NEWS ANAL­Y­SIS

THE DE­BATE IS BACK: IS DUBAI READY FOR THE MICHE­LIN GUIDE?

Hotelier Middle East - - FRONT PAGE - By Sarak­shi Rai

From Ja­son Ather­ton and Mo­ri­moto to Nobu and Sean Conolly, Dubai has no dearth of celebrity chefs, with news of more join­ing the fray al­most ev­ery month. With Jumeirah’s ap­point­ment of ex-miche­lin Res­tau­rant and Ho­tel Guides ex­ec­u­tive Michael El­lis as its new chief culi­nary of­fi­cer, the de­bate has resur­faced once again: is Dubai truly ready for its own guide?

Bren­dan Mccor­mack, ho­tel man­ager at the W Dubai — the Palm ho­tel that is slated to open its doors early next year with cel­e­brated chefs like Akira Back and Mas­simo Bot­tura, be­lieves that it would be “great” if the Miche­lin guide came to Dubai.

“We have so many great venues across the city, so many in fact it is hard to choose where to go. The Miche­lin guide would help peo­ple, both tourists and those who are lo­cally based, to make in­formed choices,” Mccor­mack added.

And he isn’t wrong. Most des­ti­na­tions with Miche­lin stars have seen a rise in tourist num­bers in di­rect cor­re­la­tion with the pub­li­ca­tion of the guide.

The tiny city of Aarhus saw a 17% rise in the num­ber of guests in the city’s ho­tels af­ter three of the city’s restau­rants made it to the Miche­lin Nordic Guide 2016. So it’s no sur­prise that tourism boards pay Miche­lin to launch guides in their cities. Eater re­ported ear­lier this year that state-run Korean Tourism Or­gan­i­sa­tion agreed to pay Miche­lin nearly 2 bil­lion won (ap­prox­i­mately US$1.8 mil­lion) to bring the Seoul guide to the coun­try, while the Tourism Author­ity of Thai­land (TAT) re­port­edly pledged 144 mil­lion Thai baht (ap­prox­i­mately $4.4 mil­lion) in fi­nan­cial sup­port to Miche­lin for five years, begin­ning with the first Bangkok guide in 2017.

How­ever, while the de­bate has raged on for the last five years, Dubai still hasn’t seen the launch of a Miche­lin Guide yet. El­lis stoked the fire in 2016 at the Global Res­tau­rant In­vest­ment Fo­rum when he said Miche­lin was on its way to cre­at­ing a guide specif­i­cally for Dubai, but re­mained tight-lipped on the de­tails.

So what is it that Dubai restau­rants are lack­ing? Ac­cord­ing to Mccor­mack, “In times gone by, we [Dubai] lacked au­then­tic­ity. There were too many poorly ex­e­cuted venues and ‘copy pastes’, if you will. But the evo­lu­tion of the in­dus­try in this city over the last five years has pro­duced some phe­nom­e­nal venues.”

He also be­lieves that in­de­pen­dent venues have stolen the lime­light from lux­ury five-star ho­tels and have upped the stakes.

How­ever Mccor­mack

be­lieves that Dubai res­tau­rant pric­ing is a “prob­lem”.

“One thing we do need to ad­dress, is the price. The value propo­si­tion of­fered by Dubai venues ver­sus even cities like Lon­don, Hong Kong and New York is a prob­lem. Es­pe­cially as we want to be a tourist des­ti­na­tion, we will al­ways be com­pared to our peers in other great cities around the world,” he said to Hotelier.

Re­it­er­at­ing Mccor­mack’s com­ments, Naim Maadad, the chief ex­ec­u­tive and founder of Gates Hos­pi­tal­ity, be­lieves that au­then­tic­ity is a ma­jor com­po­nent that the mar­ket gen­uinely lacks.

“When one con­cept is suc­cess­ful, then oth­ers try to copy the same with­out any un­der­stand­ing or mi­nor con­cept changes. Brands suc­ceed due to their unique­ness,” he said. “We see peo­ple with no ex­pe­ri­ence or knowl­edge go out and in­vest in cookie cut­ter con­cepts with no re­search or ba­sic due dili­gence.”

Ac­cord­ing to Maadad, another miss­ing key fac­tor is the ser­vice cul­ture, which is in its in­fancy as the cost of liv­ing, along with visa lim­i­ta­tions, im­poses steep curves and non-vi­able com­mer­cial propo­si­tions for both em­ploy­ees and em­ploy­ers.

Ben To­bitt, group ex­ec­u­tive chef at JRG Dubai, noted that the emi­rate has quite a few venues that are close to the high lev­els of qual­ity needed to be awarded a Miche­lin star rat­ing.

