LIVE from Caterer's Chefs and Ingredients Forum

Bringing you news from the conference taking place today in Dubai
The Chefs and Ingredients Forum follows on from yesterday's successful Bars and Nightlife event
The Chefs and Ingredients Forum follows on from yesterday's successful Bars and Nightlife event

Following on from yesterday's successful Bars and Nightlife Forum held at Madinat Mina A'Salam by Caterer Middle East, a different group ofF&B  industry experts are convening at the same venue today to discuss the issues faced in the Chefs and Ingredients Forum. 

The Caterer Middle East team is at the event and will bring you the latest soundbites, news and updates as they happen.


1010am: Kicking off the debate is the first panel which looks at  The UAE as a Culinary Destination, moderated by Andy Cuthbert, General Manager, Madinat Jumeirah C&I and Jumeirah Hospitality and Chairman, Emirates Culinary Guild.

As the UAE culinary industry matures, offerings are evolving to meet the needs of every palate and budget. In addition, top talent, world-class service and international brands continue to offer more to diners. Can the UAE become a culinary destination on the world stage and is the UAE ready for it?

And the panelists are: 

Andy Cuthbert, GM, madinat Jumeirah C&I and Jumeirah Hospitality and chairman, Emirates Culinary Guild

Mark Patten, Vice President – Culinary, Atlantis The Palm
Scott Price, Executive Chef – Table 9, Hilton Dubai Creek
Jamie Robertson, Head Chef, Gaucho Dubai

ITP Business group editor Louise Oakley has just checked in with the news desk: 

Atlantis keeping it casual with eight new outlets

 Apparently, Atlantis The Palm VP - culinary Mark Patten recommends a shift to casual dining. He's opened two casual outlets in the past year at the high-profile Dubai hotel and plans to open a staggering eight more casual concepts next year, and just one premier outlet. If you're interested in discovering more about Atlantis, check out our 10 things you didn't know about Atlantis feature. 

 Who needs Gordon?

 According to Table 9 executive chef Scott Price, the Hilton Dubai Creek restaurant turns more covers and makes more money than when it was managed as Gordon Ramsay's Verre. It's just over a year since the management ended - find out more about that here, but the homegrown concept developed by Price and head chef Nick Alvis certainly seems to be working.

Food poisoning a concern.... 

Looking ahead, Atlantis' Patten says food poisoning is the biggest concern for the industry. As hotels and restaurants go through food and safety and ISO certifications, the challenge will be whether suppliers can keep up and supply product with the right documentation and health certificates. 

Are you a supplier, is this an issue for you? Join in the discussion on Twitter #HotelierME, Facebook, or comment here at

Recent reports on Hotelier have highlighted a number of risks that can increase the chances of food poisoning, Sloppy transportation being one of them. This time last year we reported the number of food poisoning cases in Dubai reached 1663. Will be interesting to find out what the figure is for 2012. 

In the meantime, here's an example of one guy in Abu Dhabi who is doing his utmost to limit the risk of food poisoning at the emirate's restaurants. Meet Abu Dhai restaurant inspector Al Naqbi.

Bigging up emirati cuisine

We're still on the first panel and yet another industry issue is being addressed... Jumeirah's Andy Cuthbert revealed that DTCM will be launching an initiative around emirati cuisine. Cuthbert, Michael Kitts from the Emirates Academy and Radisson Blu's chef Uwe Micheel are sitting on a committee with DTCM that aims to bring emirati cuisine into hotels and train young chefs in the cuisin. Stay tuned says Cuthbert! 

And it's not just Emirati cuisine that seems to be a new favourite for international palates - here's a recent analysis we did on the growing popularity of Arabic cuisine has a whole: Cuisine focus: Arabic


1040am:  The next panel 'Plating Up The Newest Trends' is underway, moderated by the very knowledgable Naim Maadad, CEO, Gates Hospitality

Chefs are replacing molecular gastronomy with share plates and formal dining procedures with casual affairs in order to attract diners seeking more fluidity and relaxation from their meal experiences. This panel will discuss where trends and going and who is driving them.

The panelists comprise: 
Cosimo Danese, Head Chef – BiCE & BiCE Sky Bar, Hilton JBR
Russell Impiazzi, Culinary Director – Food & Beverage, Galleries Lafayette
Deniz Ashan, Chef de Cuisine, Villa Romana St Tropez-Dubai

Caterer's Hannah-Farah Abdulla summarises the key points raised: 

End of fine dining?

Fine dining is not working anymore, according to BiCE's Cosimo Danese. 

Galleries Lafayette Russell Impiazzi expands on this saying price sensitivities among consumers if forcing outlets to rethink sourcing habits and push suppliers to price more competitively. 

