Meet the man behind Gaucho Dubai’s restaurant opening next month. Plus how to cook a steak!
Dubai; We all love a new restaurant opening, don’t we? Well with Gaucho, the London-born Argentine restaurant concept opening in Dubai at DIFC in the first week of October, FooDiva met with chef turned operator, South African Ryan Hattingh, Gaucho’s International Operations Director to chat all things beef, why he won’t be dishing up Wagyu, the all-Argentine wine list, and plenty more. He even tells us how to cut, prepare and grill a steak! Gaucho by the way is an Argentinian or Argentine as Ryan prefers to say, cowboy.
1. You’re scheduled to open first week October. Will you open with your alcohol and pork licence?
We’re not doing pork. In London we only have two or three items on the menu, so as it’s not a core part of our business, it doesn’t make sense to include here. We should have our alcohol licence by the time we open. If not, we would only open for dry runs until the licence comes through. The Gaucho experience is about the food and the wine.
2. So with that in mind, how would you briefly describe Gaucho to a potential diner?
We are an Argentine restaurant, and we put a lot of time and effort into making sure our menu is authentic. It’s all about the provenance of product. I really don’t like to be referred to as a steakhouse. It’s more of a lifestyle brand, with a very sexy tango-feel!
3. Will Gaucho Dubai differ from your UK restaurants, and also Beirut in terms of interior? If so, how?
We’re tailoring it quite a lot for this market. If we start with upstairs, we have a very new element for us; a ceviche bar with a DJ and an 18-metre long white marble bar. So one side is a kitchen and a Robata [charcoal] grill. We have a wood-burning oven for empanadas and slow-roasted meats. There’s a nine-metre floating bridge to get to the bar. We have a ten-metre wine wall from floor to ceiling; all glass.
And a glass lift that goes through a wine room, with a massive marble staircase that along with the lift lead into the carpark, where we will have a valet car parking service. Access is easy. Downstairs, we have a 100-seat terrace overlooking Emirates Towers. Big open windows. Plus a private dining room for 18 people.
4. In the UK bringing local farm to table is achievable, but unfortunately not as realistic for Dubai. Understandably, your beef is imported from Argentina. Where is the rest of your produced sourced from? Anything sourced locally?
From Argentina, we have the beef and wine. And dulce de leche which can only be sourced from Argentina. As much as possible we want to source locally, but when we say locally here, it broadens out across the region. So we will use potatoes from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, a lot of vegetables from Lebanon such as tomatoes. Shrimps and prawns from Kuwait. Hammour and crab from the U.A.E. If it is not available at the quality we need, we will import, but as much as possible we want to work with local produce. It makes sense for us and the local market. It’s about what’s available and seasonality, and we change our menu accordingly.
5. Tell us a little about your beef and how your steaks are cooked.
Firstly, the quality of the beef is paramount. We only use Argentine-certified Angus, grass-fed, wet-age beef that has been slaughtered between 22 and 26 months. We don’t use pesticides, only herbicides, and we vaccinate for foot and mouth, otherwise you can’t export it. One animal has a hectare of land to walk around; about 200-250 kilometres a year. We don’t put any hormones or feed them any protein. Unlike feed-lock cattle such as Wagyu which are penned in and fed on corn, grain and wheat. If you compare the fat from Wagyu cattle, you squeeze it, it breaks and it’s very white, whereas the fat from our natural grass-fed, free-range cattle is milkier, spongier and softer. Wagyu meat may be more tender, but that’s because the animals are not walking – and it’s tasteless.
This short video shows me demonstrating how steaks are cut and prepared. Click here.
The temperature of our charcoal grill is very important, and we also only turn our steaks once:
- Start by brushing a little corn oil which has a high smoke point and no flavour, unlike olive oil which smokes at 120 degrees, and with cooking at 180 burns making it very bitter.
- Squeeze some lemon into the steak, and crush whole cloves of garlic on it.
- Put it face down on the grill; that’s the sexy side that people see. And leave it. What you want is for the fibres to start opening up.
- Then you put a little oil on top and salt. That’s the only side we salt. You can put as much salt as you want as the meat will only absorb what it needs.
