Where are chefs finding inspiration for their food? What cooking trends and techniques have been inspiring them recently? Our monthly Winnow Chef's Table series brings you interviews with chefs from all over the world, sharing some insight into their culinary origins and philosophies.
For this Chef’s Table, we talked to Alain Gobeil, who has been Executive Chef at Fairmont The Palm in Dubai since 2016. The native Canadian has brought more than two decades of international experience on three continents to the role. He talked to us about his long relationship with Fairmont, his next aspirations, and much more.
- How did you arrive at Fairmont The Palm and what were you doing before?
I have a long relationship with the Fairmont brand. I started my career at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Montreal, in Canada, where I am from. From there I went to many other renowned locations within the brand, including the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, and Fairmont Château Whistler.
I moved back to Dubai in 2010, before joining the team at Fairmont The Palm. I also worked with Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, Four Seasons in Sharm El Sheikh and in Whistler, and The Address Hotel Downtown Dubai.
- What inspired you to become a Chef?
When I was young I never really thought of being a chef. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do as a profession. While at university, I changed course four times. I started with economics then moved to French literature, anthropology and linguistics.
During the same time, I was also cooking part-time at a local restaurant. In the beginning, I didn’t see it as a career, but it started to become more and more important in my life. At some point, my head chef told me that I had a real talent with food and I should think of it as a career. I told him I had been thinking about this for some time and I wanted to go to cooking school. I applied and started the following September. It was the turning point for me. I loved cooking school and I knew I was at the right place. I’ve never looked back. It did really change my life and I still feel very happy about what I do.
- Where and how were you trained?
I was trained at the Institut de Tourisme et d’Hôtellerie du Quebec. During my last year there I did an internship at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Montreal and later joined the team. This was the job that kickstarted my professional career in 1999.
- What challenges did you face when you decided to cut waste from your kitchen?
Honestly, I didn’t face any challenge. For me, the entire process has been a piece of cake. The whole team was fully on board since the beginning. There was no resistance whatsoever. This happened because we are a very strong and united team. We work together, and we always try to be the best at everything we do.
- How does Winnow help you in your daily operations?
Winnow gives us all the information that we need. With the data from the Winnow report we can see where and why food is being wasted, and from there, we can study ways to minimise it. Now that our level of food waste is more stable, we just push ourselves to keep on reducing it as much as we can.
- In less than 6 months your kitchen reduced food waste by 40%. What have you learned from this experience?
I’ve learned that simple changes can make big a difference. We’ve realized, for example, that in our all-day dining restaurant, the majority of the food waste was coming from the Arabic cold mezze. And interestingly enough, some of the higher priced items, such as muhammara, were getting wasted the most. So, we’ve decided to completely remove this dish. Since doing that, we have reduced our food waste considerably.
Also, we have reduced the portion sizes of some dishes in the cold buffet. We’ve increased the amount of chicken curry, and reduce the amount of lamb curry, as well. We did that because the data from Winnow showed that our guests eat more chicken than lamb.
- What do you do to keep track of new industry trends?
I network a lot. I am always trying to surround myself with knowledgeable and interesting people, who really care about food. I also go to many restaurants in Dubai, to keep up to date with what is going on around here. I enjoy following the world’s best chefs on social media and reading culinary books.
- How do you see your kitchen develop towards a more sustainable operation in the future?
We will increasingly have a more sustainable operation in our kitchen. I can guarantee you that. We are always challenging ourselves to become better, and sustainability is part of our improvement goals. Our current battle is trying to improve food quality and decrease food cost at the same time. So far, we’ve proved that it is possible by reducing our food waste, for example.
- What tips would you give to chefs wanting to reduce food waste in their kitchens?
Invest in technology to help you. If this is not possible, I would say the best thing to do is start taking notes of what is coming from the buffets, in order to establish some kind of database. From there, you can start setting objectives to drive reduction.
- Is there a chef you admire most? Who and why?
My first executive chef who worked with me while I was at Fairmont Chateau Whistler has really inspired me. His name is Vincent Stufano. He is a great chef and a great human being. He has helped shape my professional life, and I notice that I wasn’t the only one. A lot of very successful chefs at the moment have worked at his kitchen at some point.
- What’s your most recent culinary fascination and why (i.e an ingredient, technique)?
We just opened a new Indian restaurant in our hotel called Little Miss India, and we really put a lot of focus and effort making it a very special place. We’ve worked very closely with the team on every single detail. I wouldn’t say it is an obsession, but it has been very close to my heart for the past six months.
But, I am obsessed with nutrition. It started as a personal interest, and I have managed to transfer that to the restaurant as well. Now, I try to make sure we offer healthier and well- balanced options on all our menus, especially the kid’s menus. Very often they tend to be filled with unhealthy dishes. I like to at least give parents all the options.
- Best meal ever?
The best meal I’ve ever had was at Eleven Madison Park, in New York. The food was impeccable, and so was service and the atmosphere. The entire experience is something that sticks with you for a long time after the meal ends; this is why it is special.
- Favourite dish?
This is always a difficult question for me to answer, I have always tried so many different cuisines and my tastes change. But, very often at home when I need a go-to meal, I will fall back on a great steak on my BBQ with an arugula salad with cherry tomatoes and a glass of red.
- Best places to eat out in the world?
New York City. I feel that it is hard to find bad food in NYC because the standards are so high, and there is so much competition among food businesses. There are so many options everywhere you go.