The Manhattan Grill in Canary Wharf recently opened, and Head Chef Trejo took the time to share with us what inspires him. Visit their website to check out their delicious food and wine menus.
Tell us about your experience of cooking food for two amazing men: President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama?
I’ve cooked for a galaxy of stars, from the Dalai Lama to the president, and people are always eager to find out what and how they ate. As I discovered with President Obama, he may eat like the rest of us, but the planning behind each meal is an enormous task, a million miles away from the conventional sarnie cafe-run or casual restaurant nibble.
Celebrities are often the only clients who see restaurants’ kitchens, since they’re frequently shepherded past the saucepans and ladles to avoid public areas. And this was always the case with the President, who would be secretly ushered from his limo in the loading bay, and into a service lift to my kitchen, before being sneaked into his room.
Obviously, security needs to be impossibly high, when food and the world’s most powerful man are concerned. There are even rumours of the White House’s Chef Andrew being Obama’s official food taster at public dinners, although I didn’t see evidence of this when cooking for him.
And while the rest of us fill meal times with whatever culinary delights tickle our fancies at that moment, the president must decide far in advance, whether he wants a lasagne the following Monday or not. So we were given detailed instructions about what to prepare, way ahead of time.
I would have around 15 former Navy Seals from White House security, probing the kitchen and closely watching, as I prepared his amusingly innocuous meals. He’s definitely a fan of a cheeky chip and my homemade salsa.
Of all the celebrities, people are most transfixed by Obama’s meals, and that’s no surprise: If you are what you eat, what must you chow down on to be 44th president of the United States?
My extraordinary experience with Obama gave me a fascinating insight into the power of food, to unite and equalise us all… whether you’re a president with ham on the end of a fork which has been scrutinised by 15 guards, or a mum spooning up spuds and Yorkshire Puds on a Sunday.
I have read that you were influenced by your grandparents. Are there any recipes in the restaurant which are inspired by your family?
My family has always had a great tradition of cooking, and a passion for good food. Before my Grandfather became a chef, he spent a lot of time working as a butcher. I remember him teaching me the names of different cuts of meat. Every year, he would prepare massive meals for up to 400 people for charity, and I remember helping him. Boy! It was exhausting work but I always loved it.
Today, I seek to instill my family’s love of food into all my recipes. Sometimes have the opportunity to cook for my staff, and it is during these occasions that I can prepare my dishes with a real personal touch. It can be a kind of therapy! 😉
You grew up in Mexico City and have worked in the USA and Poland, before finally moving here to London. What’s your favourite dish out of each of those four cuisines (Mexican, USA, Poland, UK)?
It is really difficult to choose a specific dish. More than just the food, I have always enjoyed the mealtime customs of different cultures: street food in Mexico, a proper Sunday roast, an afternoon tea ceremony, or even Thanks Giving in the States. A wedding in Poland is like a medieval feast where you can eat like crazy and drink vodka like no tomorrow. Enjoying different types of cuisine is all about learning to appreciate the authenticity of the experience.
Obviously you love your meat, but what is your favourite cut of steak? How do you believe it should be cooked (eg medium rare)? And what do you believe is the best accompaniment to steak?
We have so many great cuts of meat available at The Manhattan Grill – it is so difficult to choose just one! Above anything, the most important thing with meat is to respect the product: season it appropriately, have the meat at room temperature, allow sufficient resting time, and so on. These are, in brief, the most crucial steps for creating a delicious, succulent steak. How should it be cooked? Well, this really varies from person to person, but good wine and company are essential. What more could you ask for?
You’ve had some recent seasonal offers at the Manhatten Grill for Le Tour and Bastille day – what can we expect to see next on the restaurant’s calendar?
We are always trying to find ways of creating something interesting. We are constantly in touch with our butchers to ensure that we are stocked with the finest quality meat, and we regularly do tastings as a team. We are meticulous in our efforts to discover the best wine pairings, so that we can offer the perfect meal experience every time.
I notice that you serve wet-aged and dry-aged beef in the restaurant – what difference does the ageing process make to the flavor of the meat, and do you have a preference?
Dry-aged meat tends to have a greater depth of taste, while the wet-ageing process often makes the beef more delicate. Dry-ageing is a more traditional method, but wet-ageing is a relatively new technique. Either way, the results are similar; both are delicious.
If you are not such a fan of red wine, what’s the best style of white wine to eat with red meat?
I would recommend a more complex wine. For example, a Chablis 1er Cru or an aged Chardonnay, such as the Baroness Nadine from the Rupert & Rothschild Vinery at the Western Cap in South Africa.
New world or old world – what’s your preference?
This is almost impossible to answer. It depends on the personal taste and what you are after. In general I would suggest the following: old world for the classics – Bordeaux, Rhone and Loire reds – and of course the specialities – Chablis, Cat du Pape, and so on.
For me, the best Cabernet Sauvignons come from Napa Valley. Argentina is my first choice for a great Malbec, but the Chilean wineries offer great Malbecs with a softer taste.
To get a fruity, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc I always rely on New Zealand.
On the menu you refer to a wine preservation system which allows you to serve wine by the glass – can you give us a bit more information on how that works?
The Wine is being preserved with Argon Gas, this prevents the Wine from being altered by oxygen and protects its organoleptic integrity (taste, aroma, body and colour) for 30 days or more.