If you are a health-conscious person, chances are you have been adding more veggies and grains to your diet and are eschewing large amounts of red meat. However, when meat of high quality is prepared the right way, i.e., marinated and grilled over a slow-burning wood fire, it not only tastes delicious, it also has health benefits.
We were won over by the fabulous dishes at RARE when we recently visited the Desert Palm Per Aquum in Dubai. They have just redesigned their kitchen to incorporate a custom-made oak-burning wood-fire grill and create dishes that can be cooked over a slow-burning wood fire grill. IRMA talked to Chef Joanna Portella about the cooking methods and the inspiration behind the recipes.
IRMA: What makes the preparation of food so different when cooked on a wood fire grill?
Joanna Portella: The kitchen has been designed to incorporate an oak burning wood fire grill and the dishes have been created to be cooked over slow burning oak which has redefined the grilling process. The wood fire grill features a smoke and fire box and perfectly chars meats and seafood with temperatures reaching as high as 400 degrees C. When you cook with wood, you do not lose the juiciness of the meat because of the high temperature. That way you have more flavor, you get texture on the outside as well as the aroma. The texture becomes crunchier and the aroma of smoke enters the flesh, giving it a unique flavor and tenderness.
Baking on a plate or on the grill is very similar to baking in the oven. The difference lies in the fact that when baking on the plate, the heat on the food derives from hot air (direct fire and irradiation). The function of the fat is just to prevent the food from clinging to the plate. At RARE, we have created exclusive meat marinades using various spices such as smoked paprika, Jalapeños, onion powder, pink salt, dried parsley, mustard seeds and cloves.
IRMA: The inspiration for most dishes at RARE comes from the South American asado. Which other influences do you incorporate from your home country with modern cuisine?
Joanna Portella: Our inspiration comes from Latin America because they are the pioneers and excel in the making of a barbecue. The cuisine of Latin America is expanding and revealing great chefs and excellent restaurants like the much celebrated Central in Peru. We have tried to incorporate the rich flavors, different textures and aromas, and unique ingredients in Brazil in the menu and bring the flavors to Dubai along with several Latin sauces. Our way of cutting and preparing the meats is also traditionally Latin America. For example we feature Ceviche on our menu, made in the traditional Peruvian way. Dishes can be enjoyed individually or shared, making this a highly social affair or simply a romantic meal for two.
IRMA: RARE’s signature cut of beef is a dry-rubbed ribeye bone-in short cut. Tell us a little bit more about the variety of beef you can have at RARE.
Joanna Portella: The ingredients have been carefully sourced from select local and overseas farms that are known for delivering the best produce. Our meats come from Rangers Valley Farm in Australia. Their beef is renowned for its exceptional quality, incredible flavour and succulent, juicy tenderness. We use 100% Black Angus Steers and Wagyu cross from specially selected cattle ensuring all of their products exhibit exceptional marbling characteristics.
IRMA: How do you create dishes with meat in a society that has more and more vegetarians?
Joanna Portella: Today it is very important to choose the right product from good-quality farms. We also cater well to vegetarians by giving our own spin on traditional vegetarian dishes, such as the salt crust roasted vegetables with melted Camembert dressed with chive-sherry cream or Parmesan risotto with smoked heirloom cherry tomatoes.
IRMA: What are for you the benefits when including meat in your cuisine?
Joanna Portella: The simplest answer would probably be that meat makes a dish exciting and tastes great. As meat contains a large amount of protein, this is beneficial to the body. Proteins are there to improve the overall health and well-being of the body. Of the many nutrients that meat contains, meat is rich in iron and zinc. Another important benefit of eating meat is the maintenance of your skin’s health.
IRMA: Are there also health reasons which have a positive effect when preparing meat on an oak burning wood fire grill?
Joanna Portella: Wood fire grills are only healthier if used in the proper way, such as not grilling over direct flames. The consumption of red meat assists in the health of the heart and the nervous system. Its large amount of protein and some of the vitamins give energy to the body and with a grilled wood fire you do not lose the proteins of the meat, because the time of preparation is faster due to the temperature of the heat being higher.
IRMA: Where are you looking for inspiration and trends when creating a new menu?
Joanna Portella: We find inspiration through books and through our clients. We always try to diversify our menu, mixing modern gastronomy with traditional cuisine. Summing up inspiration comes from inside, working with ingredients of the highest quality.
IRMA: Your favourite drink or wine you love to enjoy with a good steak for dinner?
Joanna Portella: Cuvée Alexandre from Chile.
IRMA: How important are the restaurant’s interior design, tableware and plates when it comes to a perfect dining experience? How do you influence a dish by its surroundings?
Joanna Portella: The interior design of the restaurant provides the atmosphere of an evening, which is a perfect combination for a pleasant dining experience. RARE’s contemporary and bright design allows for breezy social dining featuring a chef’s bench made of onyx, which takes inspiration from Japanese sushi-style seating.
You can opt for the casual seating on the sofas on the terrace overlooking the Dubai skyline and expanses of green of the polo fields or dine at a table on the terrace. You may also sit indoors to partake in the action of the show kitchen while still feeling part of the al fresco atmosphere with the fully retractable glass doors giving the restaurant space a light country club feel. To add to the experience, RARE showcases an award-winning cellar housing over 300 varieties of world-class wine. Overall, the interior design is important to provide a warm and elegant atmosphere.
IRMA: What made you become a cook?
Joanna Portella: I became a chef because I love cooking. Finding the right ingredients and transforming them into beautiful dishes which are full of life is inspiring to me. Cooking is like weaving a delicate robe of aromas, colors, flavors, textures. A divine mantle that will lie on someone’s palate. That is the reason for cooking and art.