Born in Germany, but based in Italy, chef Heinz Beck is most famous for his restaurant La Pergola in Rome. It’s where chef Beck achieved his coveted three Michelin stars (the highest award given out by this panel). In Dubai, he’s been making his name with modern Italian concept Social by Heinz Beck, which opened at the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah at the beginning of 2014. When Time Out Dubai last sat down with the chef, it was to discuss this first Dubai launch and how his style would translate to a restaurant dropped down a level from the very formal, fine dining style he is known for in Rome, to something not casual, but ‘de-formalised’. We recently reconvened with Beck, this time to discuss the opening of a second Dubai venture and a move closer still to something gourmet yet casual: Taste of Italy by Heinz Beck, due to open at Galleria Mall this April.
Describing it as a ‘bistro’, the aim for Taste of Italy, Beck tells us, is to become ‘a daily location’ for Dubai diners. Due to its location in Jumeirah, he says, the restaurant will be a relaxed, family-friendly concept. ‘It has to be. I want it to be an icon, not of lifestyle, but of family. It will not only be for eating, but for breakfast, dinner and even buying fresh bread and pastry in the morning.’
Revealing mock-ups of the design, Beck shows us a modern, urban-looking venue decked out in grey and black, with stone floors, concrete pillars and open kitchen counters. ‘It’s very modern. This is Italy, but this is what we do now. You don’t see the very rustic trattoria look anymore.’ Divided into two, between dining space and retail space, the latter is perhaps the biggest change of pace for Beck, since this is the first time he has worked on a retail venue. ‘This is new and exciting for me. A trattoria or pizzeria is still a restaurant concept. It might not be Michelin awarded, but it is still a restaurant concept. Here, it will be a trattoria, plus retail concept.’ He says there will be a bakery, patisserie and gelateria on offer. ‘We’ll be making high quality, handmade, artisanal bread (like you get in small little boutique bakeries in Italy) that is healthy and free of chemicals, so you can be comfortable letting your children have an ice cream.’ Beck says the restaurant will focus more on ‘mama cooking’, but at a very good level. ‘It is much more traditional, much more like comfort food in a trattoria. The taste will be classic, but we will use certain techniques to make sure that every day it is made the proper way. We started by selecting and bringing over the right flour to Dubai to make the bread. There are a lot of techniques that will be applied that you will not find in ordinary retail venues, because we have an objective to do things more cheaply. I don’t have to do this. My objective is to create healthy, quality food. So there will be the right products to guarantee quality and the right chef to guarantee that this quality is delivered every day.’
The chef at the new venture is from La Pergola. ‘He is very well qualified and will not be the only Italian in the kitchen,’ Beck says. ‘We will be bringing all these elements – pizza, pasta, gelato – together and with the quality of three Michelin stars. All my attention to detail and to producing high-quality food will be applied to guarantee quality of ingredients and execution. For example, you can make a sandwich with mozzarella. You can try an original, artisanal mozzarella, or you can use an industrially made one. It is a chef’s job to evaluate which one to use. With 35 years of experience in high quality restaurants, you can be sure that I know how to evaluate the best food and to produce the best food. Either I believe in it, or I will not do it.’
While Beck sees Social as a diffusion from the formal standards of La Pergola in Rome, within Dubai, Taste of Italy by Heinz Beck is an exciting move towards a high-quality, mid-range dynamic. It is a diffusion towards a more casual dining concept that Dubai has seen more and more of in recent years. Is it a trend? Is it just new to Dubai? Or is it just an inevitable knock-on effect of the global financial crisis? Beck doesn’t agree with the concept of casual dining as ‘new’.
‘For French chefs, it was normal to do a three-star restaurant and a bistro as well. It was always like this. Joël Robuchon started doing this ten years ago with L’Atelier. So I don’t think this is a new concept. And it’s not just in Europe. In November 2014, I opened two new restaurants in Tokyo. A fine dining, and then a casual dining. For me, it has nothing to do with the recession or what others are doing.’
The idea for Taste of Italy, he reveals, has been brewing for four years. Long before the idea for Social on the Palm Jumeirah. ‘Taste of Italy took longer because with Social, it was already built. So we wrote the contract, signed it and three months later, we were moving in. But with Taste of Italy, after we’d prepared the contract, we had to plan everything with the architects and with design and so.’
So Beck’s move towards casual dining may be neither unique nor part of a trend. But with so many other chefs taking this path, from Joël Robuchon to Pierre Gagnaire, what is the benefit of dining diffusion for a top-tier chef? ‘If I only stay in my restaurant in Rome, only 60 people [a night] will be able to taste my food. But with what I’m doing here, a lot more people around the world will eat my food, made by chefs who have worked in my restaurants for a long, long time.
An analogy he uses to describe the diners who he hopes will visit is of Armani jeans. ‘Armani makes Armani jeans. If you buy Armani jeans, it does not mean you would never buy an Armani suit. On the contrary, if I buy Armani jeans and then tomorrow I need a suit, I will go and get it at Armani,’ he says. ‘If I can afford it, why not? Diners like you will at some point go up to the next level. They become loyal customers.
I wouldn’t see a competition between one and the other one. One can help with the other one. They are two different ways of doing things. They are both quality, one is casual, and one is de-formalised fine dining. It does not mean that a diner who goes to one will not go to the other. But it is a different type of restaurant, and a different experience.’
Finally, ahead of opening, will there be another Taste of Italy? We ask. ‘Is it the beginning of a chain? ‘We start with one, okay. And then, you never know,’ he says.
Taste of Italy by Heinz Beck is due to open at Galleria Mall, Al Wasl Road in April 2015. Social by Heinz Beck is located at Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah (04 818 2222).
Dubai’s casual dining movement
Choix Patisserie and Restaurant par Pierre Gagnaire
In addition to fine dining restaurant Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire located in the same hotel, at the beginning of 2014, this three Michelin-awarded French chef doubled his Dubai empire with his first-ever standalone café and patisserie.
Intercontinental Dubai Festival City (04 701 1136).
Michelin-awarded English chef Gary Rhodes made a decision to move in line with the casual (yet still gourmet) dining zeitgeist currently occupying London by closing his Dubai Marina fine-dining venture Rhodes Mezzanine at the end of 2013. In its place, inside the same restaurant space, chef Gary opened Rhodes W1 in October 2014, another gourmet British venture, but with a more casual edge to the ambience and style of food.
Grosvenor House Dubai, Dubai Marina (04 317 6000).
Following their departure from Table 9 at the end of 2013, local celebrity chefs Nick Alvis and Scott Price acted as consultants on the launch of a new mall-based gourmet café chain, Taste Kitchen. Three branches in, chefs Nick and Scott are currently working on this project, with plans to launch their own fine-dining idea down the line.
Mercato Mall (04 344 4161). Other locations: Cedre Villas, Dubai Sillicon Oasis (04 388 6121), Trade Centre Road (04 352 4591).