- Then you see juices coming out; the change in the colour of the juices determines how it’s cooked. If it’s clear it’s rare, if it’s clear with a little red, it’s medium rare. The more brown the juices are, the more cooked it is.
- Cook it 65-70% on one side, and then turn it over to cook the other side. Salt is a retardant of heat – the reason we don’t salt that side is it stops the caramelisation.
- Whatever the meat doesn’t need will fall onto the grill.
- By the time the steak has been plated and served, it has rested enough.
- All you need is some mustard and it’s done!
6. Steaks aside, what are your signature dishes?
The menu is pretty similar to UK and Beirut, aside from the specials of the day and the ceviche bar. Ceviche or Argentine sushi as we like to describe it originated from fishermen who used to return home to eat and wives would make them a potato. They would put some salt on a slice of fish to suck up the moisture, and lemon to cook it. Ceviche is now always eaten with starch either potato, avocado or even pop corn.
We also serve tirraditos; sliced, fresh seafood served with onion, chilli and lime and causitas; a potato-based starter dish and of course empanadas, a traditional savoury pastie with a choice of fillings.
Our dessert element is a huge part of our business and food offering; dulche de leche fondant and chocolate fondant included!
7. Your wine room concept sounds intriguing – what’s that all about?
We have 205 wines on our wine list – ALL Argentinian, with 3 or 4 champagnes [French]. Our entry level wine is less than AED 200. The beauty of Argentine quality is the reasonable price. We have Marina Diaz, our female sommelier, who is simply mad about wine. The wine room is a 4m square all-glass room which seats eight. You can go in and taste say 25 different wines, and make your selection. You can even eat there. There’s an element of education, but it’s not daunting. Without being condescending, we don’t take a French approach to wine. Wine is not elitist and unachievable. It’s New World, so very different to French wines, but at the same time, Marina spends a lot of time working with the floor staff training them on wine so every day we open different bottles of wine; they taste and learn. They really develop a passion for wine.
We have so many French, Italian and Spanish winemakers in Argentina. The difference is that the winemakers are not regulated, and they can experiment a lot more. Also you have the altitude in Argentina that you don’t have in Europe, anything from 200 metres to 3,000 metres in the Andes.
8. How are you progressing with recruitment and training? Where are your staff recruited from? Any challenges?
We first had a look within Gaucho as we have 800 employees in London to see if anyone wants to come and work for us in Dubai. We also reached out to others that used to work for us and returned to their home countries. We advertised in London, and our General Manager Gemma Llewellyn interviewed 30 people a day for three weeks at a time. We were amazed at the response we got; people want to come and live in Dubai which is fantastic. We were able to take 25 existing Gaucho staff which really makes a massive difference. This is not an opening team; they are all here to stay for a minimum one year to work with us and develop the business. The balance making up a total team of 80-90 staff have all been recruited from London, bar 9-10 who are living in Dubai and of those six are Argentine. We’ve taken a couple from Brazil and one South African, the rest are from Europe.
We are housing them in Dubai Marina; they have beautiful flats with swimming pools, gyms, close to the beach, a 24-hour supermarket. At the same time, we want them to enjoy themselves and hopefully they will stay here for a long time. We don’t have any partners here; it’s our company so we have to make sure that we take care of them.
They all undergo two weeks training on beef, Argentina as a country, the whole food menu and wine through our [Gaucho] Academy with three exams. It’s one strike; you fail, you’re out. Our trainers are all people who work in the restaurant. Of the 25 Gaucho staff coming out, 12 are trainers including our Head Chef, Phil Neil. The key with us is the staff take ownership of the business and undergo a six hour complaint handling course empowering them to make customer service decisions on the spot.
Gaucho is located at DIFC [Dubai International Financial Centre]. Steaks start at AED130 for the rump to the 300g fillet at AED230 – incredibly good value. And you’ll get free wi-fi thrown in! Reservations soon on the Gaucho website (through OpenTable) or via firstname.lastname@example.org
FooDiva Friends, have you dined at Gaucho in Beirut or one of its 15 UK restaurants? Love to hear your experience.