Culinary tips from the Banyan Tree

Executive chef Josef Umenberger of the Banyan Tree resort in Bahrain shares some of his kitchen secrets


What got you cooking?
Growing up in Austria, our next-door neighbour was a chef and he told me tales of working around the world and in hotels in Austria like Vienna’s Hilton Hotel, where he came into contact with numerous celebrities. I decided at the age of 10 that that was the kind of life I wanted.

What influences have flavored your cooking?
I’ve worked in a number of different countries – throughout Europe, in the Philippines, Azerbaijan, Mexico, Venezuela – but Latin America has had the greatest influence on my style. I love the simplicity of the cuisine and the interesting flavour combinations.

What brought you to the Banyan Tree in Bahrain?
A transfer from the Royale Hayat Kuwait with Banyan Tree Hotels.

What do you bring to each of the Banyan Tree’s distinctly different restaurants?
I bring the same thing to all of them really. Each has chefs who specialise in a particular area of cuisine, Thai chefs in Saffron for example, and I help to bring things together, to ensure dishes are plated perfectly and that the menu is interesting.

What ingredients do you love to cook with and why?
In Latin America, I developed a real taste for cooking with coconut milk, fresh fruits, chillies and coriander, which is a particularly versatile herb. It works really well in a strawberry ceviche that I make, which is an adaptation of the original Peruvian dish which involves marinating raw fish in lemon juice with chilies, onion and vinegar.

Do you have favourite kitchen shop up your sleeve in Bahrain?
Tavola at Bahrain City Centre (17 178 129) has all the kitchen equipment you could wish to find.

What do you make for a simple, tasty snack?
A simple sandwich; good bread, good cheese, that’s it.

We’d love to know how to make that tasty dip served with bread before the meal in Rimal?
We have two dips: one is a combination of labneh, chilli and coriander; the other is zattar pesto, which is basically a combinaition of all the traditional pesto ingredients (olive oil, Parmesan, garlic and pine nuts) with zattar in place of the basil.

What recipe have you chosen to share and why?
Tamarind’s barley and beetroot risotto, which is a healthy alternative to the tradition approach.

Betroot-accented barley risotto with rocket salad, sautéed artichokes and garlic chips

Serves 4

400g barley
400ml chicken stock
400ml beetroot juice (bought or reserved from cooking the beetroot)
200g Parmesan cheese
200g onion, finely chopped
160g cooked beetroot
200g tinned artichokes
200g rocket
100ml Balsamic vinegar
100ml olive oil
40g garlic

Rinse the barley well until water runs clear. Sautée the onions in a dash of olive oil until golden, then add the barley and sautee on a low heat. Add half the chicken stock along with the beetroot juice, season with salt and pepper to taste. As the liquid reduces, add more to cover the barley; repeat this process up to five times until the barley becomes al dente.

Add the beetroot wedges and cook for three-four minutes, then add the artichokes and the Parmesan cheese. Place the beetroot wedges and artichokes in the centre of plates, top with risotto and finish things off with dressed rocket leaves and a sprinkling of garlic chips.

Preparation of rocket
Blend the Balsamic vinegar and olive oil and toss with rocket leaves.

Preparation of garlic chips
Peel the garlic cloves, slice and salt slightly then let sit for 30 minutes before frying in vegetable oil until golden brown; allow to cool.

Preparation of beetroot
Wash and peel the beetroot and boil it whole in plenty of water with a dash of vinegar and caraway seeds for 20-60 minutes depending on size until you can easily pierce it with a skewer. Strain the juice and reserve for the risotto.
Or you could simply enjoy Josef’s risotto cooked to perfection at the Banyan Tree’s Tamarind restaurant (17 845 000).

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