And now onto casual dining, a topic discussed in the earlier session. Or shoudl we stay "lifestyle" as suggested by moderator Naim Maadad. The number of these lifestyle concepts on offer in the reigon is expected to continue to grow, but it's no all bad news for fine dining. Fine dining concepts won't disappear as there is still a market for them, so long as it's done while maintaining quality, according to Russell Impiazzi.

Ingredients - no problem

All the panelists seem to agree that Dubai offers a huge amount of variety in terms of ingredients so chefs have a lot to work with! I expect the next set of panelists will have more to add to this discussion. 

Brunch under the spotlight - again

Echoing comments heard in yesterday's Bars and Nightlife conference regarding brunches, today's panelists say there's been a shift in the focus of brunches from booze and low-quality food to better quality cuisines. Consumer demand is forcing chefs to up their games. 

Lucky for some the institutions known for brunch, demand for brunches means the brunch concept won't disappear anytime soon, according to Russell Impiazzi, but there needs to be more fine tuning of what's on offer at brunch. 


1140: Following on from a short break, a new panel of experts is ready to address the issue of’Do Great Meals Top Great Intentions?, moderated by Yael Mejia, CEO, Foodcraft Solutions

Globally consumers are increasingly demanding transparency from their food and questioning everything from farm to fork. Do sustainable sources in kitchens really matter in the grand scheme of things? Should chefs be held socially accountable for their product choices or should they ditch the sustainability, organic, free range, GM and other concerns and just get back to great tasting dishes?

And the panelists are…
Didier Gusching, Executive Chef, Radisson Blu Hotel and Park Inn by Radisson, Abu Dhabi Yas Island
Cladys Magagna, Executive Chef, Fairmont Bab al Bahr
Gabriele Kurz, Resort Wellbeing Chef - Madinat Jumeirah, The Arabian Resort - Dubai

Moderator Mejia says it takes a leap of faith for chefs to work with food differently, especially when it's only a minority of diners who are asking questions about their dishes - where the produce came from, what is grown organically and so on. Does the origin or sustainability of ingredients really matter as long as the dish tastes good, she asks. 

Fairmonts Cladys Magagna: "In Fairmont we launched a health and wellness programme in 2010, using local ingredients as much as possible. In the UAE 80% of food is imported so it is challenging. Wherever we can we use local product, we do. It’s much easier [to source locally] in a small restaurant. But when you have 800 people for banquet, price negotiation is very strong and fresh, local ingredient cost a little more.

Radisson's Didier Guschin: "For us it’s very important. A few years ago we had an issue to find the product, I couldn’t find a tomto that tasted like a tomato, oregano etc, so we started our first organic garden. Yes there’s a cost involved, but  what's the implication compared to importing things from the rest of the world, kept in freezer, vacuum etc. All of us can use many more sustainable ingredients if we try."

Madinat's Gabriele Kurz: "It’s vital to look for the best ingredients possible, that’s obviously organic ingredients. When I started here we started our own garden I said I couldn’t cook without herbs picked fresh from the garden, and we started recycling our own waste. Globally, environmentally it’s our duty to establish more sustainable ingredients into our kitchen especially with the mass production we’re doing.

Procurement department Vs chef 

One of the issues raised during the panel was whether the decision of what ingredients to buy is left to the chef, or is it a constant war with the purchasing department. 

The response was quite positive, however. Asked for a show of hands to demonstrate which chefs are left to choose exactly what ingredients go in the pot. The majority of the chefs said the decision was theirs. 

Consumers leading the way to organic

A surprising number of delegates say they are increasingly being asked by customers were produce on the plate had come from. 

" I started cooking for very health conscious audience and we have a number of guests asking for pure organic ingredients," says Madinat's Gabriele Kurz. "More or less all asking for organic ingredients, not so much where it came from."

Fairmonts Cladys Magagna adds: "I had a case last week with a Swedish group in our main restaurant where someone asked is this lobster Canadian? He thought it was so good and it must be, but it was from Oman. There are good and bad things about Omani lobster - it’s very good when blanched and served on a raw bar, but it’s smells strong when grilled. But in Dubai you can get anything here.

Are guest prepared to pay for quality produce?

While the experts believe there was a growing interest among consumers in sustainable produce, they agreed that convincing the customer to pay more for sustainably sourced ingredients remained a challenge. 

However, moderator Yael Mejia says: "I don’t care what the local market wants or demands – I care about how I make food therefore I’m just sitting there hoping our customers will get it, like it and be willing to pay for it. It was a big gamble to start with".

12:10pm: The delegates have gone off into their own workshops. 

Three workshops are running consecutively before lunch: 

 WORKSHOP A: Key to Consistency – Staff Engagement and Retention
Delivering a consistent dining experience is a combination of quality food and consistent service. Retaining an engaged kitchen staff allows for greater knowledge of each dish and its ingredients, and an increased awareness of what guests want and expect from the venue. This workshop will discuss the key factors to retaining staff and engaging them in a high pressure hospitality environment.

