What is your earliest food memory?
My earliest food memory was my parents hosting lavish dinners at our home for business guests. My father was a Europe/Africa Exxon Corporation executive (prior Esso) and back then a lot of business hosting was done at home. There would always be a mix of local and international cuisine served. As a youngster those were special food occasions and my orientation to hospitality.
Why did you decide to bring Marea to Dubai?
After 10 wonderful years in New York, Marea was ready to step out internationally, and we thank the myriad of clients who pushed for this in giving us the confidence to do it. Though London beckoned and there were thoughts of Shanghai, I wanted to come back to my early roots in the Middle East and be part of the UAE phenomenon. Dubai is a growing international city and a gateway to Asia, Africa, and Europe. It has some similar characteristics to New York with its multi-national composition, its density and intensity, and it is very competitive. We will need to work very hard again, and I assure you nothing is taken for granted. There are not that many “new luxury brands” from New York in Dubai, and we thought we could add another element to the landscape. We also felt our seafood skewed menu with pristine and elegant crudos, light pastas, and premium fish and meats would suit the palate well of the broad client base in Dubai as it does in New York. Lastly, we wanted to be in DIFC as a key component because we wanted to have business, fashion, and art come together, as we are known for, and also have a location that supports lunch, dinner, and later evening business; we were lucky to find the right space.
What do you think Marea has that will set it apart from other UAE concepts?
The most important thing to note is this is Marea New York in Dubai. This is a piece of us physically transferred here with commitment and hope. This is not a license deal; this is not a local investment deal; this is not a joint venture structure. We are giving Dubai the “real” deal. Our general manager from New York for nine years has relocated permanently here; our chefs have been commuting regularly and some have fully relocated as well. Our on-ground lead chef has been trained by us five years prior. So this is a true hybrid mix of local and New York talent integrated. Our critical New York leaders are all involved, and we built a local company called Atelier House Hospitality to support operating needs. All our systems are integrated so you can walk into Marea Dubai at DIFC and book immediately into our restaurant in New York opposite Central Park.
What are your ambitions for Marea in the region?
Our heads are down and focused on this as the only priority. This is an extremely important step for the Marea brand, and we want to fulfil its promise. There is a lot of work to do, and we need to get through a full calendar cycle and learn from it and keep improving the experience. New York and Dubai need to work seamlessly together, and we need to be very attentive to client feedback and perspective. We have much to do.
How often do you get to Dubai and what do you enjoy the most about it?
In the last 18 months I have been to Dubai 11 times. Chef Michael White several times and weeks and weeks here. Group corporate chef, Lauren De Steno, who also was lead chef for Marea New York for eight years, has been about eight-10 times in a short period. On and on for all. Dubai is a story about self-belief, and I love that as this is what guides me and so many of us. Dubai “just works”.