Gordon Ramsay's broadside against imported ingredients will come as a surprise to anyone who has dined at Verre by Gordon Ramsay, his "signature restaurant" at the Hilton Dubai Creek, in Dubai. In swish, anonymous surroundings, the menu entirely consists of dishes that might have emerged from the maestro's London kitchens.
When I ate at Verre in autumn 2006, diners could choose from Scottish salmon, foie gras de Landes, line-caught halibut from the North Sea, Red Label chicken from France and monkfish wrapped in Parma ham. The experience of eating "West Country pork cheeks cooked in honey and cloves" was particularly disorienting in the burgeoning Arabian city.
The loquacious maître d' boasted that "over 80 per cent of the food served at Verre is imported". In fact, it was hard to find anything, aside from dates, watermelon and eggs, that was locally sourced. Even Ramsay's celebrated crème brûlée, we were proudly informed, was made with "homogenised milk flown in from the UK". Virtually everything that the well-heeled diners put in their mouths had travelled more than 3,500 miles to get there.
It seems likely that such ostentatious bragging about air miles has been curtailed following the boss's Damascene conversion to local food, though his high-end cuisine will continue to require produce from northern latitudes.
The arid Gulf states may not offer a cornucopia of ingredients. But in one respect, Dubai is fabulously well endowed. The fish market, on the other side of the Creek from Verre, is packed with maritime wonders. Any adventurous cook would leap at the chance to cook kingfish, blue lobster and other tasty species hauled from the Gulf. White pomfret, lauded by the fish expert Alan Davidson for its "delicious flesh ... well adapted to almost any kind of preparation", abound. Its excellent flavour and flesh are comparable to halibut.
Yet, Ramsay's ambassadors stick rigidly to fish expensively shipped in. The unvarying use of imported ingredients strikes me as an example of lazy cooking that would provoke much use of the "F word" on Ramsay's TV show.