Pastry chef Kevin Lacote

And no, the chocolate used in this is not sourced from Honduras ;-)
The ‘Chocolat Chaud-Froid’ previously served at Zest

I had the pleasure of sampling pastry chef Kevin Lacote’s creations during 2014 at One&Only The Palm in Dubai. I tried each and every one of them at the resort’s 3 restaurants: STAY by Yannick Alleno, Zest, and 101 Dining Lounge and Bar. I also even paid the full price for the iftar buffet served at Zest last Ramadan just so that I could gorge myself on the dessert section (several times over, I might add – it’s a shame that they have no wall of fame at this establishment!).

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The lemongrass-infused floating islands previously served at Zest

If I had to point out some of my favourites (other than the 2 that you see above), they would have to be ones that delivered delicately nuanced flavours without being at all rich or heavy. One of the best examples of the chef’s finesse and deftness was his whisper-light tonka-infused ‘chocolate delight’ (an image of which is available on his The ChefsTalk Project page) – it’s a ball of chocolate mousse atop a cylindrical chocolate wafer encasing a tonka-bean infused chocolate foam. It pleases the palate without adding so much as a micron to one’s waist. I would have also encouraged you to try his cloud-like blanc manger, but his work is sadly no longer being served at the resort, as he moved to France soon after Ramadan of 2014 to work on the opening of STAY Paris le Faubourg.

And while I am on the subject of ‘cloud-like’, I should also mention that some of his guimauves (marshmallows) were up there with those that I sampled at Choix.

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And the pate feuilletee in his vanilla mille-feuille, a pastry which can test even the most dexterous of pastry chefs, was sufficiently caramelized and crisp.

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The chef’s playful use of texture and colour invites you to eat with your eyes – although the next dessert was not my bag (I’m no great fan of avocado), the presentation alone was enough to make me drool…

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As dessert concepts go, STAY’s dessert library is one of the most progressive that I have come across in Dubai, which, sadly, isn’t saying much. Most of the dessert menus at Dubai’s restaurants read like a by-the-numbers list of the usual suspects – chocolate fondant, cheesecake, creme brulee, tiramisu – and so STAY’s approach in using a dessert bar to showcase the chef’s inventive creations and get him or her to interact with the diners is novel. And let me be absolutely clear that this article was written neither at the behest of the pastry chef nor of the restaurant (nor did I receive any freebies), so all of the views expressed on this page (and on this site, to date) are mine alone.

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A sight for sore eyes – makes you feel like a kid in a candy store

One of the highlights of this dessert menu is the selection of sweet delights that are served “by the metre” – each nibble offers a juxtaposition of flavours and textures as you can see in the following shot:

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 At AED 180, this metre stretched even my purse strings, and it did take several visits for me to finally fork out this sum. If I had to be critical of STAY’s dessert bar, I would say that it is ultimately there to serve dessert to diners who have already had starters and mains, and not intended as a fully-fledged dining experience. I visited the restaurant twice to dine on the dessert menu alone, but found the experience to be a little underwhelming. But seeing as this concept was not devised with dessert gluttons like myself in mind, perhaps my criticism is unwarranted. The only dessert bar in Dubai that I am aware of is Chikalicious Dessert Club ME and although I have not dined there yet (I’m getting too old for cookies, brownies, and red velvet cakes), I did try their vanilla ‘doughssant’ and it is by far the best version of the popular ‘cronut‘ that I have come across locally to date (I may even go so far as to say that it may be the only good one). In any case, it would be refreshing to see more dessert bars (and I specifically mean ones with a haute cuisine / fine dining sensibility) cropping up in Dubai, and it is my view that this is a concept that may in some cases revitalize businesses that are struggling to attract customers – I can think of one establishment currently based in The Dubai Mall that may want to give this idea some serious thought.

Chikalicious ME at The Village Mall in Jumeirah
Chikalicious ME at The Village Mall in Jumeirah

Anyhow, back to Kevin Lacote – I recently came across a list of pastry chefs that had been shortlisted in a recent local F&B industry award, and could not help but notice one chef who in my view does not deserve to be shortlisted (based on the mediocre quality of his work rather than his exemplary managerial and / or other professional skills). So I thought that if this gentleman could make it to such a shortlist, then surely Lacote should too. This prompted me to perform a thorough online search to see if Lacote had been nominated for any awards in Dubai during 2014, but it seems that he was not. And nor was Rodolphe Tronc of Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire. So let me say this:

If two pastry chefs (of those whose work I have sampled in Dubai) deserved to be nominated for the title of ‘best pastry chef 2014’, then they were Rodolphe Tronc (of Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire) and Kevin Lacote (previously of STAY by Yannick Alleno One&Only The Palm).