To­bitt em­pha­sises the point that “should restau­rants hope to ap­ply for the cov­eted Miche­lin star, re­newed fo­cus on en­hanc­ing qual­ity across the board needs to come into play – it’s not just about the food, but equally strong qual­ity of ser­vice. Per­son­ally, I feel there should be more fo­cus on get­ting the ba­sics right col­lec­tively, be­fore set­ting our sights and fo­cus on Miche­lin star recog­ni­tion.”

How­ever, he adds, while there are many chefs com­ing to Dubai who have helmed Miche­lin-starred venues, which of­fer dis­cern­ing din­ers a plethora of op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­joy the skills of some of the world’s finest, they aren’t re­ally bring­ing Miche­lin con­cepts to the re­gion.

“How­ever, you’ll also no­tice they are not nec­es­sar­ily bring­ing Miche­lin star con­cepts to the city, just yet. Per­son­ally, I don’t be­lieve guests are af­ter an ex­ten­sive se­lec­tion of fine din­ing restau­rants that are quite ex­pen­sive for the reg­u­lar foodie. I be­lieve there is an ap­petite for food that is well sourced, well cooked, well pre­sented, well served and rea­son­ably priced. This doesn’t need to be ex­pen­sive, it just takes skill from us as chefs and com­mit­ted front-of-house staff to make a meal truly en­joy­able and mem­o­rable – it’s about the food and the en­tire din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” To­bitt adds.

How­ever To­bitt makes a valid point: not all restau­rants “have the de­sire” for a Miche­lin star.

“It’s ex­tremely ex­pen­sive to put to­gether a team to de­liver. It’s not just about the head chef and man­ager, ul­ti­mately ev­ery team mem­ber has to be able to de­liver with­out ex­cep­tion. This ex­pense is another im­pact on the guest; at JRG’S sig­na­ture res­tau­rant Pier­chic, we don’t have the de­sire for Miche­lin stars. Our pas­sion lies with qual­ity in­gre­di­ents, sus­tain­abil­ity, prove­nance, sea­son­al­ity, lo­cal pro­duce (where pos­si­ble) and train­ing. Ev­ery day we strive to get bet­ter at what we do, there’s never a mo­ment our teams rest on their

lau­rels and ex­pects to de­liver the best in qual­ity with­out ef­fort and com­mit­ment,” To­bitt adds.

He per­son­ally be­lieves that Dubai would be more suit­able for the AA Rosette guide. “It’s far more achiev­able and ticks the right boxes when it comes to price point and qual­ity.”

This sen­ti­ment is echoed by chef Izu Ani, known for his in­no­va­tive restau­rants in Dubai like Carine, Izu Brasserie and Gaia.

“For me it doesn’t bring any ad­di­tional [value]; it’s a bunch of men com­ing to taste your food and say­ing ‘oh, it’s won­der­ful, I’ll give you two

stars.’ If they ever come here, I’d tell them please leave me alone, be­cause it’s not a cri­te­ria that I want to live by,” Ani said in an in­ter­view to

Hotelier’s sis­ter pub­li­ca­tion

Caterer Mid­dle East.

“I want to live by the cri­te­ria of guests com­ing in, thank­ing the chef and leav­ing with a smile be­cause at the end of the day, that cri­te­ria of Miche­lin is so sub­jec­tive. I’ve been to France and eaten at one star-and two star­restau­rants and thought, ‘what is this?’” he said.

“I don’t get why we al­ways have to pi­geon­hole ev­ery­thing or say this is a barom­e­ter that you have to live by. Miche­lin makes money from this. I work 18-20 hours a day, sleep for two hours and I have to live by a red book? Why?” Ani ques­tioned.

He also be­lieves that the Miche­lin Guide cre­ates a pre­con­ceived opin­ion of restau­rants.

“I spent 650 euro on a meal at a three-miche­lin star res­tau­rant for a meal that hon­estly wasn’t even av­er­age. Good qual­ity prod­uct, but my lit­tle kid could cook that bet­ter,” he said.

Ques­tion­ing the na­ture of the guide, he says “If other peo­ple tell us some­thing is good, we trust it. That’s just how hu­mans are.”

Naim Maadad.

Af­ter­noon tea at Os­siano.

A duck dish at So­cial by Heinz Beck.

Bren­dan Mccor­mack of W Dubai — the Palm.

Sushi at Mo­ri­moto.

Ben To­bitt of JRG Dubai. Naim Maadad.

Chef Izu Ani.

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