Recipes for success: Chef Robert Stirrup, culinary director of The Ritz-Carlton Riyadh, offers advice and a seabass and salad recipe 

RIYADH: Robert Stirrup’s culinary journey began in his family home near London. In a busy kitchen, he performed basic tasks on weekends to help prepare meals and this sparked a lifelong passion for cooking.

Now with more than two decades of experience under his belt, including working in five-star hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants, Stirrup is the Culinary Arts Director at The Ritz-Carlton Riyadh.


Al Orjouan at The Ritz-Carlton Riyadh offers international buffet service in an elevated setting. (Supplied)

Here he discusses his favorite food and top tips for amateur cooks. He will also share his recipe for roasted sea bass with etuvée of vegetables and herb salad.

When you were starting out, what was the most common mistake you made?

Probably one of the biggest was constantly trying to add flavors. When you’re not sure about the different flavors and intricacies of the ingredients, you keep adding things. Over time you will start to realize what will work with what. One of the big things that one of my chefs taught me when I was 19 or 20 was to really smell and eat all the different herbs and understand what their flavors are and what you can actually pair them with.

What is your best tip for amateur cooks?

Planning. If you don’t have a plan for what the food will look like or how it will be presented, you’ll miss out on making the list and realizing that a lot can be done ahead of time. If you do a lot of things in advance, you end up just finishing cooking meat, cooking fish, finishing vegetables or heating sauces. Then you don’t put all the pressure on yourself at the last minute and panic and make a mess of it.

What one ingredient can instantly improve any dish?

Citrus. It can lift so many different foods and there are so many different ways you can use it. It’s not just a case of using lemon. You can use different herbs that have a citrus base. You can use limes. You can use yuzu. There are many different ways you can liven up or refresh a dish by adding citrus.

What is the most common mistake you find in other restaurants?

I always check how big the menu is. If I see a big menu, I always think that either the food can’t be fresh or the team can’t be experts in preparing so many dishes. For me, a smaller menu means that the team is more focused and the ingredients will be fresher because they will rotate them properly. I also prefer restaurants that serve a particular style of cuisine rather than trying to do everything for everyone. I also think you can tell a good restaurant by how busy it is before entering. If the restaurant is empty, I don’t go there.

Also, from a service perspective, I always like to ask the team what they would like to eat. It is very important to have a well-trained team. And it’s so hard to find good people. But train the team so that when they talk to guests and explain the menu, they are really confident with it. I recently went somewhere where they presented the dishes and didn’t explain them at all. They just said, ‘Enjoy’ and left. And that changed the whole experience – instead of them sharing a bit of their knowledge and joy in being there and in what they serve.

What is your favorite cuisine?

I like the simplicity of Japanese food. When you cook Japanese food, you can’t hide behind anything because it’s so simple. It is the quality of the ingredients that make up the food.

What is your favorite meal if you have to cook something quickly at home?

I tend to open the fridge and see what’s in there. It’s something that always drives my wife crazy. I don’t like to make big purchases, I prefer to buy ingredients regularly and then just see what’s there. I really don’t think you need more than three or four ingredients to make a meal, especially at home.

But I think something easy that everyone likes is probably pasta. There are so many different dishes you can make.

What customer behavior annoys you the most?

I think it’s just rude. Everyone is busy, everyone is in a hurry, but the person who cooks for you or greets you or serves you? They are people too. Good behavior and politeness to people costs nothing. And I think you’re going to have a much more enjoyable experience and they’re going to have a much more enjoyable experience. Even if something is wrong and you want to talk to someone about it, you can still be polite (about it). People are suddenly very aggressive sometimes and I think it’s very unfair to the team who are trying their best to cook or serve.

What is your favorite food to cook and why?

I like to cook fish. It’s so versatile whether it’s sea bass, cod, snapper… anything really. Find a great piece of fish and some fresh vegetables, put them together and add different spices. I always think it’s a sign of a good cook if someone knows how to cook fish well because it’s very easy to overcook it and get it wrong. And like I said, the fewer ingredients the better.

What are you like as a chef?

I am quite relaxed. I’m used to having very large teams; I have almost 150 people in my team. In my last place, I had almost 300. So I am a team player, an organizer who understands people. I find it much more effective than yelling and screaming. Sometimes yes, you have to raise your voice to get everyone to stop and listen, but very rarely.

RECIPE

Chef Robert’s roasted sea bass with etuvée of vegetables and herb salad

Serves two

For the sea wolf

INGREDIENTS: 2 fillets of sea bass (180 g each); 7 g of caraway seeds; 5 g of sumac; 10 g of dried oregano; 10 g of sesame seeds; salt and pepper to taste (approx. 5g each)

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Roast the cumin in a dry pan until aromatic. Transfer to a mortar and grind together with sumac, oregano, sesame seeds, salt and pepper to a fine powder. Save the extra for future use.

2. Fry the sea bass fillets seasoned with a mixture of spices until they are cooked and golden.

For the vegetable etuvée:

INGREDIENTS: 1/2 large fennel bulb or 8 baby fennel, shaved or finely chopped; 1 carrot or 4 baby carrots, grated or finely chopped; 4 baby artichokes (optional), shaved or finely chopped; 2 banana shallots, finely chopped; 2 cloves of garlic, crushed; 10 basil leaves; 4 sprigs of thyme; 100 ml of vegetable broth; juice of 2 lemons; 50 ml of extra virgin olive oil; salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Sauté the shallot in olive oil until transparent. Add pressed garlic and cook until soft.

2. Add the carrots and artichokes (if using), then add the remaining olive oil, herbs and vegetable stock.

3. Cook slowly over medium heat, covered with a lid or cling film, for 10 minutes. Then stir in the lemon juice and season.

For the herb salad:

Combine the seasonal salad with 2 g fresh dill, 2 g fresh basil and 2 g fresh sorrel.

GATHERING:

Place the sea bass on a bed of etuvée vegetables. Garnish with greens of your choice, such as asparagus or green beans. Top with fresh herb salad.

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