 Facilitator: Yogesh Bisht, Brand Manager, Balance Café

WORKSHOP B: Price And Concept - A Chef’s Role In Positioning A Restaurant For Success
While chefs do not have as much say as they might like in the development of a restaurant concept, they can make it their own and lead a kitchen to success through innovation and a deeper understanding of how to translate a concept from an idea into a living, breathing success. This workshop discusses the essentials of marrying pricing with concept development and how to achieve these for your F&B outlet.

Facilitator: Daniel During, Owner, Thomas Klein International

WORKSHOP C: Red Meat Secondary Cuts - The Secrets in the Cutting 
Increase profit without sacrificing quality. You will learn from one of the top chefs in the region on:
• Butchering a non-loin secondary red meat cuts
• Changing your method and attitude toward traditional red meat cuts in general
• Utilising what we call the “hidden gold” and pass this onto your bottom line and customer’s enjoyment

Facilitator: Tarek Ibrahim, Business Development Manager - Middle East North Africa, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA)

 Hotelier's James Clarey is reporting live from the workshop - which is extremely hands on, with the sound of it... 

"Ibrahim is actually taking a live butchering class, showing our exec chefs how to correctly butcher a D rump. So far I've learned how to make the most of every piece of meat, from the best steaks to great burgers," reports Clarey, who we expect will be hosting some pretty good barbecues after this master class in meat. 

Stop the press - according to workshop facilitator Tarek Ibrahim "90% of chefs cut meat the wrong way - with the grain - which sacrifices the quality of even the best cuts". There is also more education needed surrounding the best types of feed for the animal and how it can be used in different ways, for example, grain fed cattle provide a much softer meat. 

After a delicious lunch - hats off to Mina A'Salam Yorkshire puds - everyone's back in the conference room ready to start this afternoon's panel sessions... 

2.10pm The afternoon begins with a look at 'The Rise Of Polished Casual Dining'  moderated by Caterer Middle East's very own Hannah-Farah Abdulla. 
A growing appetite for upscale alternatives low cost and ‘fast’ food that deliver good service and quality food without the dress requirements and formality of higher end venues has seen polished casual dining emerge in venues across the Middle East. 

The panelists are: 

Cinu Chandran, Sous Chef – West 14th, Oceana Hotel & Spa
Paul Kennedy, Brand Chef, Mango Tree
Christophe Prud'homme exec chef, Al Bustan Rotana

Daniel During owner of Thomas Klein International

What is 'polished casual dining'?

"Are we talking about price point or experience. In my point of view it’s all about experience," says Daniel During owner of Thomas Klein International

Dubai's Mango Tree is leaning towards polished casual dining, according to Paul Kennedy. "The staff are experienced people who know not to be around the table the entire time, you can turn up in a shirt and a tie, doesn’t have to be a suit," he explains. 

Chef Cinu Chandran agrees it's all about the experience: "The target market we’re looking for now - it’s the lifestyle that’s more important. You have good quality food, nicely presented and a casual experience".

"It’s overall experience from the table cloth through to service staff, quality of the guest. Altogether value for money," adds Al Bustan Rotana's exec chef Christophe Prud'homme. 

Targeting the mid-market

The panelists conclude that the growing popularity of 'polished casual dining' is based on catering to the mid-market. 

"it’s the middle bracket of the market that makes up 80%, who want value for money - they'll pay for the right quality. I think 10% of the market that want Michelin stars but not all the time, that's why the chefs are coming here and putting brasseries," says Jost. 

"The way we dine [daily] is much more relaxed. You might go to a celebrity chef's restaurant once a year but on a day-to-day basis you want something much more casual," During agrees. 

But the chefs don't think we've seen the end of fine-dining restaurants with all the frills: "Fine dining is still going to be there but we are going to see a big rise of this polished casual segment," predicts Kennedy. 

2.40pm: The final panel of the day moderator by Tribe Restaurant Creators founder Stefan Breg addresses 2013 and beyond... what's next for UAE F&B outlets

As the maturing culinary market in the UAE makes way for outlets in all categories the industry seems more dynamic than ever. Anticipating trends will help leaders emerge who will drive the growth and innovation in the industry.
Here are the panelists: 

Naruemol Poolkuan, Head Chef – Benjarong, Dusit Thani Dubai

Robin Gomes, Group Executive Chef, CityMax Hotels
Paul Hage, Executive Chef, Habtoor Grand Beach Resort & Spa

Two key conclusions... 

 - Restaurants that succeed in being authentic, including employing staff from the same country as the cuisine, will reap the rewards. 

- The number of international branded outlets is eating into the business of the region's home-grown brands, newcomers like Rivington Grill, Zuma, Gaucho and many others are expected to be gaining 33% market share in the UAE, worth 400 million dollars. 

 And with that, Caterer Middle East's first Chefs & Ingredients Forum draws to a close. 

Until next time...  


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