Chef Andrea Gaia is a born and bred Italian who is now the Chef de Cuisine at Vanitas, the signature Italian restaurant at the newly opened Palazzo Versace Dubai.
Palazzo Versace Dubai, newly opened in Cultural Village just 15 minutes from the airport, is a lush hotel from the iconic design house in partnership with ENSHAA. Whilst some parts are still being completed, the hotel has made quite the splash since its opening in late 2015. We had the opportunity to do a Q&A with Chef Gaia, who leads the kitchen team at the hotel’s signature Italian restaurant Vanitas.
(To find out about our stay at the hotel, hop over to our full review here.)
Chef de Cuisine Andrea Gaia is a born and bred Italian from a town near Bologna. He needed no other reason than the opportunity to take on an exciting challenge with a prestigious hotel but Chef Gaia admits that the weather in Dubai was also enticing, especially after 2 years of cold and rainy weather in Paris.
The Vanitas menu features dishes that are Italian with a flair and the interior decor is Versace through and through. Chef Gaia mentions that one of his signature dishes is the delicious Cuttlefish Ravioli, which is served with red prawns, gazpacho, and shellfish. He began cooking this dish back in Italy where it was very well-received and decided to introduce it to the Middle East crowd, where it has been met with rave reviews. It’s a classic Italian dish but the chef has put his own modern edge on it with a slightly different technique.
When asked about when and where his passion for cooking first blossomed, Chef Gaia recalls his grandmother. She was the one who first taught him how to cook and has remained his inspiration in the kitchen. Like a true Italian nonna, she used to cook huge meals for the entire family that brought everyone together, and Chef Gaia realised from a young age that he wanted to become a chef.
The culinary legend he looks up to is Pierre Gagnaire, someone he describes as a mastermind behind fusion cuisine who pushed the boundaries of cooking with precision and style. At Vanitas, Chef Gaia plays around with traditional Italian dishes but at the root of his cooking is the appreciation for fresh ingredients and the desire to showcase them in their purity. He doesn’t particularly care for cooking trends like sous vide or vacuum sealing because the flavour and goodness just aren’t the same as when prepared fresh.
This also means that the chef prefers a simpler style of presentation. Carefully straddling the fine balance between taste and looks, Chef Gaia makes sure that the dishes that come out of the Vanitas kitchen showcase the stunning colours of the food by presenting them on a clean and simple plate.
It’s never easy taking one country’s cuisine and trying to introduce it in its authenticity to another country with a completely different palate. Chef Gaia notes that communication has been key in catering to the UAE market. He says “We can’t guess what the audience wants, we have to speak to them—ask them to try dishes and give their feedback”. He realises that he needs to find out what diners like and what needs a bit more tweaking, so don’t be surprised to see the chef out of the kitchen and walking around the dining room and stopping at tables.
The Vanitas team is just as strong as the rest of the Palazzo Versace team—the staff is absolutely passionate about the kitchen. For them, this isn’t just a job to earn a paycheck; it’s a way of life. Chef Gaia makes sure that anyone who joins him in the kitchen has a good understanding of the food as well as respect for their team members. After all, good teamwork is what keeps them all working together towards the same goal.
He leads by example in the kitchen, taking the time to show his chefs how things should be done instead of simply shouting orders. Chef Gaia believes his passion and enthusiasm for Vanitas rub off on the rest of the team, allowing them to all channel a fantastic energy that keeps the restaurant firing on all cylinders.
Most interesting is the way, or really, the mood, in which the chef writes the menu. When Chef Gaia is angry, he’ll start jotting ideas down on whatever piece of paper is handy. It is when he is emotional that he is most inspired. I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise from a chef who describes himself first and foremost as passionate.
So what restaurants does he enjoy aside from his own? In the UAE, Chef Gaia is partial to Enigma (another restaurant within Palazzo Versace which plans on bringing in a new Michelin chef every 3 months) where they are currently serving Nordic cuisine. Outside of the hotel, he’s never been disappointed by Zuma.
And if we’re talking about the best restaurant in the world? Hands down, Plaza Athénée in Paris for its service, food, and ambiance.
Looks like it’s time to book a flight to Paris next!
P.O. Box 128431, Dubai, UAE