But my favorite ingredient is crab, so I’ll say anything with fresh crab and peanuts.
What’s your go-to dish if you have to cook something quickly at home?
I’m getting old so I’m trying to stay in shape and not have carbs. Usually, my go-to dish is a cheese omelet with a fresh tomato salad. You can’t beat that.
What customer behavior most annoys you?
Honestly, people are people. Everyone has different tastes. I think because I’m getting old, I’m never shocked and I don’t get annoyed.
What’s your favorite dish to cook and why?
I’m from the UK, where it can get quite cold. So I like slow cooking meats, like lamb shoulder or beef cheek or short rib. It takes a lot of skill, a lot of precision, and, when it comes out right, it’s really satisfying.
What’s the most difficult dish for you to get right (whether on your current menu or not)?
Probably pastry — cakes, meringues, eclairs... I can do some, but it’s the most difficult thing to get right because it takes more time, more precision… the weight needs to be right, the oven… there are a lot of things that need to come together.
As a head chef, what are you like? Do you shout a lot? Or are you more laid back?
I don’t remember ever losing someone from a kitchen because of me. I think I’m laid back. I never shout at people, but I do like people to be honest in the kitchen.
Chef Steven’s prawns with chilli jam, apple and green papaya salsa
INGREDIENTS (serves four):
For the jam: 1 tblsp corn oil; 1 red onion, roughly chopped; 70g fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped; 60g fresh red chili, roughly chopped; 10g dried red chili or chili flakes; 60g garlic, peeled and crushed; 90g caster or granulated sugar; 40g brown sugar; 400g fresh or tinned tomatoes, blended; 100ml rice wine vinegar; 40ml fish sauce
For the salsa: 1 green apple, core removed and finely chopped; ½ green papaya, green mango or firm orange mango, peeled and finely chopped; 1 long red chili, deseeded, finely chopped; 50g spring onion, finely chopped; 20ml mirin; 20ml rice vinegar; 40ml olive oil
For the prawns: 100ml corn oil; 16 good size prawns, peeled and de-veined (just the mid-section, or the head and tail if preferred); 80g butter, diced; 2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped; a handful of washed, chopped fresh parsley
For the jam: Lightly heat the corn oil in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, and chilies, and cook on a low heat (the ingredients should not change color) for five minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and allow to simmer for about 45 minutes, until the jam is thick and glossy. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for about 15 minutes, then blend to a smooth consistency in a food processor. Leave in the fridge until required.
For the salsa: Mix all the ingredients together. Season with salt and freshly ground white pepper and leave to stand until needed.
For the prawns: Heat a skillet or frying pan. Add the prawns four at a time and cook for one minute on each side, then move to a flat baking sheet. Repeat until all the prawns are cooked. In the same skillet or pan, add the butter and garlic and cook until the butter is bubbling. Add the chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon and pour over the prawns. Spread some chili jam on to the plates, add the prawns and finish with the apple and papaya salsa.