Chef Gregoire Berger of Michelin-star restaurant Ossiano talks to Emirates Man about his culinary journey, early success as a chef and his ocean-inspired restaurant in Dubai.
Did you always want to be Chef? How did it all begin?
I come from Brittany, which is in the West of France. It’s a beautiful place on the seafront where everything is centred around unique and regional products; Brittany, of course, is most famous for its seafood. Here is where everything started for me as a chef. I spent my younger years cooking with my mother and grandmother in the kitchen, and I quickly became accustomed to quality ingredients. When I was 16 years old, I realised that I wanted to become a chef, and after many years in my mother’s kitchen I wanted to see what it would truly be like working in a restaurant’s kitchen. So, I took on an apprenticeship at La Closerie de Kerdrain, a gourmet restaurant in Auray created by Martine and Fernand Corfmat. Walking into that kitchen was a magical experience for me, that is when I knew that I would never look back.
Talk us through your culinary background.
After my apprenticeship, I went on to train under many of the world’s leading culinary talents at several acclaimed Michelin star restaurants in France, to large luxury resorts around the world, including Paul Bocuse, Roger Verge, and the late Gaston Lenotre, as well as Frederic Robert at la Grande Cascade Paris. I also took time to master my craft under Pastry Chef Gilles Marchal and Chef Michael Nave, the right arm of Pierre Gagnaire and head chef of Balzac. My next major career move was when relocated to the Middle East, where I took the reins of Ossiano – the rest is history.
What brought you to Dubai?
I’ve always been travelling. I left France when I was 20 and I moved to Florida, USA. While I was waiting to go to Florida and working in a two Michelin starred restaurant in Spain, I met a guy who became one of my mentors. He had an opportunity for me to come to Morocco as a sous chef after I spent two years in the USA. My parents had divorced, and my mother was in Morocco, so I thought it sounded great. I went to Morocco and got married, it was destiny. Afterwards, I came back to Paris to work at La Grande Cascade but decided Paris wasn’t for us, so we moved to Asia. We wanted to move to Singapore. That was my dream at that time because I thought that it was a great place to grow, and I was amazed by the quality of life. But I always heard that it was easier to move to Asia after spending time in an English-speaking environment such as Dubai or London. Dubai was booming at that time. So, I say you know what? Let’s move to Dubai. I found an amazing opportunity where I stayed for a year and then came to Ossiano. But yes, originally, Dubai was just meant to be a bridge to move to Asia.
What inspires you when creating new dishes or menus?
Everything inspires me. Architecture, poetry, the aquarium at Ossiano, colours, shapes, textures, music – I love rap music. I compare one of my favourite rap artists, Furax Barbarossa, to a three-Michelin star chef because the more you listen to one of his songs, the more you understand what he is saying and the more you realise how perfectly it is made – there are layers upon layers in his compositions and it’s only after you’ve heard one 50 times that you realise how powerful it is! His music is very personal, and he doesn’t follow any rules; that’s because with real art there are no rules. I’m also really influenced by beauty. I want everything to have a sense of beauty and I always want to recreate that moment that you see something truly beautiful for the very first time.
How would you describe your culinary style and approach to cooking?
Storytelling is at the heart of everything I do. The menu at Ossiano reflects the romance of my own life, as chapters of a book. I take experiences and memories from my travels and turn them into unforgettable dining experiences. Throughout my menus and culinary creations, you will see a common theme, which is how I pay homage to the oceans and my travels, I have also always had a lifelong respect for seasonality, terroir, and sea foraging, and this can be seen in many of the dishes that we present to our guests.
You’re the youngest and only chef in the country to be featured in the top 100 in the Best Chef Awards for five consecutive years. Tell us more.
It is an incredible honour to receive such an amazing, global accolade, consecutively. Every time we take home an award whether that’s for me as a chef or for Ossiano, it motivates me to push boundaries further and to innovate further.
You showcase in your dishes some of the best sustainably sourced produce from around the world. How important is this to you?
Sustainability is a big topic in Dubai, where everybody tries to use local products. Personally, I believe it’s more consciousness through food. For instance, we have this dish using langoustine where we use the full langoustine from the head to the tail and then the plate itself has been recycled and then we tell the story of the landscape, basically the food helps us to create a kind of story for people to realise something relating to sustainability. When we speak about sustainability, everybody would think, OK, let’s take a product that is sustainable, which we do in every course. But it’s also how you can impact people to ensure that they themselves will be sustainable, which has a bigger impact, like a web. We can make sure that people will themselves try to be more sustainable, which has more impact than only being sustainable ourselves. That said, at Ossiano we always use seafood that’s found within 50km of a coastline, this is something that is ingrained in our DNA.
What is the hero dish at Ossiano?
It’s hard to choose one hero dish because we are always innovating the concept of Ossiano, where the experience is a tasting menu. The dining experience features nine to eleven waves including the option of wine pairing. Ossiano is about storytelling and so this style of dining experience allows the front of house team the time to spend with the guests so they can guide them through the journey properly.
What does the future hold for Ossiano?
What doesn’t the future hold! We have so many exciting ideas and plans that we can’t wait to share. We, of course, will continue to perfect our craft and the overall dining experience, with the goal of achieving more Michelin stars, climbing higher on global lists, and drawing in people to experience dining like never before. One of my main goals is to continue bringing some of the biggest names in the culinary world to Ossiano for collaborations. I love working with other chefs, and we have already seen a packed schedule of culinary names that I really respect. I only ever work with people who share the same passion as me, the same vibe and we have some great partnerships in the pipeline. This year I have had the pleasure of collaborating with five of the world’s most acclaimed chefs, including the globally celebrated chef Esben Holmboe Bang, to one of Copenhagen’s most exciting chefs, Eric Vildgaard of Jordnær, who has two Michelin stars and was on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants List 2022 at No. 38, Joan Roca of three Michelin-starred restaurant, El Celler De Can Roca, Australia’s most celebrated, ethical, seafood chef, Josh Niland. My next and final four-hands of 2023, which has been perfectly planned to end what has been a year filled of culinary highlights, will be with one of Spain’s most influential chefs, Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz, which has two Michelin stars and inclusion in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list 2023 at No. 31. Over the years Andoni has built a reputation for curating some of the world’s most iconic dishes including edible stones, glazed garlic, and the Michelin Man.
Images: Supplied by Ossiano