Ex­ec­u­tive chef Ni­co­las Smal­berger talks to about grow­ing his own pro­duce

Good (UAE) - - GOOD FOOD -

What has your aim been with the plant­ing of the bio-gar­den?

We re­cently un­der­took an ex­pan­sion of the fa­cil­ity, cre­at­ing a thriv­ing re­serve of herbs and veg­etable pro­duce. We started by ad­ding new vari­ants of mi­cro herbs, let­tuces and baby greens and then we added aquapon­ics and hy­dro­pon­ics sys­tems, so we can grow the herbs and let­tuce soil free. The bio-gar­den is a pop­u­lar at­trac­tion with guests – we of­fer vis­i­tors tours to see how these prod­ucts are used in the re­sort kitchens and we have also al­lowed chil­dren to plant their own le­mon trees. Fur­ther­more, the gar­den sup­ports our ef­forts to save costs of pur­chas­ing from out­side sup­pli­ers.

How big an im­pact does hav­ing ac­cess to home­grown pro­duce make to the kitchen?

The im­pact is huge, both from an en­vi­ron­men­tal and cost sav­ing per­spec­tive. Know­ing that our car­bon foot­print is re­duced is good for the con­science and we hope it en­cour­ages oth­ers to fol­low suit. From a cost per­spec­tive, dur­ing nine months of the year we save on cherry toma­toes, rose­mary, rocket, basil, mi­cro greens, let­tuce and many more items, plus the in­gre­di­ents are su­per fresh and taste far bet­ter be­cause they are lit­er­ally picked that morn­ing for the same day use.

What dif­fer­ence does it make to the diner ex­pe­ri­ence?

For starters, when all pro­duce is fresh, the taste, the tex­ture and the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence are en­hanced. Pro­duce that is picked and used that day is also higher in nu­tri­ents, so it is all round bet­ter for the guest. We have also started do­ing wheat grass in trays that we use at break­fast as power shots and guests love this. We take pride in the fact that we can grow these items in the mid­dle of the desert.

Do cus­tomers pay greater at­ten­tion to the ori­gins of their food these days?

Most def­i­nitely, and we are en­cour­aged by Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity and the gov­ern­ment to sup­port lo­cal sup­pli­ers. Peo­ple are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly aware of lo­cal, or­ganic and free range in­gre­di­ents, the sci­ence of food is ever chang­ing and evolv­ing and we have to evolve with what our guests re­quire.

How big an influence does sus­tain­abil­ity play in your out­side sourc­ing strat­egy?

We look for pro­duce lo­cally first, and only im­port if we have to. Many of our baby veg­eta­bles come from other GCC coun­tries or the Nether­lands and we get prod­ucts from places like Le­banon and Jor­dan, es­pe­cially fruit. We avoid the use of en­dan­gered species, use hu­manely-treated in­gre­di­ents as foie gras, tuna and caviar from sup­pli­ers with World Wildlife Fund Hu­man­i­tar­ian Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. We men­tion on all our menus that we only use sus­tain­able fish species. If only oth­ers would do the same we would still have bluefin tuna in the oceans.

Have you seen progress in terms of the qual­ity and va­ri­ety of pro­duce avail­able lo­cally?

To be hon­est when I first reached Dubai five years ago, the pro­duce was not al­ways of high qual­ity, but I have seen a great im­prove­ment over the years. Pro­duce has be­come more sta­ble and con­sis­tent and the va­ri­ety on the mar­ket has also in­creased.

What would you like to see more of in the lo­cal mar­ket to boost en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­forts?

I would like to see more big cor­po­ra­tions stand to­gether to make a dif­fer­ence to the en­vi­ron­ment. Dubai re­ally is at the fore­front of in­no­va­tion, so com­ing up with new ideas to im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment is key.

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