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

RIYADH: Robert Stirrup’s culinary journey began at his family home near London. In the busy kitchen, she performed essential duties in preparing the weekend meals and this sparked a lifelong passion for cooking.

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

The Ritz-Carlton Riyadh Al Orjouan offers international buffet service in a high-quality environment. (attached)

Here he discusses his favorite food and his top tips for amateur cooks. He also shares the recipe for baked sea bass with vegetables and herb salad.

When you first started, what was the most common mistake you made?

Probably one of the biggest was that I kept trying to add flavors. If you’re not really sure about the different flavors and the complexity of the ingredients, you keep adding things. Over time, you begin to recognize 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 actually smell and eat different herbs and understand what the flavors were and what you could 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 should be presented, you’ll fall short of a list and realize that a lot can be done ahead of time. If you do a lot of things in advance, you end up just doing the finishing touches by cooking the meat, cooking the fish, prepping the vegetables, or reheating the sauces. Then you don’t put all the pressure on yourself at the last minute and panic and make a mess of it.

What ingredient can instantly improve any dish?

Citrus fruits. It can spice up so many different dishes and you can use it in so many different ways. It’s not just about using lemons. You can use a variety of citrus-based herbs. You can use lime. You can use yuzu. There are many different ways to revive a dish or bring back the freshness of a dish by adding citrus.

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

I always check to see how big the menu is. When 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, the smaller menu means that the team is more focused and the ingredients will be fresher because they are rotated properly. I prefer restaurants that serve a certain style of cuisine rather than everything to everyone. I also think that in a good restaurant you can tell how busy it is before you go in. If a restaurant is empty, I don’t go there.

Also, from a service point of view, I always like to ask the team what they would like to eat. It is very important to have a well-trained team. And good people are so hard to find. But train the team so that when they talk to guests and explain the menu, they are really confident. I recently went somewhere where the food was presented and not explained at all. They just said, “Enjoy” and left. And that changed the whole experience—instead of sharing a little bit of their knowledge and their enjoyment of being there and serving.

What is your favorite cuisine?

I love the simplicity of Japanese food. You can’t hide behind anything when cooking Japanese food because it’s so simple. The quality of the ingredients is what makes the food.

What is your favorite food when you need to cook something quickly at home?

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

But I think something simple that everyone enjoys is probably pasta. There are so many types of food you can make.

What customer behavior annoys you the most?

I think it’s just impolite. Everyone is busy, everyone is in a rush, but does the person who cooks for you greet you or serve you? They are people too. It costs nothing to have good manners and to be polite to people. And I think you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience and they’ll have a much more enjoyable experience. Even if something is not going well and you want to talk to someone about it, you can still be polite (about it). Sometimes people suddenly become very aggressive and I think it’s very unfair to the team who go out of their way to cook for you or serve you.

What is your favorite food and why?

I like to cook fish. Very versatile, be it sea bass, cod, snapper… whatever. Find a large piece of fish and some fresh vegetables, put them together and add various spices. I always think it’s a sign of a good cook if someone knows how to cook fish because it’s very easy to overcook and spoil it. And like I said, the fewer ingredients, the better.

How are you as a head chef?

I’m pretty laid back. I’m used to having very large teams; There are nearly 150 people in the team. At my last location, there were nearly 300. So I’m a team player, an organizer who understands people. I think it’s much more effective than screaming and yelling. Sometimes yes, you have to raise your voice to make everyone stop and listen, but very rarely.

RECIPE

Chef Robert’s baked sea bass with vegetables and herb salad

Serves two

For sea bass

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

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Toast the cumin seeds in a dry pan until aromatic. Pour into a mortar and grind with sumac, oregano, sesame seeds, salt and pepper to make a fine powder. Set aside for further use.

2. Fry the sea bass fillet seasoned with the spice mixture until they are cooked through and golden brown.

The vegetable stew:

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

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Sweat the shallots in olive oil until translucent. Add the crushed garlic and simmer until soft.

2. Stir in 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 foil, for 10 minutes. Then stir in the lemon juice and adjust the seasoning.

For the herb salad:

Mix seasonal salad greens with 2 g fresh dill, 2 g fresh basil and 2 g fresh sorrel.

ASSEMBLY:

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

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