Volcanic ash impacts Middle East food deliveries

Chefs may have to compromise menus if products don't arrive by weekend
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Radisson's Antonio Dominicis.
Radisson's Antonio Dominicis.
Wet Fish's Jacky and Mark Allan.
Wet Fish's Jacky and Mark Allan.

Middle East restaurants will be under pressure this weekend due to lack of fresh ingredients, if flights from Europe do not return to normal within the next few days.

Aviation authorities across northern Europe were forced to close their airspace earlier this week, when an ash cloud from Iceland's recent volcanic eruption started shifting across Europe.

The ban subsequently impacted Middle East food imports, and although outlets have successfully handled supply delays so far, if the flight ban goes on much longer chefs and F&B suppliers say it will impact their bottom line.

Speaking to Caterer Middle East, Antonio Dominicis, Italian chef at Radisson Blu Hotel Dubai Deira Creek, commented: “Naturally we are having some challenges with imports from Europe this week, mainly for daily produce such as herbs, salads, fruits and fresh seafood.

“At the moment, there has been no major impact on our restaurants as there are various solutions, alternative resources and alternative countries to import products from, with minor changes in some recipes.

“However, as these solutions are less cost-effective overall, it would become a bigger issue if these ‘temporary restrictions’ last much longer,” he emphasised.

Paul Lupton, head chef of Rhodes Mezzanine at Grosvenor House Dubai, said he had been “lucky with imports so far”.

“It’s times like these that good relationships with suppliers really count,” he observed.

“All imports arrive in Dubai on Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, so on Saturday morning I was able to ring up my supplier with a list of what I needed urgently and all these items came through. So at the moment we’re fine.

“Because the suppliers still have some stock, I don't think we will see the real impact until this Wednesday,” Lupton continued.

“If the planes are still not flying then, and our fresh produce doesn't arrive, then we are going to struggle with a menu, as we’ll be somewhat restricted. That's when my creativity will have to come into play!

“But fingers crossed, our imports will make it in before then.”

Mark Allan — managing director of seafood supplier Wet Fish — predicted: “I don’t think we’ll see any fresh produce coming in until Thursday or Friday.

“There’ll be a bit of a time delay in getting things back on track, because when it comes to accepting orders, the European producers aren’t going to send a delivery of fresh items to the airport until they can be sure the transport is in place to move it on," he pointed out.

Chef Middle East product development manager Bruce Woolner added: “Sunday is usually our busiest day of the week to receive air shipments; yesterday we received zero!

“We have five different consignments sitting at five different European airports with no ETA. We simply have to await news as and when.

“But  hopefully we won't feel too much pressure until Thursday, regarding products. The items in stock do have a few days shelf life and we received a large amount on Thursday last week; by good planning — and good fortune — business can remain buoyant,” he said.

Wet Fish’s Allan also predicted that his stocks would last to the end of the week.

“As we have got a lot of regular customers, we anticipate demand and buy around that. Plus Dubai’s been very busy recently so we have been buying in stock, which has turned out well,” he explained.

“The only real problem area is shellfish and mussels, because of course you want them to be completely fresh.”

Allan added that even if flights had not resumed by the end of the week, seafood would still be available in the form of local fish.

“As a food supplier, if you’re going to come here and do business in this region, it’s best to diversify into some local products,” he reasoned

According to Allan, the shortage of certain products will not be a major issue for the region’s chefs and purchasers.

“Hotels and restaurants in this region are really very flexible — when all your food is flown in, you do sometimes get delays that no one can do anything about.

“So I think, although we might see some menu alterations, things will carry on running and will be back on track very soon.”

However Woolner said chefs would undoubtedly start to feel the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables, pointing out that a great deal of fresh produce was imported from or via Europe.

“What can come by road will do, but that tends to be the harder or solid fruits and veg,” he noted. “Items like leaf vegetables will be the first to show a short fall.

“We simply have to wait and monitor the situation,” he said.

“If the situation does not improve in the next two days, then we’ll defiantly see an impact on the coming weekend.”

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