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Food & Drink

Chef Michael White and the rising tide at Marea Dubai

Debonair steps into the kitchen with the celebrated chef behind New York’s two-Michelin-star Marea, which recently opened an outpost in Dubai

Without hesitation, I won’t be having durian ever again.

Chef Michael White is one of the most celebrated and prolific chefs of his generation, known for his sophisticated and inventive riffs on Italian and French cuisine. He has been recognised by every top metric in his field — Michelin, Relais & Chateaux, The New York Times, The James Beard Foundation and Zagat, among others.

But White is more than just a mastermind behind the line — he is a culinary innovator with an innate command of the global restaurant industry at large. White met Ahmass Fakahany, the partner with whom he would turn his culinary acumen into an international business, and in 2017 the pair opened Due Terre and Due Mari in New Jersey. One year later, they formed Altamarea Group to open Marea, which earned the industry’s top honours — three stars from The New York Times and two Michelin stars.

Marea Dubai opened in the heart of DIFC earlier this year.

Without hesitation, I won’t be having durian ever again.

What’s your earliest food memory?

Cooking at home in Wisconsin when I was a child. I know it is a bit cliché, but it is true. Between making fresh pasta with my grandmother in the house in the winter, to grilling with my dad in the summer on a charcoal grill — those are my most vivid and earliest food memories. A bag of charcoal still takes me back to summers in the yard.

How did you enter the industry?

When I found out that there were schools dedicated to cooking, something I really only knew of as my passion and hobby at the time, I jumped at the opportunity to make that my career and not just something I did at home. I enrolled at Kendall College in Chicago, and that started my journey in the industry.

Professional kitchens are renowned as stressful environments. How do you handle the pressure?

I just stop and remember what it is I am doing in that kitchen. We are creating experiences for people. We aren’t performing surgeries, or managing people’s savings, but rather being a part of some of the best moments of their lives. When we realise the work we are doing is for guests’ enjoyment, we can take a deep breath and take it seriously, but also put it in perspective.

How often do you cook outside the workplace?

Quite a bit. I am an early riser, and even if my daughter isn’t, I love to cook breakfast for her when she does get up. And whenever things are a little quieter at night, or on a Sunday, I definitely cook dinner at home for all of us.

What’s the best restaurant you’ve eaten at and what made it memorable?

There are so many, and all for such varied reasons that I am actually speechless for a moment. But one experience I will never forget is my first visit to Ducasse; I was about 21 years old, and just watching the entire production that took place with service and plating and when I was able to peek in the kitchen made each dish taste that much more incredible.

Conversely, what would you never eat again?

Without hesitation, I won’t be having durian ever again. I have tried it about 10 times, and that rotten-onion-blue-cheese-feet smell just doesn’t work in any preparation for me!

Does a man who cooks win brownie points at home?

I don’t think it hurts, but I can’t rest on that. Cooking is one thing, but really making it a point to spend time with my wife and daughter is key.

What’s your top life hack for the layman in the kitchen?

Always have lemons on hand. You can add flavor, acidity or brightness to any dish. And they look great in a bowl on your counter, so ALWAYS have them.

What’s your one indispensible kitchen implement?

A good, sharp chef’s knife. You can have all sorts of new gadgets and tools but without that, you likely can’t use the rest.

What new trends are you seeing?

Vegetables are not just a trend but a really important area to focus on for menus now, and I believe for the foreseeable future. People in every market want to enjoy a balanced diet consisting of local ingredients, and vegetables and herbs are the core to providing that balance. We always consider sourcing locally and adding a vegetable-focused section to our menus.

Who’d you invite to your ideal dinner table?

Oh, it would be an eclectic group. I have my favourite tattoo artist, a rapper I am good friends with back in NYC, a few local chef friends, some of my purveyors-turned-friends and a few colleagues I now consider family.

If you could choose your final meal, what would it be?

Bacon and eggs — the eggs sunny side up with a runny yolk. The toast has to be whole wheat, nice and crispy — to soak up that yolk.

Marea, derived from the term “tide” in Italian, brings together the flavours of coastal Italy and the swag of New York City to form a new kind of gusto. The fine-dining eatery in DIFC recently launched Jazz After Dark, with the delightful vocalist Claudia Patrice performing soulful hits every Wednesday night.

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