At Chef's Table with Justin Galea - Le Royal Merdien Hotel, Abu Dhabi
|At the FACT Awards celebrating the hotel's success.|
There is no dish that is the greatest exponent of his philosophy regarding that connection than the Creative Tiramisu I had in Amalfi when Chef Pascal Sfara was still there on that memorable night. If a Chef is able to tap into people's emotions and memories, he can trigger happy feelings (the converse is true of course). To this day it is my favourite dessert in Abu Dhabi. At the time I wrote these words and they remain true: For dessert, Chef prepares a tiramisu. Of course; one of Italy's many sweet contributions to the culinary world. What he brings to my table leaves me with a puzzled look. Could it be? No. Surely not. But...wait, it is. Candy floss. It triggers the emotion. The second time. A warm, fuzzy feeling sweeps over me, as I sit in awe with the wonder of a child. Associations. With my fingers I eat through the centre of the candy floss to reveal part of the tiramisu underneath. I eat away at more of the candy floss. Childhood. My daughter. Associations. The picture is supposed to keep the surprise; the intrigue. No spoilers. Try it, and feel Chef Justin's words.
What does Chef do in his free time? At another dinner at Stratos, he jokingly said that he had no real hobbies and did not go to the gym. He is a devoted family man, but his hobby is his kitchen. And that kitchen can be at the hotel or at home. It is at home where his daughter, aged around 3, cooks with him. He places a great deal of emphasis on educating people, especially children, about eating habits. He is very dedicated to tackling obesity in young people through food education. In 2015 he spearheaded Starwood's Adopt a School program that ran in conjunction with Royal Academy of Culinary Arts in the UK. Chef Justin, himself a member of the academy, will no doubt continue his involvement in this, especially considering the alarming rate of obesity in kids in this region.
Chef Justin has retained a wonderful humility about him. Since ascending to his dual role as Director of Food & Beverage and Executive Chef, he is very much Chef as he was when I met him that night in May. More often than not, you will come across a duality in him when you see him in a pair of trainers and his signature Hugo Boss jacket.
|Stratos is sheer luxe.|
Abu Dhabi needs places like this that are luxurious without costing too much money. In fact, with the accolade of the best venue for afternoon tea in the UAE recently bestowed on Stratos by Gulf News, I sense momentum about to take Stratos to another level - pun intended. The exciting thing for Chef Justin is that this was even before the Eric Lanlard Afternoon Tea is launched, which incidentally, takes place in November. I recall Chef's tone of voice when he talked about this a few months ago - the boy is very much alive in the man, and in a Wordsworthian sense, the boy is indeed father to the man in Chef!
|Chef Jordan at Market Kitchen showing a young foodie the beauty of food - Market to Kitchen.|
Chef Justin Galea has been part of a transformation that has seen the hotel's top three restaurants, Market Kitchen, Amalfi and Stratos each reflect his vision. They are different restaurants, but all connected by an unwillingness to compromise on quality of ingredients. He has also introduced concepts that take the restaurants beyond the usual dining experience. It has been such a privilege as a writer to sit down with Chef on various occasions over the last 18 months.
"We become what we are because of our mothers", he said one night. Looking at my life, his words are reflected clearly. Justin Galea, an inspiring figure with a heart and vision as big as his smile, Abu Dhabi salutes you.