The leading lights behind Ronda Locatelli, Zuma, and others, speak out.
Giorgio Locatelli, founder of Ronda Locatelli
What have you contributed to the Dubai dining scene? What have I contributed? You’re talking about the most amazing place in the world; you have incredible chefs, from Gordon [Ramsay] on. I’m just a little Italian immigrant. I’ve just come down and tried to show what I think Italian food should be like.
What trends have you helped set? I have a bit of a dislike for the idea of trends. Food cannot be treated like fashion, and every year there is a new model. What I have personally added to Italian cuisine is not very much. But I think I’m a good example of what Italian cuisine is at the moment.
What have been your favourite trends this last year? One major food trend in Europe and America is that of responsibility. It’s a great mantra, and it’s been going for the last five years. In our work, we talk about where food comes from, and local produce. Unfortunately in Dubai, all the produce is flown in, and it becomes a bit of a problem.
What have your least favourite trends been? Sometimes, in Dubai, it’s all about standards, standards, standards. Sometimes, it should be about love, about pleasure. That’s why we get told off: because our service is not subservient enough for Dubai. We don’t bow. But in Italy, we don’t bow, we say, ‘Hey, how are you? Can we get you something to eat?’ We are not every moment around the table faffing about. The idea is, if you want to bring your girlfriend out to eat, you want to spend time with your girlfriend, not the waiters. I hate the restaurants where the waiters are scared, and it’s run like an army. I want somebody serving me who is happy to be there and who understands the joy of eating.
Were there any chefs or restaurants that you were excited to see come to Dubai last year? I was really excited when Zuma came out. I really love Zuma in London.
Do you have any new year’s resolutions? I plan to come back to Dubai this year three or four times. Also, I had an accident with my motorbike, and it’s been a year without riding. Next year, I will ride my motorbike again.
Olivier Biles, head chef at Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire
What do you think you have contributed to the Dubai dining scene? Pierre Gagnaire has a style all his own, and I have contributed in bringing his unique take on French cuisine to Dubai. The work we do with seasonal products is quite new as well.
What trends do you think you’ve helped set? I do not follow or pretend to create trends. My food and style evolve constantly. If there is one trend we bring, it is to offer a place where food, service and ambiance are in symbiosis.
What are some of your favourite and least favourite dining trends? I don’t like trends that favour style over substance. Dining can be a show but it remains primarily about food. The development of molecular gastronomy as an end in itself upsets me.
What trends do you expect to see in 2009? The arrival of more chefs that share our sense of uncompromising quality. I guess we will also observe more foams, espumas, dehydrated food and other tricks or style effects.
Do you have any new year’s resolutions? Making Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire the leading restaurant in the city is one. Convincing as many people as possible to list a dinner at Reflets as their new year’s resolution is my second.
Any chefs or restaurants coming to Dubai next year that make you excited? Why? I heard that Pierre Gagnaire is coming back on the first week of February. That’s exciting…
Colin Clague, executive chef, Zuma
What do you think you have contributed to the dining scene? I think Zuma has managed to provide a beautiful looking restaurant that serves great food and beverages, alongside a vibrant bar scene. What are your favourite and least favourite dining trends? I’m not into trends, I’m interested in longevity, and what generally happens is the good restaurants prosper while the trendy restaurants go to the wall.
What trends have you noticed in Dubai this last year? With ourselves and Nobu opening there is now more choice if you want to eat good Japanese food in a great environment. As both restaurants are doing very well you can say there was a definite market for us.
What trends do you expect to see in 2009? Due to the economic situation globally, I expect to see a sharp fall in the number of tourists visiting Dubai. This will force restaurants to try harder to get customers, so I think you will start to see some realistic pricing on menus, and hopefully a better standard of quality ingredients used.
Any chefs coming next year that you’re excited about? I’ve heard rumours of Alain Ducasse and Thomas Keller – obviously chefs of that calibre in town would be mind-blowing.
Do you have any new year’s resolutions? To strive to establish Zuma as a destination restaurant in Dubai. And to learn golf would be nice.
Chris Baker, executive chef of az.u.r, The Observatory and Counter Culture
What have you contributed to the Dubai dining scene? I think we’ve really tried to change the way people can order food. We’ve moved away from stuck menus. Here, pretty much whatever you want, we’re happy to make for you.
What trends have you helped set? I don’t know if I’m a trendsetter, but what we’ve tried to do is really look into food and make it simple, with four or five ingredients that are really good. Also. az.u.r is one of the only restaurants in Dubai that uses nearly all organic ingredients.
What are your favourite and least favourite trends? I like that there is a lot more emphasis on simple – which doesn’t mean easy, but that you’re really looking to your flavours. Least favourite? I think that would have to be fusion done wrongly. Fusion should be a natural progression, like in Vietnam, where they have a strong culture, and a French influence. Fusion is not simply taking a duck dish, throwing a curry on it, and saying, ‘it’s fusion’.
What food trends do you think we’ll see in 2009? I feel over the last few months, people have become more aware of value for money. I think that’ll hopefully mean the quality will pick up, because people are more cost-conscious, and are looking for more from their restaurants.
What restaurants were you excited to see last year? It was nice to see Ossiano make its debut in the city, and to see places like Zuma as well. They have brought Dubai dining up a level.
Any new year’s resolutions? To be fitter. I’m not going to say to lose weight or to stop smoking, just to be fitter. I haven’t had a cigarette in three days. As soon as I say to someone ‘I’ve stopped smoking’ I start to have this incredible urge to smoke. Now, I don’t say anything, and hope day three turns into day four.