Given his enviable resume, I would have liked to also nominate Johannes Bonin of the Burj Al Arab, but I have not tried his dessert menu at Al Mahara yet (does the restaurant’s overly formal dress-code have anything to do with this, I wonder?). I tried chef Bonin’s dessert buffets at Al Muntaha and Bab Al Yam, but cannot judge him on the basis of these.

With the super-stratospheric bling on display at the Burj Al Arab, expectations are bound to be sky-high...
With the super-stratospheric bling on display at the Burj Al Arab, expectations are bound to be sky-high…
My pathetic attempt at abstract art while waiting for my table to be made - the view from Al Muntaha is breathtaking!
My pathetic attempt at a little abstract art while waiting for my table to be made – the view from Al Muntaha is breathtaking!
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Lost in a haze of blue…

In any case, I am not sure I see the point of industry awards in the F&B sector given that this industry exists solely to make money from paying customers such as myself!!! What good is a pastry chef that can manage a kitchen / team / business but that is incapable of creating food that I wish to put in my mouth???

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‘Calisson’ dessert by chef Marie Wucher (this was previously served at 101 prior to Lacote’s arrival)

And the F&B awards industry’s inability to recognize and reward excellence in this particular category dates back to 2013, if not earlier. On my first visit to Qbara in late 2013, I came across a tall French gentleman who spent some half an hour trying to figure out who I was (the inventive way with which I lit my shots and my ‘demolition’ of Qbara’s entire dessert menu in one sitting raised the suspicion of the restaurant’s then American manager, and so they both went to some length to try and uncover the identity of this here mystery diner). Not knowing that the Frenchman was previously a member of the team that opened STAY by Yannick Alleno, I mentioned that I had also recently decimated the dessert menu at 101, and when I mentioned chef Marie Wucher’s ‘calisson’ dessert (pictured above; also see Gilles Pudlowski’s blog here), his eyes lit up and we went about exchanging notes on several of the desserts on that menu. He rated her very highly, and mentioned that she was one of the brains (if not the brain – I cannot recollect his precise words) behind the dessert library concept at STAY. It was clear from the way he was praising her that this was a view that was held by other members of staff at that resort. Chef Marie Wucher has (luckily for her, perhaps) returned to her home country of France where she was recognized earlier this year for the quality of her work. Is it not bizarre that a talented young pastry chef (I had the pleasure of very briefly speaking with her as I ploughed my way through her dessert menu at Zest) gets recognized in a country where superb pastry chefs are legion, but not in Dubai where they are painfully rare??? And the same, I guess, may be said of chef Lacote whose work at STAY in Paris managed to excite one French food writer / blogger that reviews the work of pastry chefs in France. Ms. Wucher possibly deserves her own page on my website, but I never tried her creations at STAY, the resort’s flagship restaurant, and so do not have enough material to justify a full article.

I suppose, in the end, it is up to each and every one of us to decide who or what is best. With so many local F&B and restaurant awards, you would think that the average diner has some idea of where the real action is, but, sadly, Kevin Lacote came and went and we never heard so much as a whisper. So I guess it’s down to me to raise a glass of the most divine, unctuous caramel to pastry chefs Marie Wucher and Kevin Lacote – unsung heroes in Dubai’s nascent patisserie and dessert scene!

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It seems I’ve been so busy getting my croissants in a twist over who Dubai’s pastry chefs are / were that I forgot to mention the actual hotel in which all this ‘carnage’ took place, so I shall leave you with a few photos that I took during my many visits to One&Only The Palm, a resort which may very well deserve an award (here we go again) for one of the most “achingly romantic” (hideous cliche, I know) ones in Dubai…

I'll admit, this is not the best photo of Zest as the shrubbery blocks the pleasant outdoor dining area, but I like it all the same...
I’ll admit, this is not the best photo of Zest as the shrubbery blocks the pleasant outdoor dining area, but I like it all the same…
My love of large swimming pools is so bordering on the obsessive that I would have long ago moved into this resort as a permanent resident were I able to afford it...
My love of large swimming pools is so bordering on the obsessive that I would have long ago moved into this resort as a permanent resident were I able to afford it…

I've included this one for perspective...

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101 may very well enjoy one of the dreamiest settings in Dubai…
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To suggest that this is the view that you get from 101’s outdoor lounge is technically ‘cheating’ since I took this shot with the zoom set at just over 300mm.

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