In the hugely popular book, The Forty Rules of Love, Turkish novelist Elif Shafak writes, “I know you like cooking. Did you know that Shams says the world is a huge cauldron and something big is cooking in it? We don’t know what yet. Everything we do, we, or think is an ingredient in that mixture.”
These words echo in our heads as we visit some of the fine-dining kitchens in the city.
Dubai, a young land, is brimming with dreams for an inclusive world and bursting with flavours from lands from across the globe.
Indeed, diversity is the thread that makes the fabric of this patch stronger, as it lives up to the adage of a melting pot.
It’s no different in the kitchens, where it doesn’t matter where you come from or belong to, but how you rustle up a meal that brings everyone together at one table.
As Dubai-based chefs learn from each other’s kitchens, we spoke to them about the merits of working in an ecosystem that is peppered with multi-cultural flavours.
‘In 26 years, I’ve worked with over 15 nationalities’
For Diyan Manjula De Silva, a Sri Lankan and Executive Chef, Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek, having cultural diversity in the kitchen has ensured creativity and inspiration but more importantly has raised the quality and skill of his team.
“Each and every team member brings a new technique, skill or idea to the table, ensuring the teams as well my personal growth and development,” he said.
He adores the spices from his native emerald isles. “What I love about Dubai is that we have some amazing, truly authentic different cuisine restaurants, courtesy of chefs from diverse backgrounds. We have some incredible fusion restaurants in the city. That’s largely because of the melting pot of culture and talent, which produces unique and exciting flavours and dishes,” he added.
At Radisson Blu Hotel’s Persian restaurant, Shabestan, its Iranian head chef uses family recipes passed down through three generations. Shabestan was recently included in the 69 restaurants recognised in the inaugural Michelin Guide Dubai, which covered 21 cuisines.
It has been an eye-popping experience learning from chefs from around the world. In 26 years, I have worked with over 15 nationalities. I think that’s prevalent in our menus. From fusion to specialty cuisine outlets. Regardless of where you come from, every chef has the same goal, to deliver exceptional food.”
‘At team dinners, we’ve 15 different nationalities at a single table’
For Bernardo Paladini, an Italian and Chef de Cuisine, W Dubai, The Palm, working in Dubai has given him an excellent opportunity to meet people from all over the world. He said his team at the Torno Subito kitchen comes from different countries, and it has been amazing to find out about their culture, their families and most importantly, what food means to them, especially at the weekly team dinners.
“Chefs have the responsibility to act ethically, and restaurants must be sustainable. Torno Subito is an Italian restaurant that uses key traditional ingredients, but I’m also passionate about local produce, in terms of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, dairy products and spices. Whilst quality comes first, I love to support the local produce. Dubai is growing tremendously in terms of locally-produced fresh ingredients, which is extremely exciting,” he said.
Torno Subito, the contemporary Italian restaurant, was recently awarded One Star in the inaugural Michelin Guide Dubai.
What makes our kitchen family unique is that every week a different section of the team cooks a different meal inspired by their home country and its culture. This way, we get to travel via food without leaving the restaurant, whilst learning many aspects of other countries through cooking techniques and dishes.”
‘I’ve learnt about flavour profiles that I’d never tasted in my life’
For Chef Fadi Naim, a Lebanese and Executive Chef, Couqley French Bistro & Bar, he has learnt different techniques and new flavour profiles and ingredients that he’d never seen nor tasted in his life before.
“I believe that the complex diversity has become a culinary revolution and is something very unique to Dubai,” he said.
What’s his process of understanding Dubai’s foodscape?
“The first thing I do is understand who is eating my craft, it is important to get to know them. I’ve noticed that people from around the world will always look for that certain taste or flavour that reminds them of home. Post-that, I brainstorm to come up with concepts that would be appreciated by the clientele’s palate. I created dishes inspired by different regions from around the world, which often act as a conversation starter with the customers who tell us about their travels and what our dishes remind them of,” he added.
The unique thing about Dubai is that the population is from all over the world; and depending on how you manage this cocktail of nationalities and cultures, it could either be a good or a bad thing. This cultural diversity has enabled me to look beyond what I know and allowed me to grow in various ways.”
‘Over staff meals, we share stories of how things are done back home’
For Akmal Anuar, a Singaporean and chef and owner, 11 Woodfire, who was brought up in an environment around food, there’s only one way to celebrate gastronomy. “Eating is always a special occasion. I cook with heart, and I want to introduce a modern take to my own style of cuisine. The food I grew up eating is way different to the palate in Dubai. But small touches these days go a long way.” he said.
He acknowledges each individual contribution from the team — be it them sharing their own cuisine during staff meals or sharing stories of how things are done back home. In collaboration with Atelier House Hospitality, Akmal created 11 Woodfire as a passion project, a personal space driven by memories, stories, and people, celebrating the earth’s natural bounty and community, which was awarded the prestigious One Star in the inaugural Michelin Guide Dubai.
It is an ongoing task to blend all nationalities together. I emphasise respect and honesty when working in my space.”
‘I work in a kitchen with team members from 12 countries’
For Kelvin Cheung, a Canadian and chef & partner, Jun’s, one of the most beautiful things about Dubai is that it’s one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. Jun’s captures the nostalgic flavours of North American and Asian cuisines. “At Jun’s, we also have a large number of chefs who are of Filipino descent, and I wanted to make some dishes that represented their culture and cuisine,” said Kevin.
Ube, a staple in Filipino cuisine, is widely used in bread, soups and even desserts. It’s the base for gluten-free Ube sponge cake with brown butter taro root schmear, Ube cheesecake and milk crumble.
“One of the chef’s ideas was to use his mom’s recipe for the Berbere spice, which originates from a north African ethnic group, and he loved the idea of being able to add it on the menu,” he added.
Having a kitchen filled with team members from 12 countries provides me with insights from 12 vastly different cultures and backgrounds. It means I have access to 12 different cuisines and using that knowledge increases my range of ideas and recipes that I can incorporate into our menu.”
‘We must constantly evolve to keep pace with changing palates’
Mario Faria, Portuguese and head F&B, Le Gourmet, Galeries Lafayette, The Dubai Mall, weighed in on the multi-cuisine kitchens as one of the one-stop destinations for diners at the iconic mall.
“Whether it is a hearty breakfast at Izu bakery or a relaxed brunch at Izu Brasserie, exotic Oriental indulgence at WokTales and the Sushi Bar or Tandoonari, which comes highly recommended for homestyle Indian food, we’ve carved a niche as a popular dining lounge,” he said.
“Dubai is the fastest growing city in the world when it comes to evolution. It has been an exciting time, with the emergence of global franchises kicking off the start of a wonderful evolution in the F&B sector. That gave new and unique home-grown brands the impetus and confidence to start up in this wonderful city. With each concept came unique, innovative ideas cementing Dubai’s rightful place in the international culinary scene. The inaugural Michelin Guide and Gault & Millau just proves that it’s been a fruitful journey,” he added.
Due to the multicultural background of Dubai, it’s no surprise that its food culture has adapted to the palates of locals, expatriates, and tourists alike. Food is truly the best way to experience the diverse culture of Dubai. As chefs and restaurateurs, we must keep ourselves informed and constantly adapt to the ever-changing food trends around us without compromising the taste and quality of the food we serve to our guests.”
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