Jessica Prealpato spent the first few hours after touching down in Dubai sampling dates. The award-winning chef, who was named The World's Best Pastry Chef 2019 at The World's 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony, works at chef Alain Ducasse's eponymous restaurant in Paris and is one of the brand ambassadors for the France Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.
Given the country’s rich culinary heritage, its pavilion will offer up a dessert whipped up by Prealpato, who is known for using only fresh, seasonal and locally grown produce. Her penchant for replacing sugar with naturally sweet ingredients is what led her to taste date after date in a bid to find one that could elevate her creation for the world fair.
She talks to The National about her culinary aesthetic and what she hopes to bring to Expo 2020 Dubai.
The Expo dessert
“Using local products is very important to me. For the dessert I’m planning to create for the Expo 2020 in Dubai, I did not want to import a single ingredient from France or anywhere else,” says Prealpato. “Accordingly, I used black ajwa dates from Saudi Arabia to create a syrup, which is poured over other locally available ingredients such as watermelon – roasted with honey and cardamom – semolina and tarragon.”
The end result is a crunchy explosion of flavours that is at once naturally sweet, light and incredibly refreshing.
Prealpato is the creator of the desseralite concept (which is also the name of her popular book). Desseralite is a play on chef Ducasse’s naturalite cooking style, which indicates using only locally grown and seasonal ingredients in their most natural form.
In the realm of pastry, this means avoiding heavy cream, sugar and dough whenever possible, and instead using naturally sweet ingredients such as fruit.
Given the UAE’s hot climes, Prealpato says: “I wanted to create something very refreshing, which is why I’ve used watermelon. However, when I landed in Dubai, I discovered the fruit is not as sweet as it is back in France. This is why I have included date syrup.
"I also chose ajwa dates both for their sweetness and sacredness. So while I have frozen the watermelon to make it more crunchy, I chose not to decompress, dehydrate or otherwise alter the natural consistency of the dates, to retain their sacred aspect."
This was also an opportunity for Prealpato to work with spices, which are not part of French cuisine.
Next on her wishlist is to whip up a dessert made from avocados.
Expo 2020 brand ambassador
The France Pavilion is being built on the motto of “France, Lightspeed Inspiration”, and aims to incorporate an environment-friendly architectural style, as well as to showcase talent and companies that play a role in implementing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Prealpato’s penchant for natural ingredients is perfectly in keeping with this.
Of the ambassadorship, she says: “This is an opportunity for me to represent the culinary daring that has become an important part of the France’s cultural heritage. As I am committed to healthier and more environmentally friendly food, I am proud to promote the French ‘art de vivre’.
“This will also be a significant opportunity for me to initiate a more holistic conversation on sustainability on an international level – a subject reinforced by the France Pavilion.”