Frankie Dettori

TV star, jockey and now restaurant owner. <em>Time Out</em> catches up with Frankie Dettori.

Interview, Celebrity chef

We associate him with thoroughbreds rather than focaccia bread, but legendary jockey and adopted Dubai an Frankie Dettori has teamed up with master chef Marco Pierre White to bring us the latest outlet in the Frankie’s chain of Italian restaurants. The top rider from local stable Godolphin trotted into town for the official launch, where James Brennan jumped into the saddle to ask him about the restaurant, working with a flawed genius and how he answers his critics.

How’s Frankie’s going?
Good, I was fairly pleased – last night was my first evening here. Nice atmosphere, good clientele. There was a good buzz here yesterday.

So you hadn’t been previously?

What’s the concept behind the restaurant?
Well, good Italian food – that’s the concept. Basically Marco’s father is called Frank, I’m Frank, we’re both Italian… we wanted to use that theme. I have five children, he’s got three and it was very hard for us to go to a place where you can eat nice steak or fish, and the kids can have a burger or a pizza – we try to combine the two. It’s a family restaurant and the concept seems to work pretty well. This place (Frankie’s Dubai) seems to be a little more upmarket. It looks like we’ve got 20 per cent more dishes on the menu and it looks like the décor is bit more sophisticated.

Which dishes can you recommend?
Well, last night I had beef carpaccio and linguine with crabmeat.

Has His Highness Sheikh Mohammad [Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President, Prime Minister And Ruler Of Dubai], owner of Godolphin Stables been to Frankie’s yet?
I don’t think so, no. It’s just opened. But I don’t know and I’m probably not sure.

What kind of a relationship do you have?
Well, I’ve worked for him now for 13 years and, you know, he’s my boss. I’m his employee and he’s my boss – it’s that kind of relationship.

So will you invite him to Frankie’s?
I’ll leave it up to him. He’s the Ruler of Dubai, so what do you expect me to say to him? If he wants to come, he comes, you know?

Marco Pierre White has a reputation for being difficult – what’s he like to work with?
I’ll be honest with you – we’ve never had a cross word. He’s very flamboyant. I’d say interesting, you know? He’s Marco – he’s different. He’s not the standard person. He has great knowledge; he’s great in conversation. He doesn’t do anything crazy. He’s got a great understanding of picking things up, seeing what’s right and what’s wrong.

So, where is he?
I just spoke to him on the phone and forgot to ask him where he is. He’s not here in Dubai, no.

As a jockey, it must be tough being so into food.
Well, it was always my dream that I would open a restaurant. But I didn’t expect to be in with Marco Pierre White, who’s one of the best chefs in the world. Being Italian, we have this great passion about food. Obviously, it’s difficult with my job but it’s not the quantity of the food you eat, it’s the quality.

How do you keep the weight off – any tips for our readers?
Well, I have to train every day. But I eat nice food. I don’t eat junk food and c**p like that. You should only eat at meal times, don’t snack. Don’t eat rubbish; basically, just eat nice natural food – like Italian food, you know? I do about an hour in the gym every day, mostly on the treadmill.

You get criticised for doing celebrity stuff instead of racing horses. Is the restaurant yet another distraction from being a jockey?
Well, I don’t exactly sit behind the ovens and cook. I don’t make pizza. This is a business thing with Marco. I’m a sleeping partner. When it comes to cooking or running a restaurant, Marco is the brains behind it. I can only give him my ideas and put my name on the door. I’m not exactly hands-on. The restaurant runs itself. I don’t have to ride the restaurant (performs a whipping action) and make it win!

What do you say to people who criticise Frankie the celebrity?
Well, I can’t help it – the job I have is an entertainment job. Every time I go out, there are people want to be entertained. I can’t hide in a room away from everybody. My job is on TV, it’s in magazines, it’s an entertainment sport. It’s the people who made me what I am – there’s no point in criticising me now. It’s too late. There’s no choice – it’s part of the job.

Do you have a place in Dubai?
I haven’t got a place, no. For ten years I lived in hotels. These last couple of years I’ve rented a villa near Safa Park. It’s more or less where I train every day. I spend three months a year here – and I hang out everywhere.

What’s your favourite Italian restaurant in town?
I like Italian food, Japanese food. But when my wife and kids are here, we tend to eat at home. I like to cook. So I’ll go to the supermarket, and the weather is nice so I’ll put the barbecue on. I’ll do the things that I can’t do in England.

What about bars?
There’s a new bar every week in Dubai so – whatever. I just arrived so I’m eager to see what is the new spot. Obviously, Frankie’s now! I’ve been to most places. Buddha Bar, Waxy’s, Fibber’s… we get plastered there – swinging off the ceilings. One night I was just about to walk in at five o’clock and three friends of mine came out. One of them had his nose up here – blood everywhere. I said ‘alright lads’. They said ‘don’t go in there, mate!’ It was chaos.

Frankie’s, Al Fattan Marine Towers, Dubai Marina (04 399 4311).

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