“When I create food, I want people to be surprised with what they eat. I want them to say, ‘I didn’t even know that was possible.’”
We’re launching Creekside with an exciting new Emirati-inspired menu, and we’ve brought in just the chef to do it! So let’s get to know a little bit about Chef Allan Briones, and what he’s got planned to treat your tastebuds…
What brought you to Dubai and what inspired you to become a chef
My mum’s cooking. When we were kids, my mum always used to show us all the best ingredients. She didn’t mind how expensive things were, just as long as she feeds her kids good quality food. And that’s one of the things that actually inspired me to work with food.
What kind of dishes would she make?
Well, it’s all of course local, Filipino dishes. But you know, there’s always a big difference when you know that you’re eating good stuff, good quality things. That’s something I actually got from her. I never settle for anything less. If there’s something out there that’s the best, that’s what I have to use!
So, you’ve lived all over the world, including Hawaii, Nigeria, and the Philippines. Do you think your travels have affected your cooking style?
Well, for the travelling part, I actually mostly did it when I was very young. You know, my aspirations for being a chef were not yet there. And even my palate for good food wasn’t there, so it didn’t affect it that much. But when I started working, I travelled to a lot of places. And I made sure that wherever I went, I had to try their local dishes. For example, in Italy I had to try their pizza, just for you to know the origins of the place, the food, and the ingredients. But for me, I don’t really use or copy their methods. I use my own methods.
So where in the world would you say you’ve had the best food?
I wouldn’t give a specific place. I would just say everywhere that I have worked!
Ok, aside from your own cooking!
Good food could be everywhere. It all depends on how they execute things. On what they use.
At Creekside, we’re going to be focusing on exploring the culture and history of the surrounding areas of old Dubai. Will this be brought into the menu at all?
So what are the stories behind some of the dishes?
I’ll be very honest – the whole local thing is very new to me as well. But of course, with good suggestions, advice and research, what I’m trying to do is use Emirati food as a base. But using different methods of cooking to execute it. That actually makes a very big difference. And even the use of different spices and ingredients to enhance the whole thing. But I still want the heart of the locals, of their food, to be there.
If we talk about main courses – there’s ghouzi, which is traditionally served during Ramadan. It’s a big plate of rice, with a whole lamb on top of it. But I deconstructed the whole thing, and made it into a burrito! Because that’s what a burrito has – it has the rice and protein inside of it. At least now you don’t have to wait till Ramadan to eat it! And it’s in the form of a sandwich, which makes it very universally appealing.
And for the dessert, I thought about knafeh, because I love knafeh so much. Because it’s basically made out of cheese, very good cheese. To bring something different, I’ve made a cheesecake out of it. Knafeh cheesecake!
Nice! When are you starting this?
After Ramadan. Also knafeh has its own syrup. But I wanted to add a flavour, so what we’re doing is actually rosewater syrup. Even for the brulees, one of my ideas was actually to use dates and cardamom seeds. These are ingredients that locals have been using for generations.
Sounds good! Outside of the professional kitchen, what will you make on that rare lazy day off?
Believe me, I really don’t cook on my days off! I actually save myself from cooking.
So what will you have to eat?
That’s a tough one! You know what I have? Cup noodles. Boil water, pour it inside, and you have your own meal. Done! But if given the chance, I’m a big fan of Japanese food. I’m totally into sushi, sashimi. So I would ideally go out for Japanese food.
Do you ever go anywhere for Filipino food?
No. If it’s going to be Filipino food, I would definitely cook it myself.
Or your mum!
Are there any chefs you particularly look up to?
If we’re going to talk about Michelin star chefs, or celebrity chefs, I actually have a lot that I admire. I actually worked in Marco Pierre White’s restaurant in Abu Dhabi, I would say this was the place where I learned all the techniques. And playing around with different ingredients, it made my mind more playful when it comes to food. Because we were given the freedom to do that. But the outcome had to be exceptional. There was no room for mistakes at Marco Pierre White.
It was one of these situations where, you work yourself so hard, you never even notice how fast time flows. My social life never existed. So what I’m trying to share with Creekside, The Archive, wherever I go in future, is what I learnt there. When I create food, I want people to be surprised with what they eat. I want them to say, I didn’t even know that was possible. I want this to be the only place where they can get that dish. And I will always make sure it stays like that.
Interview by: Bethany Hopper