OPEN­ING UP THE TEST KITCHEN

Good (UAE) - - THE GOOD LIFE -

Reif Oth­man, the culi­nary mas­ter­mind be­hind the award-win­ning dishes at Play, re­cently opened The Ex­pe­ri­ence, a 12-per­son din­ing by de­sign con­cept that em­u­lates a hosted din­ner party but acts as a com­mer­cial devel­op­ment kitchen.

Was The Ex­pe­ri­ence part of the idea when you joined Play?

Not at all! The team had the name Play al­ready in place and I took it as an in­di­ca­tor that we should play with the food. And then last Oc­to­ber, we were dis­cussing plans for a test kitchen and I said ‘Hey, this space is too big for just a test kitchen, let’s use it for a small restau­rant, like it’s my apart­ment.’ And here we are.

So will all the dishes served here be de­vel­oped for the main menu?

Not ex­actly. The menu in The Ex­pe­ri­ence is unique and con­stantly chang­ing, but when I change dishes at Play ev­ery month, the chefs will all come up here and play around. So dishes that are cre­ated here will end up on the main menu, but per­haps only one or two that are ac­tu­ally served as part of The Ex­pe­ri­ence.

How of­ten do you change your of­fer­ing in The Ex­pe­ri­ence?

Ev­ery sin­gle day. What you have to­day you will not see to­mor­row. And that’s chal­leng­ing for me, but that’s the fun of it. Keep­ing the food fresh and new.

You’re only serv­ing 12 peo­ple and pre­par­ing ten courses for each of them. Does that work as a busi­ness, or is it only pos­si­ble through its at­tach­ment to Play?

As a busi­ness­man, I need to make sure I’m mak­ing money, and the fact is The Ex­pe­ri­ence doesn’t. Thank­fully for me, it’s tied to Play and the fact the own­ers don’t care about this lit­tle part be­ing prof­itable means I get to do it. I’m blessed. The truth is, as a chef, I’m busy from 9 to 5 on my pa­per­work for PLAY. I have no time to cook. It’s the same for so many chefs. But you have to keep on cook­ing to stay on top and The Ex­pe­ri­ence is what keeps me go­ing, it’s where I play! I get a lot of true food­ies here too. It’s about good qual­ity and a re­laxed, so­cial ex­pe­ri­ence.

How de­mand­ing are the city’s din­ers?

Very. They’re start­ing to learn more about food and, be­ing in the mid­dle of ev­ery­where here, they know a lot of dif­fer­ent cuisines and they like to ed­u­cate them­selves. That said, in some ways Dubai is still weak on prod­uct knowl­edge – I’ve had cus­tomers ask­ing for crab­sticks in­stead of fresh king crab!

You’ve been here eight years and are still seen as push­ing bound­aries while so many oth­ers have come, shone and gone. How do you do that?

I think the best way is to keep mov­ing. It’s not that dif­fi­cult re­ally. Al­ways buy good pro­duce, serve it prop­erly and price it well. Don’t cheat your cus­tomers. Also, you need to be re­al­is­tic. I un­der­stand what Dubai wants in terms of palate and I know that, at the end of the day, the cus­tomer is my boss. They pay my wages. Once you un­der­stand that, I don’t think it’s dif­fi­cult – just be con­sis­tent. The man­age­ment of a restau­rant makes a huge dif­fer­ence too. When it’s all about the bot­tom line and that’s it, that’s wrong. But equally, I don’t ex­pect to just run off and do what­ever I want. I have to be a busi­ness­man too. They give me trust and I prove it’s valid. It’s a re­la­tion­ship of give and take.

You dec­o­rated The Ex­pe­ri­ence your­self. How un­usual is it to get that free­dom to run?

On a global level, not that un­usual. I think ev­ery­one does that in Europe, even in the small­est restau­rants, be­cause ev­ery chef has their own vi­sion. But here it’s a def­i­nite op­por­tu­nity for me and I’ve just en­joyed grab­bing it!

So what comes next for you at The Ex­pe­ri­ence?

A cin­ema! Gen­uinely, we’re open­ing a cin­ema next month. It was an idea from our owner and we’ve gone for it, but we’re not open­ing a multiplex. It’s got 12 seats, same as the restau­rant, and it’s meant to be part of the whole ex­pe­ri­ence – you come, you have din­ner, you see a movie. It’s go­ing to be fun.

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