We caught up with Chef Heinz Beck, who after earning 3 Michelin stars for his fine dining at La Pergola, has become an authority on Italian cuisine for his “light and healthy Mediterranean cooking”.
The 54-year-old German chef who now has 11 restaurants around the world and holds several Michelin stars to his name, also authored numerous books, and projects with scientists concerning the science of nutrition and digestion—a topic he is particularly passionate about. We had the opportunity to meet the godfather of Italian Cuisine on his last visit to Dubai and to talk about his Dubai restaurant Social by Heinz Beck and the future of fine dining.
Is it named ‘social’ for a reason? How can you define Social?
Because it’s a casual fine dining and not a formal fine dining concept. What we are doing here is beautiful cooking of Mediterranean flavours, healthy and easy to digest. It is called Social because you can order many dishes to share a la carte, something which is not really possible with a more formal dining concept. So it gives a clear message: It is easy and we can accommodate different tastes or needs.
So your restaurant in Dubai is more casual but does fine dining work in Dubai?
Yes, I think the demand is there. When we opened the restaurant we didn’t serve/propose any degustation menu but the demand is growing gradually throughout the years. Nowadays the degustation menu represents 30% of all dishes we prepare. The degustation menu is today part of the regular a la carte menu. The variety of guests is very large like our menu is large as well.
How many restaurants do you have around the world?
Eleven restaurants which are all offering Mediterranean cuisine— two in Tokyo, two in Dubai, one in Portugal, five in Italy and we are just opening one in Monte Carlo before the summer.
You are considered one of the godfathers of Italian cuisine. How would you de!ne good Italian cuisine?
First, you have to define what is Italian cuisine because Italy is a very long country with French, Austrian and German influences in the north, Arabic influence in the south—the Arab-Greek legacy still lives on in the food culture of southern Italy. Montalbán said that Italian cooking is like Italy itself: It’s hundreds of cities with thousands of church towers. That’s like saying there are hundreds of cooking style with thousands of recipes. So there’s such a variety of cuisine, it would never be fair to nominate just one dish. I’m married to a Sicilian and I’m frequenting her family for 20 years and they explained where is this cooking coming from and its techniques. It is very important because family plays a central role in the transmission of real Italian cooking and very old Italian traditions of cooking but once again my wife’s family is from Sicily only and nobody is Italian as a whole.
What are your signature dishes?
There is no dish you will find in all the restaurants. Here now you will find the fagotelli carbonara or the delectable raspberry 1.1. We are continuously changing the menu as per the seasons because working with fresh products is a must.
Can we still find real traditional Italian cuisine in Italy?
Nowadays, it is difficult to find some really good trattorias, especially in a big town like Rome. It is easier to find trattorias in small towns, or for instance, if you go to Sardinia or in the Abruzzo mountains you should be able to find some family trattorias where the mum and the grandmother are still cooking. On the other hand are you ready to eat this kind of traditional dishes today? They are heavy and difficult to digest so not very convenient with our modern lifestyle.
How much of a challenge is it to serve fine dining cuisine, while also focusing on healthy and nutritional value?
Sixteen years ago, when I started working on health and foods with a research centre in the university of medicine in Rome, some people thought I was crazy, but now everybody is talking about it—my dream becomes a trend. Out of all the fine dining chefs around the world, I’m one of the most prepared as I have been studying ingredients, cooking techniques, combining menus and dishes in order to stimulate your stomach to digest better and to preserve micronutrients which are very essential for the functions of your body. We still produce high-quality food but our philosophy is to not only focus on high quality but also to help guests feel better.
The German chef said that dining is not just about paying the bill, but it is also how you feel and wake up the day after. This should be the principle— we are what we eat so if you feed your body with high-quality food your body will become more resistant. A big part of our modern diseases are related to the wrong alimentation. I’m not a doctor; I’m a chef but I’m working with very most important professors of medicine to come with a lot a project about nutrition and alimentation. As you can see I don’t use the term diet as it has a negative impact on the patient. The word “diet” comes from ancient Greek, which means the rule. In our society a sensation is very important, professors should come up with a new word with a negative impact on the patient.
What is your motto?
My motto is simple: Don’t stop before the good is better and the better is best.