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With Brian Sundeen, Executive Chef of the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, California.

The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal plays host to visiting chef Brian Sundeen for an exclusive Southern California Cuisine Event at The Forge steakhouse.

Executive Chef Brian Sundeen

A Southern California native, Chef Brian Sundeen is known for his signature desserts as well as his passion for using fresh, local ingredients and sustainable products, reflected in the Laguna Niguel resort’s multiple restaurant experiences, including the award-winning Raya, 180blu, enoSTEAK and The Market Place. At an exclusive four day event, hosted by the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Chef Sundeen highlights the unique spectrum of culinary possibilities that are typical of Southern California’s cuisine, with his tantalizing five course degustation menu. Khaleej Madame were lucky enough to partake of the specially designed menu inspired by the region’s culturally diverse roots, as well as talk to the chef himself.

The stylish and contemporary backdrop of The Forge is the perfect setting to experience Chef Sundeen’s lavish menu. An indulgent amuse bouche of a plump oyster with deliciously refreshing cucumber sorbet whets our appetites for the first course. Next, the Ahi Tuna, caviar, avocado yuzu purée and ponzu, is clean and fresh. The tiny delicate chunks of tuna, atop with luxurious caviar, are beautifully accompanied by the tart, citrusy avocado purée. The second offering of fresh burrata, with pickled peach and cherry tomatoes is a riot of summer colour. The creaminess of the light and fluffy burrata contrasts delightfully with the pleasing kick of the pickled peaches and toasted croutons.

Seared scallops with foie gras and Manchego grits make for a rich and decadent course; the delicious scallops are expertly cooked and the star of the dish. At The Forge, guests have an excellent choice of prime steaks as is reflected in the main course. Grilled New York strip with crab mashed potato, chipotle hollandaise and truffle chimichurri successfully marries together an extravaganza of flavours. Renowned pastry chef Brian does not disappoint for his fifth and final course of carrot cake with cream cheese mousse, maple, pineapple and cream cheese ice cream; the balance of the dish is perfect. Tasty morsels of cake combined with exquisite ice cream, a superb alternative to the usual cream cheese icing, take the meaning of carrot cake to a whole new level.

How do you source the ingredients for a menu planned for an overseas event like this?

Most of the ingredients were sourced in Abu Dhabi, though we did have to adapt a couple of the ingredients that we couldn’t find here, for example, I used polenta instead of grits in the scallop dish. We actually went to a Korean market today to get the chili flakes for the burrata and it was filled with amazing Korean ingredients. I was surprised to see that at the bottom of one of the skyscrapers and it was authentic, the real deal. It’s different coming over here, as at home I get all seasonal produce from Santa Monica farmer’s market, where I can ask details such as which farm meat came from or get twenty different types of melon in season, whereas here chefs are using quality produce imported from all over the world. Being in California we’re spoiled with the freshness of produce and there’s no reason to buy anything in; I don’t have to do much to the ingredients to make them amazing. It’s more of a challenge when I go overseas.

Have any local ingredients or products inspired you since being in Abu Dhabi?

What has inspired me more is some of the meals I’ve eaten here. There were some interesting ingredients used, but with a modern European twist, like kofta with sweet, spiced cherry sauce and amazing breads. In California, Arabian influenced cuisine is becoming more popular, so we have Persian markets and people are starting to ask for Halal meat. We are starting to source Halal meats to add to our steak menus to satisfy requests.

If you were on a desert island, which foods would you bring and why?

Wow! Do I have to worry about spoiling? I love strawberries; it’s one of those ingredients, if I ever leave California, I’ll miss the quality of those strawberries. I would definitely want those on a desert island. I love toro (tuna belly), as I love to eat sushi. We serve sushi four nights a week at Laguna Niguel, importing fish from Japan and using a lot of local fish. We’re spoiled with the fish we get. I’d also take ice cream; even after ten years of pastry, I still cannot say no to ice cream, especially coffee or peanut butter flavours.

Who would be your dream dinner party guests?

I’ve been lucky enough to cook for some heads of state and presidents, which was a lot of fun. But I’d love to cook for people that I can’t cook for. I would love to cook for my father, Ted, but unfortunately he passed away before I was ‘chef’. It would also be an honour to cook for my first teachers from the French Pastry School in Chicago now. I’m also a huge sports fan so it would a lot of fun to cook for Kobe Bryant from the Lakers.

Are there any chefs whose work you follow or which inspires you?

Heston Blumenthal is amazing. I have all of his books. It’s not my style of cooking, but you can learn a lot from other people. A chef’s food is an expression of himself. You’re either eating food that I grew up on or places I’ve been, and he’s the same way and inspired me to be that way. It’s part art and part craft; the art part is the personality of the chef going into the craft.

Do you have any words of inspiration for budding young chefs?

I would always tell them, do what you love. Whatever you do and pour your heart into is going to be hard. The hours are long, it going to be hot, you’re going to cut yourself, and all those things, but in the end it’s going to be worth it, if you work hard. The first five or six years is your foundation and then your career really starts after that.

What’s the longest you’ve ever worked in the kitchen without a break?

When we opened the Moscow Ritz-Carlton I worked for 34 hours straight! Openings and food shows are very intense indeed.

The Forge at the Ritz-Carlton, Abu Dhabi Grand Canal is open 7 days a week (7pm to midnight). The signature steak house serves specialty cuisine in a stylish and contemporary setting. Private dining rooms and a variety of seating options provide the ultimate dining experience. Reservations are recommended 02-818-8282. http://www.ritzcarlton.com