Food Matters
Food Matters
Dining | May 31, 2017

Food Matters

The Galleria adds another fine-dining restaurant to its already impressive repertoire as chef roland puse whips up a peruvian storm in the kitchen at coya

Nothing beats mum’s home cooking, according to Roland Puse, head chef at contemporary Peruvian eatery COYA. 

“Her food is the kind that keeps you grounded,” says Puse. “It reminds you to cook with passion and honesty and make it about the food and nothing else.

“I will always recognise my mother as the best chef in the world. That will never change. It’s not about a show, but about creating real food for real people. Whenever she visits me, she cooks the meals that transport me back to my childhood. When it comes to food there isn’t much that can beat that.”

Having opened its doors in March, COYA Abu Dhabi is hoping to replicate the success of the Dubai branch, named by CNN as one of 2016’s 10 best new restaurants worldwide. And the trend around Peruvian cuisine doesn’t appear to be showing any sign of slowing. 

Chef Roland believes “honest food” can only be created well by gaining a true understanding of where the dishes hail from. 

“Culture, pride and the history of cuisine is integral to understanding how a dish should be produced,” says Puse. “Peruvian food has evolved so much over the years as different nationalities settled in Peru. They all had an influence into what Peruvian cuisine has become and it’s important to honour that.”

In a bid to respect each dish, Puse is meticulous in his studies. “I research until I’m sure I’ve got it right,” he says. 

“I’m not satisfied until I have a true understanding of the cuisine and its origins.”

Revealing a few tricks of the trade, Puse then shares his ideas with Peruvian natives and only when their approval is met, is a dish added to the menu. 

“It’s about being respectful,” he explains. “I can’t claim to know everything about Peruvian cooking, but I can learn as long as I have the humility to ask for help.”

It’s this willingness to “experiment with respect” that makes dishes at COYA really quite special. Puse’s approach often allows him to discover new twists on authentic Peruvian dishes almost by mistake. “Expect surprisingly unexpected combinations of flavours at COYA,” says Puse. 

Set in The Galleria on Al Maryah Island, with a capacity of 105, including an outdoor terrace and private dining room, COYA Abu Dhabi will stay true to the formula that has proven so popular not just in Dubai, but in the brand’s London flagship and sister restaurant in Miami. Expect the same rustic flair, Inca-inspired interiors, custom-crafted furniture, trademark Pisco Lounge and resident DJs.

Last year alone, Puse scooped highly coveted awards, including ‘Best Newcomer of the Year’ at What’s On Dubai Awards and ‘Best Restaurant of the Year’ at the ProChef Middle East Awards.

Having been in the UAE for six years, Puse left the sister outlet La Petite Maison Dubai to join the COYA team. Prior to his move he worked for La Petite Maison in London, an experience he recalls fondly. 

“Food is a way of expressing ourselves, it’s about pleasing and bringing people together,” he says. “Every place I have worked has been great for my career. They were all as good and tough as the next but they all gave me the tools and temperament to deal with what has come next.”

But it’s COYA Abu Dhabi that holds his heart today. 

“I started my career at the age of 25,” he says. “In my teens I was never really interested in cooking but as I got older I learned to appreciate food more. I enrolled as an apprentice in London for The Conran and worked very hard to get to where I am today. So it makes being at the wheel of something as exciting as COYA very rewarding for me.”

Puse, 36, has watched the UAE food scene explode during the last six years and believes it’s one of the most exciting places in the world to be as a chef today. Challenges include long working hours away from the family, but Puse says the ‘positives’ far outweigh the ‘negatives’.  

When times get tough he turns to advice from kitchen hero and mentor Benjamin Wan. “He is the person I look up to; the older brother I never had,” he says. “He has given me so much guidance and advice along the way and continues to support me. In this business it’s important to have people to turn to, otherwise it can be a lonely road.”

Peruvian food has evolved so much over the years as different nationalities settled in Peru. They all had an influence into what Peruvian cuisine has become and it’s important to honour that.

A meal at COYA is a stunning experience. From giant sharing platters to perfectly presented, flavoursome portions, each dish is well-thought out and expertly cooked.

“The sharing concept is the way to go here as in the Middle East, dining together with a table full of dishes is what brings people together,” says Puse. “The most popular dish must be the Chilean seabass cazuela and it’s a dish I haven’t adapted, out of respect. It’s a recipe that should not be touched, because it’s perfect in it’s traditional form.”

However, the oxtail empanada is a dish Puse has spent hours on. “I combined fresh methods of cooking meat and incorporated them into an old South American recipe. It is just wonderful.”

In agreement with most chefs of the world, Puse believes ingredients are key. However, when it comes to a good Peruvian meal, he says it’s about so much more than food.

“Peruvian is no different to other cuisines and fresh and quality ingredients are the only way to get things right in the kitchen,” he says. 

“But, most importantly, get Peruvian food right and you’ll attract Peruvians — a bunch of people with more heart and soul than any dish I could ever prepare.” 

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