The first time I met Chef Heinz Beck was five years ago in late 2014, when his restaurant, Social by Heinz Beck, had just opened at the Waldorf Astoria Palm Jumeirah.
The world-renowned, three-star Michelin chef was humble, funny and very opinionated. Not much has changed with the passage of time, as the German-born Italian food master returns to these shores to whip up a culinary spectacle once again for a special dinner at his restaurant, which will be hosted on September 27 and 28.
Ahead of his trip to Dubai, Gulf News tabloid! caught up with the culinary master to talk about the multi-course meal he plans to lay out for his special diners, even as he reiterates the need for healthy and clean eating.
“I have always been a careful observer of how food effects the body. I don’t like to create heavy and unhealthy food,” says Beck.
For more than 30 years, Beck has been talking to doctors and nutritionists about healthy dining before it was a “thing”.
“In the last few decades, I’ve attended many scientific events as a spokesman and carried out specific research and published publications in cooperation with national and international scientists. Among my points of interest are hypertension, diabetes, childhood obesity and many other health related issues. I know that if we eat well, we can live better and prevent diseases,” he adds.
Beck also considers himself a champion of the humble vegetable. At a time where protein has become the core focus for many following the Keto diet, he focuses more on what comes from the earth.
“Vegetables are an integral part of my dishes. Of some, they are the absolute protagonists. I could not cook without them and they are among the basic ingredients of the Mediterranean diet, to which I inspire my cooking philosophy,” Beck explains.
At the beginning of his career, Beck did not choose to specialise in Italian cuisine, it just happened.
In 1994, the GM of the Hilton Cavalieri (now Rome Cavalieri), Hans Fritz, asked his mentor, Heinz Winkler if he knew a chef to relaunch La Pergola restaurant, an Italian spot located on the rooftop of the hotel. “He recommended me,” Beck says. “I arrived in Rome, went up to the ninth floor and was enchanted by the view. That was the moment I decided to accept the job, even though I didn’t speak a word of Italian! I had studied Italian cuisine and techniques in books, but never actually practised it.
“In my free time I only ate at Roman restaurants to learn about the traditional local cuisine and would walk through markets every day to discover the best raw ingredients of Italian cuisine.”
When asked whether he feels divided between his German and Italian identities, Beck takes the diplomatic approach.
“I feel completely Italian. However, my rigour and tenacity can definitely be traced back to my German roots. Everything else about me is Italian,” he says.
This rigour and tenacity is what has pushed him up the career ladder from a chef to a three-star Michelin chef. “I remember that the team and I were all very excited, proud and grateful when I got my first star. It had been the first of many goals, but the enthusiasm and the desire we have to constantly improve did not change throughout all these years. Now, I have three and the team and I always give our best to maintain them,” he says.
An important element to Beck’s success is the fact that he prefers to experiments refine and perfect the dishes he wants to serve before they go on the menu. He also loves to highlight understated ingredients that you normally wouldn’t think to have on your plate.
“The zucchini flower to me is a precious ingredient that is often underused. In 1998, over 20 years ago, I wanted to find a way to do it justice and exalt it. I spent around six months experimenting and in the end, I created a shape mould that we still use today in Rome. This mould allows, with a good dose of technique and care, to fry the open flower.
“I combined it with caviar and the dish became final. It is presented in all its floral nobility and, for almost 20 years, this dish has been on La Pergola’s menu as the ‘Deep-fried zucchini flower with caviar on shellfish and saffron consomme’.”
When it comes to his restaurant in Dubai, Heinz Beck’s favourite dish is the Fagottelli Carbonara, a unique and unusual rendition of the Carbonara pasta that everyone who visits Social must try, he says.
This weekend, Chef Heinz Beck is hosting a memorable dining experience where diners can choose either a five-course menu (starting at Dh700) or a seven-course option (starting at Dh950).
What’s on the menu, you ask? Thinks starters including amberjack, an innovative mix of Greek yoghurt with cucumber and carpione’s snow, fresh scallops on red quinoa, avocado and balsamic vinegar jelly and delicious crabs with vegetables and herb sauce.
For mains, think eggplant tortellini with clams, coupled with red and yellow tomatoes, along with the sea bass with lemon grass. Also on the menu is saffron and the traditional Neapolitan scapece marinated zucchini, as well as a juicy veal tenderloin with cardoncello mushrooms and red berries.
Ending on a sweet note, Chef Beck has created a Mont Blanc dessert made of pureed, sweetened chestnuts topped with a dab of whipped cream.
Lightning round questions
— Butter or olive oil? Extra virgin olive oil.
— Steak or Lobster? Lobster.
— Sit down dinner or buffet? Sit-down dinner.
— Favourite ingredient? Vegetables, herbs and fish.
— Daily breakfast? Coffee, fruit and some protein to give me energy for the day.
— What music do you listen to while getting ready for service? We listen to different musical genres — I personally like classical music, in particular, but in the kitchen there must be silence, to maximise our concentration.
— Mountains or beaches? Both — Mountain to reflect and beach to relax.
— If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Pasta, with fresh tomato sauce, basil and extra virgin olive oil.
— What did you do on your last day off? I took a romantic, relaxing walk with my wife Teresa at sunset.
— The one food people should try when they visit Dubai? Any dish at Social.
— You have restaurants all over the world including Tokyo, Algarve and Rome, do you have a favourite? No, because they are all different yet similar in their own way. I like them all and I love working in each one.