There are so many things to love about La Serre. Walking into the airy, elegant French bistro, you almost forget that you’re in a bustling city surrounded by desert, concrete, and skyscrapers. With its crisp, white table linens and floor-to-ceiling windows that welcome natural light, La Serre is the perfect sanctuary where the food and ambiance are a match made in heaven. Chic and subtle, without being pretentious, you’ll want to throw on more than a pair of jeans to complement the backdrop of your beautiful surroundings. I’ll use any excuse to put on a pretty dress and a pair of high heels – this place has eating great food in style covered!
So when I was invited to cook alongside La Serre’s head-chef Stephane Cocu, I was thrilled to have a chance to get up close and personal with one of Dubai’s finest culinary masters. I was also a little nervous. It is the chef, after all, who sets the tone of the kitchen. He is the star of the show and the genius behind the restaurant. I had to do this privilege justice!
My apprehension was put to rest upon meeting chef Stephane. I was immediately welcomed into the dining room to discuss the dish that we would be cooking together – a roasted wild-caught Turbot with truffle crust and creamy baby leeks.
Warm, friendly, and easy to talk to, Stephane gave me a bit of insight into the influence behind his culinary philosophy. When asked about the inspiration for this particular dish, his answer resonated with my comfort food loving heart, “A new dish always comes from a combination of dishes or ingredients that I have made or tasted in the past and something that I miss at the present. I always want to create a dish that brings back memories.” He also makes sure that any dish he introduces fits with the concept of the restaurant.
Originally from the city of Montpellier in France, Stephane started his career as a chef in his home country, eventually moving to Brussels and New York. He moved back to France where he ran his own restaurant, later working in Singapore before moving to Dubai. Inspired by seasonal ingredients and a Mediterranean cooking style, he took over the kitchen at La Serre just over five months ago, infusing his own interpretation on classic French cuisine. “I love to come up with my own spice blends to ‘finish’ a dish,” says Chef Stephane, “sometimes it can be one specific peppercorn or berry, and I use this as my personal touch.” He admits that sourcing ingredients locally can sometimes be a challenge, and relies on trusted suppliers across the UAE, the Middle East, and Europe to access the very best ingredients that La Serre is renowned for.
Upon entering the kitchen, Chef Stephane gave me a quick rundown on the ingredients we would be using for the dish. Onions, celery root, and baby leeks were cooked down until soft, then steeped into cooking cream to form the base of the sauce. He made it clear not to reduce the cream, or it would result in a thick, cloying paste. Tip noted.
Since I’m somewhat of a truffle freak, I was ecstatic when I was handed a jar of pure truffle paste to finish the sauce. Pungent in the way that truffles are meant to be, this was a serious paste to be used with discretion (although I probably could have eaten the whole jar with a spoon!). I added a bit of the paste to the sauce, and set it aside while we got on with the fish.
A beautiful filet of Turbot was placed in front of me. This isn’t just any fish – hailing from Brittany on the northern French coast, this particular Turbot is in season for only three months, which makes it the perfect star to grace the fall-winter menu at La Serre.
After seasoning the delicate white flesh with a touch of sea salt, I placed the fish on a hot, heavy-bottomed pan, kissed with a splash of olive oil.
We let the Turbot do its thing, undisturbed, until it developed a light golden exterior. Careful not to overcook the fish (we would cook it through again later), we set it aside to rest with the sauce.
A block of compound butter made of truffle paste, truffle oil, shallot confit, fresh thyme, and lemon zest forms the aromatic “croûte” – the crust crowning the top of the fish. Chef also used a ratio of half pain-de-mie and half brioche bread within the butter to balance out texture and sweetness. After I observed how to cut the butter so that it covered the surface evenly, we placed the fish in a Salamander oven – a small broiler oven used in commercial kitchens – until it formed a deep golden crust, ready to be plated.
While the fish was broiling, we added fresh thyme, chopped chives, half a teaspoon of truffle oil and a few drops of lemon to the cream sauce. It smelled divine, and as I would find out later, it was.
To finish the dish, we spooned the cream sauce into a small copper pan, creating a little nest, and placed the filet on top. A few micro greens garnishing the croûte, and voilà, ready to serve – leaving me, fork in hand, as the lucky taste tester.
As soon as I broke through the top of the crust, my fork slid seamlessly through the fish into the rich, aromatic sauce.
Did it taste as good as it sounds? You better believe it. Chef Stephane’s culinary passion manages to leap out of the kitchen right on to your plate in his exquisite signature dish. I’m honored and humbled to have had the chance to cook alongside him at La Serre and watch his genius in action.
Who knows, I might just try to recreate this at home.
Photos by Tara Atkinson Photography
Hair by Mustafa at Al Sagheer Salon