Master chef

The Chef’s Palette at Dubai’s Fairmont The Palm is far from your typical restaurant. Here, it’s all about dining with a difference. The inspiring space is dedicated to the culinary arts and sees enthusiastic gourmands, eager to pick up new skills in the kitchen, enjoying an alternative experience with food. At the helm is chef de cuisine Romain Van Durmen, who has curated an intense schedule of cooking classes, chef’s table experiences and a private Friday brunch at the studio. Keen to learn about how it all ties in with his passion, we chat with chef Durmen to find out more…

What inspired your interest in the culinary arts?

“My father being a chef had a great impact on me. I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I learned essential cooking techniques firsthand from him at a very young age and I enjoyed being on my feet in the kitchen all day. Having discovered my passion for food when I was 14 years old, I asked my family if I could work in the industry and so they enrolled me in hospitality school. Then, at the age of 16, I got my first break, working in a Michelin-starred restaurant and that’s how my journey began.”

Having started out at such a young age, what would you say is your earliest and fondest food memory?

“I grew up in the Belgian countryside, surrounded by fields, and I spent a lot of time outdoors. I would climb trees to pick fruit and eat it directly from the branches. Also, every summer, we would pick fresh cherries which grew on our farm and make jam. We would also make fruit preserves with apples and pears. This was my first experience working with seasonal produce and to this day, I can still smell and taste the freshness when I think about it.”

What does a typical day at the studio look like?

“No two days are ever the same. One day, I might be taking stock of produce to cook pasta with a bunch of 12-year-old kids and the next day, I see myself hosting a small group of adults for a wine paired dinner. It’s exciting because it’s different each day. And being able to teach people how to prepare an array of dishes is a fun experience.”

Do you have a signature dish you swear by?

“For me, change is constant. I love creating new dishes and coming up with unique recipes, so I don’t usually repeat the same dishes. However, I do have more knowledge and expertise in French cooking. That being said, I’ve lived in different cities throughout my career and have learned a great deal from local cuisines. At the moment, I’m experimenting with Indian and Thai dishes.”

When you’re not behind the scenes, what cuisine do you enjoy indulging in?

“I am a big foodie and I enjoy a lot of different cuisines. But my favourite has to be French, although I occasionally enjoy Indian and Thai food. I also love tucking into classic dishes that make use of fresh ingredients. I’ve always believed that when you get the best and freshest of ingredients, that’s half the job done, and from there on, it’s easy to make any dish taste great.”

What is the one cooking rule you always teach your students in the studio?

“Fat is good. It’s great for cooking, it’s good for health and it enhances the taste of the food. It’s also the best fuel for your brain and I always enjoy cooking with fat, but definitely the right kind. ”

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