People 4 minutes 25 August 2022

The First Day We Got Our Stars: Saverio Sbaragli Of Al Muntaha

Chef Saverio Sbaragli of Dubai’s newly minted one-MICHELIN-starred restaurant Al Muntaha walks us through his culinary adventures across Europe and fills us in on how he became the renowned chef he is today

Nonna, when I grow up, I want to be like you. I want to cook for people for a living,” Chef Saverio Sbaragli of Dubai’s one-MICHELIN-starred Al Muntaha used to tell his grandmother as a child.

Born in Florence, the capital city of Italian Tuscany, the Italian chef comes from a family of farmers. From an early age, he was fascinated by the work that his grandmother did. Sbaragli and his family stayed in a house nearby – the hardworking old lady lived with her family in their own farm, where they raised poultry, cattle, and pigs and planted crops. Every day, she would cook lunch and dinner for the whole family – specifically to 12 up 15 people. There and then young Sbaragli developed his passion for cooking and was determined to become a chef.

After finishing his school studies, he chased his dream by enrolling in culinary school. He kicked off his career in some of the Italian city’s hotels and restaurants, but this wasn’t enough for him.

Driven by his thirst for knowledge, Sbaragli used to read a lot of gastronomy books. One day, as he was reading, he decided to learn additional culinary skills that would complement his Italian cooking techniques. It was French cuisine that came to his mind. “Traditional Italian cuisine is simple by nature. It is typically based on meat cooked on the grill and simmered over low heat, as well as on pasta and roasted meat. Therefore, I decided to go to France to learn more specific techniques about sauces as well as meat and fish cooking,” says the chef.

A Tuscan’s Adventures Across Europe

Many were Sbaragli’s explorations in the Old Continent.

His first destination was France. Sbaragli sent his resume to 46 of the best MICHELIN-starred restaurants in France to attend a training on French cuisine. La Terrasse restaurant at Hotel Juana on the French Riviera was the only restaurant that welcomed the Tuscan chef for a season. He was trained there in 1996 by renowned French Chef Alain Ducasse, who later asked Saverio to come back for two other seasons.

In 1998, he moved to Paris to hone his skills at currently three-MICHELIN-starred Arpège under French Chef Alain Passard.

In 2000, he went back to Italy and found himself working as sous-chef at now one-MICHELIN-starred Il Pellicano for two seasons. However, what he wanted the most was to be trained in his home city’s most important restaurants. He eventually worked in 2000 at Florence’s Enoteca Pinchiorri, which was crowned two MICHELIN Stars back then and where he worked for four years. This restaurant had lost its two MICHELIN Stars before it won back its position on the Star map, by earning three MICHELIN Stars with Sbaragli working there.

In 2005, Sbaragli was off to his next destination: Switzerland. He was offered a sous-chef position in the now one-MICHELIN-starred Il Lago in the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues in Geneva and worked there for two years.

Wanting to climb the ladder, he went back to Italy for a head chef job, but it wasn’t long before he started looking for new opportunities. When José Silva, former director of the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, heard of that, he reached out to the Italian chef to offer him a head chef position at Il Lago, where Sbaragli eventually worked in 2010 for five years. There, he witnessed in 2013 the first one MICHELIN Star of his career. That was one of the places that taught him how to deal with tremendous pressure and shaped him as a chef – it was a turning point in his career.

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Sbaragli’s next European stop in 2016 would be Geneva’s Tosca, which he launched as chef de cuisine and where he worked for four years.

The Dubai Call

It wasn’t until 2021 that the chef landed in Dubai: José Silva, now CEO of Jumeirah, invited Sbaragli to take on a new challenge and join Al Muntaha as head chef.

Set in the iconic Burj Al Arab, Al Muntaha is a fine dining restaurant serving French cuisine with Italian influences, where everything is made in house.

At the newly minted one-MICHELIN-starred restaurant, Sbaragli blends Tuscan flavours, as an ode to his origins, with French techniques, while adding a modern twist to old recipes. “I choose flavour and taste over aesthetics anytime. I’d rather have a dish that isn’t that visually appealing but bursting with flavours. But if I could get the best of both worlds, it would be marvellous,” says Sbaragli.

Perched on the 27th floor of the iconic Burj Al Arab, Al Muntaha offers breathtaking views of the Dubai skyline
Perched on the 27th floor of the iconic Burj Al Arab, Al Muntaha offers breathtaking views of the Dubai skyline

He sat down with the MICHELIN Guide to tell us how he feels about Al Muntaha’s One MICHELIN Star accolade and other interesting facts about himself.

What’s something no one knows about you?
I love exercising, especially weightlifting. It helps me blow off some steam and unwind. Not many know that I was a professional handball player in the past.

When was your first encounter with the MICHELIN Guide?
I’ve worked at several MICHELIN-starred restaurants. I was part of Enoteca Pinchiorri’s team when the restaurant won three MICHELIN Stars after losing two prior to that. I was the chef behind Il Lago’s one MICHELIN star in 2013. In 2017, Tosca was awarded one MICHELIN star at my helm.

What’s your life motto?
Live life to the maximum. Never stop achieving. Be relentless. Never lose heart. Get back up when you fall.

What do you enjoy the most about being a chef?
I love the whole journey: creating a dish, tasting, experimenting. It’s like being a child in a playground. An ingredient is a small toy that I can transform into something pleasant.

Al Muntaha serves French fare with Italian influences
Al Muntaha serves French fare with Italian influences

What’s your source of inspiration?
A bit of everything. In general, everyday life inspires me.

What’s your cooking style?
I use modern techniques based on French and Italian flavours. I aim to create an explosion of flavours.

What did you feel when you received the MICHELIN Star?
It was surprising. It made me really happy. A MICHELIN Star is a great honour and a symbol of gratitude for our dedication and hard work.

How did you celebrate?
We had a humble and simple lunch with the whole team. When we win our two Stars, we will have a real celebration.

What has the impact of the MICHELIN Star been so far?
Despite August being a quiet month, we’re experiencing a surge in reservation requests, and the restaurant is 70% packed. People are taking more interest in us and giving us great feedback.

What’s the most important quality that a chef should have?
Chefs should always be present and reassure their staff and guests. They should be able to make decisions and solve problems, while being their team’s support system. When you have professional staff members on whom you can rely and whom you trust to do the work when you’re present – and even better when you’re not around – this makes the whole difference.

Which piece of advice would you give to young chefs?
Be prepared to bite the bullet. Don’t give up at the first problem you encounter. There are many challenges that will come your way, so stay modest, learn to the maximum, and travel a lot. Chefs are world wanderers. Move from a place to another and live in different cities to acquire knowledge and expand your horizons. Travel to learn techniques and know-how from prominent chefs.

Have a look at all 11 MICHELIN-starred restaurants in Dubai’s 2022 selection here.


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