Lack of mentorship for UAE chefs ‘insane’ says Ce La Vi executive chef

Howard Ko was shocked at the lack of fundamentals among potential staff
Howard Ko previously worked at The French Laundry under Timothy Hollingsworth.
Howard Ko previously worked at The French Laundry under Timothy Hollingsworth.

Having come from the USA to open Ce La Vi’s first restaurant in the Middle East, executive chef Howard Ko has bemoaned the lack of mentorship for junior chefs in the UAE, calling it “insane”.

Speaking exclusively to Caterer Middle East, Ko spoke of his shock at the lack of “fundamentals” in many of the staff who interviewed with him for roles at contemporary Asian restaurant Ce La Vi which has just opened at Address Sky View in Dubai.


He said: “The lack of mentorship that I’ve seen is just insane. Coming from The French Laundry, they instilled core values in us. It’s about integrity and having responsibility for your industry as well as trying to create a legacy that will outlive you which means you have to mentor people.

“It starts with something as simple as ‘do you have your own knives? No, you don’t have your own knives? You want to be a chef, right? Why don’t you invest in yourself?’ It starts there. It’s about culture.

“From what I’ve seen from my guys here, they don’t invest, a lot of the guys don’t take the time.”

Ko said he has taken it upon himself to “hold people very accountable” and ensure they have the foundations to build their careers on and wants to build a culture of high standards at Ce La Vi.

“Without foundation you don’t have a culture. Without culture you’ve no sustainability. If you create that culture, the person who is there for six months is going to hold up that standard and teach the next guy. It’s laying the groundwork first. When we do that properly I think our food is going to be excellent.”

Having been in the country for four months pre-opening Ce La Vi, Ko believes his team are now on the right wavelength.

He said: “They got a good wake-up call and now they’re buying into what I’m selling. They understand the bigger scope of things. Ce La Vi is seven locations, I want these guys to be the farm. I want people to say ‘you go to Dubai you learn under this brigade for a certain amount of years and you write your ticket to open up another Ce La Vi because you understand the standards.”

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