"I like cooking with fire, prehistoric style"
Since it opened its (yellow) door in Dubai a few months ago Weslodge Saloon has rapidly been gaining a sizable reputation to fit its big meats and strong cocktails. As the first international iteration of the Toronto-based original, Esquire Middle East asked executive chef Ben Heaton to tell us a bit about it, himself and even the secrets to one of his 'quick-fix' dishes.
Rugged and refined
Weslodge Saloon in Toronto is a trendy and vibrant place where the cocktails are strong, the food is big and the crowds have fun having fun. Bringing the restaurant to Dubai, we wanted to make sure it adapted for the audience, Aesthetically it's more refined, but we kept the steaks big!
Man make fire
I like cooking with fire, prehistoric style. The older I get, the more I've come to appreciate a simpler way of cooking. I've done the finicky, technique-heavy stuff. I've sous-vided this and gelled that, modified stuff with hydrocolloids - I'm done with all that. Give me a piece of really well-aged steak, seasoned properly and cooked over fire. I think people appreciate the flavour a lot more.
All up in your grill
Ninety percent of our meny has touched the grill in some form or other. Every restaurant I've opened up recently has had some kind of grill element, and at Weslodge Dubai we use a massive, all-natural charcoal and hardwood grill, which takes two people to operate! It's 12 feet of pure intense heat, that has a sear you cannot replicate at home.
Table for 10
Eating our is so crucial to the social culture in Dubai that we rarely have tables of just two people. The other night, we had a table of 65 and another booking for 50! I thought my staff were messing with me. I had roughtly that number of people attend my wedding, and I thought that was a big party!
Classic Canadian poutine is having a moment in the UAE, so we've decided to give it an upscale tweak. We use really tasty Maris Piper potatoes, that you can't get in Canada, and instead of thick, heavy gravy, we substitute it with a really intense and light lobster bisque. It's pretty special.
Learn by doing
I think I became a chef because growing up I was never really exposed to good food. Although I am Canadian, my parents are from northern Engand and it was a family where food wasn't a big focus. My mum did make a mean sheppard's pie, though. My brother and I took on most of the cooking duties growing up because the food wasn't great, and, as fate would have it, we are now both chefs!
It's pretty amusing when the whole family gets together. I normally let my brother cook, because he's a hotel chef, and therefore doesn't work as hard but gets paid double! It doesn't matter how many awards I win for my cooking, my parents will normally complain that the meat "isn't cooked for long enough".
I'm a true believer in the idea that if produce isn't good enough, then it doesn't get on my menu. I don't care if it's locally produced by the farm across the road, if it tastes bad, then I'll source it elsewhere. Some of the local produce here in the UAE is great, other things not so much.
The philosophy of "nose to tail" is important to me. I have tattoos of a cow and a sheep on my arms that are divided into all the cuts you can have. Just because some cuts are less popular, it doesn't mean that they aren't delicious. Cooking with unpopular cuts is a good way to push yourself as a chef.
Yes, Prime Minister
I'd love to cook for [Canadian Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau. He's a cool guy and is doing some good things for Canada. I've read that he's a pretty adventerous eater, so that could be fun.
Weslodge Saloon, JW Marriott Marquis, Dubai. Open daily 6pm to late. weslodge.ae