Exclusive: Buro 24/7 cooks with Head Chef Izu Ani at La Serre
Unless you have been living in a cave, chances are you have heard of Dubai's latest dining experience, La Serre. The culinary destination already has over 500 images featured with the #LaSerre hashtag on Instagram despite not having an account themselves – and, we assume, at least double the amount of Facebook check-ins. The new French restaurant has a week-long waiting list just two months after opening and has hosted unannounced, esteemed A-list visitors, including Janet Jackson who dined wearing an abaya on a hidden corner table for supper last week, according to an insider.
Buro 24/7 ME Editor-in-Chief Holly Williams and La Serre Head Chef Izu Ani
Buro 24/7 Middle East are big fans of food, so naturally we were intrigued by this new haven – a Dubai concept that started to take shape back in 2012 when Head Chef Izu Ani was invited by Emaar Properties to invent his dream restaurant. Nigerian-born Izu grew up in London and after studying home economics at school, found a love for cooking. He began his career at Michelin-starred The Square in London. After four years, he travelled to France where he spent a further six years working at a number of restaurants including the world-renowned, three-Michelin-starred Auberge de L’Ill and the two-Michelin starred La Bastide Saint Antoine in the South of France.
Instead of compiling the usual restaurant review, we wanted to start our first ever regional food feature in a unique way and approached La Serre to see if Izu would be interested in cooking with us. Editor-in-Chief Holly Williams soon headed to La Serre to learn how to make it's signature 'Marinated Lamb Cutlets with Spices' and to interview the man behind the magic... a chef that took his first step into the world of food with a job at Greggs (the UK's largest budget bakery chain, which he was ironically fired from) and has now achieved every chefs dream: creating his own restaurant from scratch.
Izu arrives twenty minutes late to our 4pm meeting, which considering "Dubai time" is nothing really, and provides us with the chance to sample one of La Serre's incredible coffees. We are led to the kitchen, which is filled with Izu's team all busily preparing for another busy Tuesday supper at Dubai's newest place to be. Izu's kitchen features the only ceiling in Dubai that has complete, corner-to-corner ventilation and extraction – a high tech touch that allows his team to cook anywhere. Later we will be introduced to his Josper coal oven, and told of the Pavailler bread oven imported from France –another "only one in Dubai" element that Izu has installed at La Serre. When Izu arrives we exchange formal pleasantries but seconds pass before the atmosphere turns jovial, when Izu enquires in his prominent North-London accent "so why exactly did you want to come and cook with a black man on a Tuesday afternoon?" at the hand wash station.
La Serre's PR Emily had told us of Izu's "humbleness", a word that was later repeated enough times for us to notice. Chef and humble aren't often found together in the same sentence. We assumed that Izu was a nice guy, but that perhaps this "humbleness" was clever branding to add to the "home away from home" concept of La Serre –we were wrong. Not only did Izu let us "play" with his "big knife", he also gifted us his Head Chef apron. A genuine, lovely man who's passion for food and for his team truly inspired us. So much so, we interviewed the chef whilst learning to make that signature La Serre dish...
Buro 24/7 | What mistake do people most often make when cooking at home?
Izu Ani | That's a tricky question actually. I think that when people cook at home they tend to think that recipes are there to be followed exactly. For me, a recipe is a guideline. You should always follow your palette, and the way that you want to cook and how you want your food to taste. I'll give you an example – a recipe could call for orange juice, but it won't tell you how sweet it should be. You could have bought very acidic orange juice and at the end you could have a meal that you don't really like because you prefer a sweeter taste. Always trust your intuition and use recipes as a guideline.
Buro 24/7 | If you could only eat on thing for 7 days, what would it be?
Izu Ani | Ooh! Just one item? I think, something I could eat every day – I have an African mentality, my mother is African – would be just rice. I just love how versatile it is, in the sense that you can just add one or two things and it changes. It can sustain you, and it doesn't have to always be boring. (PR asks "What about one thing from the La Serre menu?") From the La Serre menu? I'm going to go for the most expensive thing! The Chicken and Foie Gras! No, if it were one thing from the La Serre menu it would definitely be the Tuna Carpaccio. Everybody loves it. I feel it is just has the perfect balance of fruitiness and meatiness.
Buro 24/7 | What is the most underrated ingredient in cooking?
Izu Ani | For me it's the onion. If you go to the shop it's the cheapest thing that you can buy. People just treat is as a commodity that they have as a staple, but without the onion there are no layers. Because that's your first layer, when you are building your flavour profile. It's like when you try to build a skyscraper; if you don't have your base and solid foundations it will fall apart. The same goes for cooking – okay you can taste something, but it won't have the all-important depth. Onion gives that depth.
Buro 24/7 | What is the most overrated ingredient in cooking?
Izu Ani | Caviar. (Buro 24/7's Russian Picture Editor immediately defends her country's foodie jewel "Oh really? It is not overrated!" Izu laughs.)
Buro 24/7 | What has been the highlight of your career to date?
Izu Ani | It's working with the people I am working with right now. All of the people that have contributed to this (La Serre) and the group effort that has gone into everything is a highlight. I've had other highlights, but from different paths, and this is the path I am on right now.
Buro 24/7 | Aside from La Serre, what is your favourite restaurant in the world?
Izu Ani | My favourite restaurant in the world is in the North of France; it's called Auberge de L’Ill. I used to work there, and for me the food has always followed the theme that the restaurant believes in. Simple ingredients, done well, respected. And for me, you go there and you always have a good meal.
Buro 24/7 | Is there anything that you haven't perfected that you want to?
Izu Ani | (Answers immediately without thought) So many things. Even now, as we speak, there are so many things in my head. I go to bed every night thinking "we're not doing what we could be doing", "we're not at the top", "and we're not doing what we are capable of doing". Even the food up here and the food downstairs, I just want to have whole overhaul again. I am ambitious with myself. For me there is a lot we need to do.
Buro 24/7 | Lastly, what is the greatest advice that you have ever received?
Izu Ani | It is something that I will never forget. Wait, is it cooking or for life? (Our Editor-in-Chief explains that maybe it could be something for life that is also applicable to cooking) Yes, well I mix the two together! Phil Howard (Chef and Co-Owner of The Square in London), one of my mentors – I admire him as a person, I admire him as a chef and he taught me about respect. He has a simple respect for everything and everyone. From the Stewards, to the General Manager, to the Chairman; that respect factor should always be the same and for me that is the best advice – respect everybody and respect everything that you use. I have a respect for this equipment that helps us do what we do; I even have respect for this knife and fork. As human beings we are always discovering ourselves, so by respecting others we are also respecting ourselves.
Marinated Lamb Cutlets with Spices
Izu Ani's Marinated Lamb Cutlets with Spices Recipe
For more information about La Serre visit www.laserre.ae