Executive chef Nicolas Smalberger talks to about growing his own produce
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.