Up Close with Dubai’s private chef Luca Cima
Name: LUCA CIMA
Profession: Chef and General Manager
Hobbies: Sailing, motorcycling
How did your passion for cooking come about?
I have always liked to eat well, a habit which has been mostly incited by my father. As a child, I often accompanied him on his travels around Italy for work, and he would make sure we always savoured the best cuisines the Regions we visited had to offer.
For him, food was a kind of a religion. He always had to eat well. At home, he was often demanding, but fair and refined.
Lunch and dinner were always taken very seriously and considered very important daily rituals. He was always in search of quality.
Also, as a hunter and a fisherman, he brought me very close to “the source” or “the ingredient”. He is the one who transmitted his passion to me which, later in life, has become not just work but rather a great curiosity of mine.
You see I didn’t just want to eat well, instead I wanted to know how to cook it. .
How did this passion of yours become a job?
The curiosity was such, that I began to look for work as a volunteer in restaurants.
At first, I simply had to look and observe. I would sit in a corner in the kitchen and take down notes.
After some time the Chefs began to ask me to clean the vegetables, to fillet the fish, to portion the meats, to mix the ingredients. Soon I was in charge of some of the preparation
I used to work in an office until 5pm and by 6pm, I would be in the kitchen till 11pm. Sometimes, often in the early hours of the morning, before work, I would return to the kitchen to see how bread was made, mainly the focaccia that would be served later that day.
It took me a year of proving myself to be allowed to turn on a stove and one evening I was asked to replace a Chef and to be in charge of the main courses. That memorable evening I cooked at Bice’s, coincidentally the restaurant where my grandparents used to take my father and in turn, the very place my father used to take me as a child.
That evening went well and I started doing regular shifts.
It was a second job that lasted 4 years. In the meantime, I also worked in two other restaurants, working alongside great Chefs and therefore always refusing payment, as my intention was that of gaining fundamental knowledge and experience.
Where did you start your career?
I started out in Milan but my real commitment began here in Dubai.
What is your favorite dish and is there anything you detest making?
It’s safe to say I don’t hate any dish.
Of course, I like some better than others.
For example, I love fish in all its infinite expressions.
In recent years I got reacquainted with vegetables and this has been so far a great revelation, a whole new world I had not enough delved into before.
Could you name two flavours that you think should not be combined?
Taste changes over time and nowadays, you can see all types of combinations such as white truffle on fish, land ingredients alongside sea ingredients. This chills me to the bone but it has become a popular trend everywhere.
Therefore, it is difficult to say what is permissible, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am very faithful to traditional cuisine, the one based on broths, classic sauces, baking, handmade pasta, simple things that require time, patience and love. Of course, rules are made to be broken but first, it is essential to know them deeply, otherwise it is, culinary violence!
What is one essential ingredient your kitchen cannot do without!
As for the essential ingredient, butter is most definately the essence of love in my kitchen.
Which chef do you admire the most?
I would have to say, Thomas Keller who is among the most famous Chefs in the world, an American straight out of French school. He can be described as the Mozart of the culinary world. Amongst those with whom I worked, I admire Chef Leonardo Maltese for his sense of smell and Colin Clague who is simply a genius.
What is your favorite cuisine?
Italian cuisine remains my absolute favourite although I cannot say it is the best. It is still very deeply rooted and lives on in the simple flavours of everyday home cooking. It can be a heavy burden for someone to carry. I would need another lifetime to really learn other cuisines which I find fascinating such as Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, away from Deliveroo blasphemy, of course.
What would you say is your forte?
Definitely my homemade pasta, and my raw fish.
It is almost Valentine’s Day!
What’s your ideal menu for this romantic evening?
I would recommend a delicate amberjack ceviche with citrus fruits, a Mazara red prawn tartar and something delicious like a stuffed squid (of course without garlic for February 14th). Better to finish off with on a light note, not too dry, perhaps a fresh apple sorbet.
What does the pleasure of the table mean to you?
Pleasure comes through at the first sigh that is given at the very first bite. It is shown in the first instinctive reaction to taste. Like when you smell that particularly good scent that you immediately love. Pleasure is evident when you understand that it is going to be a good dinner.
Of course, sharing makes every dish ever so more enjoyable.
It is up to the us chefs to make sure that our guests are happily fed, which in turn gives us a sense of gratification knowing that everyone’s taste buds have been satisfied, not only when it comes to taste but also visually.
What are some mistakes to avoid when you have guests for dinner?
Very often, chefs are too wrapped up in their own ideas and creations that they tend to forget who they are cooking for.
Sometimes we forget to ask our guests about their preferences and their intolerances.
Chefs need to remember that they are cooking for others rather than themselves.
The really good ones are those who manage to put their ego aside, perform their best and deliver beautifully prepared delicious meals that entice guests.
Could you share with us the most bizarre request you have ever received from a customer?
It has to be when I was asked to put parmesan on Catalan Lobster…no comments on that one.