Exclusive: In the kitchen with three Michelin-star chef Heinz Beck
The next time you're in Rome, be sure to drop by La Pergola, the only three-Michelin star restaurant in the ancient city. Led by culinary maestro Heinz Beck, the restaurant is renowned for the chef's signature dishes including the fagotelli carbonara and the delectable and ingenious raspberry 1.1 dessert.
Born in Germany, Beck made his name in Italy. Now, in Dubai to celebrate the third anniversary of his restaurant Social, the master chef sat down exclusively with Buro 24/7 Middle East to talk about real Italian cuisine and the future of fine dining...
Welcome to Dubai. Authentic Italian cuisine is your speciality. Tell us more...
What we do here at Social, is modern Italian contemporary food. Our second restaurant in Dubai, Taste of Italy, is where we make traditional authentic Italian food, just the way you would have it, if you're in Italy. This is important because many people do not understand the concept, especially those who have never been to Italy. They see a restaurant with an Italian flag, an Italian name and they automatically believe that it's authentic but very often it's not Italian at all.
The idea people have of "food" can stem from mass marketing. What do you think of the state of the food industry today?
Obviously, we are what we eat. I've always believed that if you have the right rapport with your food, you will not only be strong physically but also intellectually. You'll be less prone to diseases! For the past 15 years, I've been working with nutritionists, cardiologists and other experts to understand food and its impact. All of my efforts in creating new dishes go into this philosophy, to make food easier to digest, for your health.
Is it a challenge to create culinary works of art that are also good for you?
It definitely is a challenge but I like challenges. If you care for your customers, it's the only way to cook. Dinner doesn't end when you pay the bill. It ends the next morning when you wake up and you find yourself in good shape. There are so many diseases that stem from poor food choices and we have to address this. We'll all become older but what's the point, if you need somebody else to take care of you?
Is the fine dining industry ready to accept an evolution towards healthy eating?
It has to. If it is not ready now, then it must prepare itself because this is the future. When you come to a fine dining restaurant, you still have to eat properly. If fine dining chefs don't embrace this philosophy, then it won't be adopted at other levels of cooking as well. When things change at the top level, then everybody else will follow suit.
You're obviously a master at Italian cuisine, but what other cuisines do you find fascinating?
Japanese. It's actually very similar to Italian food in terms of concept; high quality products, prepared in a way that isn't heavy. These two concepts are very important in Italian cooking. You have to understand that there is Italian food and then there is a lot of Italian-named food, outside of Italy, which is not Italian at all. If you see pink sauce on pasta, then you know that it has nothing to do with Italian food. You will never see this in Italy!
What do you think about Arabic food?
I have friends here, who take me out to eat. Arabic is delicious but I don't really have a favourite dish. To be honest, I don't have enough knowledge of Arabic food to make any kind of comment.
You have restaurants scattered all over the world. Where do you find the time to manage all of them?
It's not that difficult because I have a good system when it comes to nurturing the people that I work with. The people working with me have stayed with me for long periods; once they're in the group, they normally do not leave. Take the head chef Walter, at Social for example, he's been with me for 14 years. My chef in Tokyo has been with me for 16 years. While the one in Rome has been with me for 21 years.
These individuals are very well-trained and more importantly, they believe in what I believe. This is important, especially if you're changing concepts. Two decades ago, everybody believed that if you go into a three-star Michelin restaurant, the meal has to be heavy and very rich but that's not true. Having said all that, my next proper off day is on July 17 and 18.
You often see chefs with different personalities — some scream and shout more than others. What kind of chef are you?
I'm a very democratic person, but I am not in parliament. Nothing is a majority vote because only I decide. I listen to people and they can come to me and talk but in the end there is only one decision-maker and the team has got to understand that. But what they get in return is something to truly believe in and work towards. I trust my kitchen staff because I control them. You have to know that at this level of cooking, there is no trust without control.
How difficult is it to maintain your three Michelin stars at La Pergola?
Everyday it's different and circumstances change. You have to try and control everything, especially your team. You have to instil the mindset that everyone has a part to play in controlling the situation, so that they feel invested in the project, every day.
It's difficult. Imagine having to run the 100m, under nine seconds, every day. Talk to the sprinters, they can tell you just how difficult it is.
You seem to be really focused on your staff...
I am proud of each and every moment that I work alongside my staff. I really do love to work with them. In fact, I arrived here the other night from Rome and before I went to my hotel room, I visited Social. I noticed how much there was to do and I immediately asked for an apron. I enjoy working together to make things better. When I see my staff happy, that is a really beautiful moment. They have done so much for me!
Will we see more of Heinz Beck's restaurants in the Middle East?
With regards to Social, we are all working hard to change the menu as we constantly try to offer something new. Apart from that, I will definitely open a second Taste of Italy here. Outside of the UAE, there have been contacts but so far no projects.
Social by Heinz Beck is located at the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah while Taste of Italy by Heinz Beck is located at the Galleria Mall, Dubai.