Aristide Eka – Country Executive Second Chef at Paul U.A..E
Aristide Eka is Country Executive Second Chef at Paul U.A..E. He has a lot of international experience and will tell us what it’s about to be a successful chef.
You currently work as Country Executive Second Chef at Paul U.A..E, with lots of international experience. Tell us about how you got started as a chef. Why did you decide on cooking professionally?
Ah wonderful, I started cooking after my best friend made me homemade fries from scratch. I was impressed by the fact that he made better fries than the McCain brand I used to buy back home.
So it was magical for me, and I wanted to create that magic moment for other people. I made the decision to attend culinary school in Versailles, France and drop my accounting vocational studies.
I was 16 Year old at the time, I still love it and keep loving what I do. It’s all about making people happy and thanking them for trying your food.
Which culinary school did you attend?
CFA DE Versailles, Les cotes de villebon in Paris and UCB in Birmingham, U.K. All together it’s been around 5 years of study and focus.
What will you never forget about your first year as a chef?
The passion, it was like a dream come true being in a professional kitchen, especially for me in Versailles. I was straight away put in charge of the starters and dessert section due to my culinary studies, so that put me directly involved with challenges and responsibilities.
Every career starts with hard moments when you think about giving up. Were there such moments in your career, and how did you overcome them?
Yes, I did have moments such as these, not exactly at the beginning, but mainly when I became executive chef because of critics and people not appreciating all the hard work and effort I was putting forth.
However, I realised that we should be proud first and foremost of our work and let people judge and listen to them only if it has relevance.
What is the best part of being a chef?
I would say, the look of joy on the faces of the guests as they enjoy our food.
What is the most difficult aspect to be a professional chef?
Time spent away from family during holidays, or other festive days. We are like the behind-the-scenes of movies, we are a part of entertaining people, but we MUST find times to entertain ourselves as well and enjoy our own lives after, during and before work.
After several years as a chef in France, you moved to England. How did the time in England influence you as a chef?
England, because I was from paris, afforded me the chance to experience the countryside and small towns. It was beautiful and natural living, as I worked in many rosette locales. There was great food with only local product, so I gained so much knowledge about cooking with seasonality and locality as a focus.
You also gained working experience as chef on a river cruise. How did you like this job?
I liked it very much and would do it again if I could. It was a very fancy, small cruise riding along the Danube river from Amsterdam to Budapest. We were using local producers from every city to cook for 160 passengers with 2 restaurants and one chef table concept for 12 guests each day. It was a very unique experience and I am very happy I could experience that. I didn’t have any days off, but the good thing was making sure the guests were happy in the capacity as one of the managers for these restaurants, at 25 years-old managing a team comprised of members mostly older than I was, and helping them to be better in what they do.
What was your greatest learning experience during this time?
I learned that “team spirit” is the key to success and happiness in our job.
Before you moved to the U.A.E., you worked as Sous Chef at the Brasserie Flo in Paris. Apart from classic French cuisine, which new ideas did you come across during this time?
Brasserie Flo is a great experience because they manage to do volume with quality every single day. France has very professional chefs, it’s an advantage that makes life easier and makes for more stable chefs. Keys to success I learned, keep a very professional structure and System. It will make your life easier.
Brasserie Flo in Paris has a great reputation, it’s even one out of “1.ooo” Brasserie’s in Paris. What is the key to run a successful Brasserie in Paris?
Respect of tradition, consistency and a very solid structure.
How would you describe the soul of French cuisine best?
Ingredients, technique , tradition and simplicity.
What are the constant and varying elements of the French cuisine?
Its unique mix of influences such as German, Italian, Spanish ,Portuguese, British, caribbean, and North African makes for both constant AND varying elements.
Modern French cuisine, what does it mean for you?
Tradition with a twist, that’s modern French cuisine. Otherwise, it’s no longer French if we don’t respect the tradition and history of the cuisine.
For more than 2 years, you worked as Country Executive Sous Chef at Paul U.A.E. What motivated you to work at the United Arab Emirates?
Dubai is a very competitive market. With PAUL We managed to understand the market and adapt to it. It was definitely French, and also streamlined with a middle-eastern energy.
Not strictly french or pretentious but simply open to the wishes of our guests, without losing our identity. So far that is the recipe to success of Paul in UAE with a great management team that I am proud to be part of and not a one man show. Once again, a strong structure.
How would you describe your own culinary style today?
Unique, Simplicity with the most important elements shining bright.
The “Paul” is an authentic and fabulous French Brasserie far from France. What do your guests love most?
Guests in PAUL love the culture we represent as well as the “vivre a la francaise” that people want to be part of.
Apart from the classic fare, what other innovative creations do you offer here?
We’ve been offering quinoa, edamame beans and zaatar. Innovation is the twist in what is trending, and it should be relevant to your brand not just everything that is trending.
Can you share a signature dish with us?
Onion Soup is always the best seller.
Can you share one of your latest creations with us?
Seafood plate , With sea bass . Japanese Blue shrimps , bouchot mussels from Brittany , Fresh scallops , , Homemade Potato Gnocchi with Lobster bisque , Dried tomatoes Asparagus and Parmesan Emulsion.
What are some of the lesser known spices and vegetables you use?
Banana. I found it too complicated to remain fresh and cinnamon, it’s just so obvious.
Which unique cooking technique have you mastered?
Braising, i have perfected my method. The meat melts in your mouth.
What are the current trends / developments you see in the U.A.E. culinary world?
South american cuisine is a big one. Also food for entertainment people, they don’t just want food as there is so many restaurants in dubai, they want an experience.
As a chef, you never stop learning: Curse or blessing?
Learning is the key to our passion.
The profession as a cook today offers more opportunities than ever before. Unfortunately fewer young people want to become chefs. What can you do to make this great profession even more interesting?
We must get out of our kitchens and convey the excitement and impact of the kitchen and creativity process, open our kitchens to our guests and friends. That’s how we can be more interesting.
The kitchen has become so international and is always bringing new trends and themes to the fore. How do you handle this as a chef?
I eat out a lot and stay connected with a good network of food and beverage people.
What motto do you have for your work as a chef?
Be positive and learn how to do something better everyday.
What situations have helped you the most in your development as a chef?
Travelling and meeting amazing chefs.
What do you do if you want to treat yourself to something special to eat?
I go to trendy street food markets. I love street food.
What is one of your favourite local street food places in the U.A.E.?
M r brisket. I absolutely love the way they smoke these briskets and could drive 1 hour to have it.
As an innovative chef you need honest and hard feedback. Where do you get it from?
From my team because they know where our style is going.
Did your career as a chef change you as a person and if so, how?
Not really. I have a nice private life, My wife, my son, great friends and family so not much changed by being a chef.
What do people often misunderstand about the job of a chef?
That it’s too easy or too much fun, but there’s a lot time needed to manage a kitchen.
Any place in the world you would like to work as chef one day?
Yes, the south of France.
If you would have the time to write a cookbook, what would it be about?
Farm to table food.
Lots of cooks are interested to work in the U.A.E. Do you have any tips or recommendations for them?
Definitely go for stand alone restaurants, They are fun and challenging, hotels here can be a bit boring.
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