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Chef Ludo Tours Dubai

By Kunal
March 23, 2016 9:00 am

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The intersection of cultures that have influenced celebrity chef Ludo Lefebvre have served him pretty well. The culinary lessons he brought from his native Paris to the sunny streets of Los Angeles twenty years ago have been enthusiastically received — to the tune of four wildly successful restaurants, an embarrassment of accolades (including two James Beard nominations) and a position as one of television’s go-to toques.

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So we figured what better guy to take with us to an actual intersection of culinary culture: Dubai.

The gastronomy of that glittering oasis in the desert bears the standard of more nations than a General Assembly, and it’s all waiting with open arms for any foodie with a sense of adventure, a couple days to kill and the smarts to book with our friends at Emirates Airline.

Post trip, we sat down to chat with Ludo about his thoughts on the journey, his penchant for spices, and what it’s like to have a killer falcon perched on your arm.


InsideHook: So what drew you to Dubai?

Ludo Lefebvre: Well first it’s very easy to get there.

IH: I do not think that’s the impression most people have.

LL: (laughs) I just mean I flew from L.A., direct, very simple. Have a little glass of Champagne, pick your movies … I did not see the time pass.

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What I like about Dubai is you have a lot of different cultures. Like a canvas of different flavors from around the world.
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IH: (laughs) Good to know, but I meant more what drew you there as a chef?

LL: Well as a chef, my job is to always try to think of something new, to learn about the different cultures around the world, get some inspiration. To find new ingredients, new ideas.

IH: And you thought Dubai would be a good hunting ground?

LL: What I like about Dubai is you have a lot of different cultures. Like a canvas of different flavors from around the world.

IH: Perfect place to learn.

LL: I had a great time. Cooking with Chef Khalid [at Ewaan] … I’ve never had elevated Arab food like that before. I learned a lot about different spices and herbs, especially the one I never had before: fresh za’atar. Very spicy, a little bit like peppermint.




IH: You’re a spice pilgrim.

LL: Same thing at the spice market. So much energy, they are so excited to have you over there. They want to sell you some stuff, sure, but it was great. You really smell the saffron, smells so good. Especially when you come from the fish market (laughs).

IH: Thoughts on the fish market?

LL: I like to check local ingredients — I saw some fish I had never seen before in my life, some blue crabs. Very, very interesting. You have like, five guys around you wanting to go shop for you. “What do you want? I’ll get it for you. You want I clean it for you? I clean it for you. You want to wash it, I wash it for you.” I mean, I think you could bring you car and they would wash your car, too.

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They’ve been cooking fish the same way for seven thousand years, I guess you don’t mess with success.
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IH: You liked Old Dubai though, yeah?

LL: Authentic food in Old Dubai. That’s what’s pretty great — you have all these fancy restaurants with amazing food [elsewhere], but Old Dubai is still very alive. All the locals, you can see the way they live, they eat.


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IH: Like what type of stuff?

LL: They cook this whole fish on two skewers next to a real wood fire, very slowly. Like three or four hours. Simple, just salt and the fish and the heat and that’s it. Very crispy and moist, and of course a good flavor of smokiness from the wood. They’ve been cooking fish the same way for 7,000 years, I guess you don’t mess with success.

IH: Were there other techniques you saw that intrigued you?

LL: I went to this place Asado and the chef is from Argentina. Using [a similar] technique to cook a whole goat with chimichurri sauce, and the meat is very moist, crispy, a lot of flavor. You have a lot of different cultures in Dubai.

IH: Like British food, eh?

LL: (laughs) Marina Social. I loved it. Beautiful restaurant. British, Italian, also, what did I say … Mediterranean. Great flavor. Colorful. I can say this: for a Frenchman to say “I like British food,” it’s a miracle. Only in Dubai.




IH: Speaking of “only in Dubai,” what did you think of the desert?

LL: Really something cool. You are in the middle of nowhere. I mean, I would spend a few days out there — relax, no TV. Be with my friends, eating. Ride a camel. It was great to have a falcon on my arm.

IH: I’m sorry, a falcon?

LL: They showed me the way they hunt with a falcon.

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I mean, these birds, they eat fresh meat. I’m a piece of meat.
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IH: Was it scary?

LL: It’s a little scary. You don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s on my arm — what side is it going to go? Left? Right? In my face? Is it going to attack me? I mean, these birds, they eat fresh meat. I’m a piece of meat.

IH: Gnarly.

LL: Yeah, it’s alive.

IH: Any other highlights?

LL: Level 43 [rooftop lounge]. Probably the tallest bar I’ve ever been to in my life. Beautiful sunset. The sun you have there is so red. Not yellow, but this red. With the desert and the water. It looked like everything is possible in Dubai. “You want to create a palm tree island? We’ll do it.” Nothing is impossible in Dubai. Nothing.

IH: Anything you’re bringing back with you to the kitchen?

LL: Why not? I want to use more za’atar spice. I mean, I’m doing a French crèpe in my restaurant, why not use some za’atar? I really want to do like a rice pudding with saffron. I want to squeeze some spice in my suitcase. I hope Emirates Airlines will be ok with that.

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Welcome to the city of tomorrow, where you can savor everything from world-renowned restaurants to charming, beachfront shacks. Whether you prefer to dine with the sand between your toes or in five-star luxury, here you’ll find a world of flavors fit for every taste bud.

Fly Emirates daily to Dubai and beyond from 10 US cities. See you in Dubai.


Photos courtesy of Emirates. Portrait courtesy of Ludo Lefebvre.