Working in Dubai is a dream many professionals in the food and beverage industry strive to realize. However, sometimes their dream gets lost midway, for various reasons, the biggest being the difficulty of find a ‘winning formula’ that captures the imagination of the most demanding investors, in an exceedingly social and highly competitive culinary fabric.
He welcomes me into his room in a rare moment of peace and takes the opportunity to explore with him some issues related to the catering business and understand the point of view of a chef-entrepreneur who, like me, has traveled the world.
Why did you choose the Middle East?
The Middle East chose me. My destination was to go to the US, but, before signing the contract, I met the right people who changed my mind. I’ve been here for 14 years now!
Market challenges and the urgency to beat competition are slowly contaminating some businesses – say for example the ice cream and pastries domains. What do you think is going on with the chefs and pizza makers?
I believe it is easier to become a pizza chef than to be a master of gelato! Having said that, at a professional level everything depends on the level of quality and high standards that you want to achieve and that is neither automatic nor mandatory. As for me, I personally select, train and keep a watch on the people who work for me.
What do you have to say about the arrival of American franchises in Italy, such as Domino’s Pizza?
American franchises have been around for decades and I wonder why we, the Italians could never match up to their popularity in all of these years! It is only now that we’re getting to see Italian franchises gain popularity at an international level.
I can only make a hypothesis. Meanwhile, I believe not everybody can enter into the complexity and logic of ‘replicability’ of a business model – that process needs a very strong vision, setting a solid working structure, continuous training of staff and excellent supervision systems.
Then, it also seems to me that many restaurant owners and entrepreneurs do not have a strong financial backing; I mean waging a charming family tradition and value is one thing but coining one’s own brand and launching it as a massive world player is another. There is a big difference and it’s also a cultural issue.
The last aspect, in my opinion, is related to economics. The excessive tax burden does not allow large Italian ‘experiments’ and we all know that you need to do several tests before you find the best formula to be able to export.
What are the tools that have the greatest impact on the ‘pizza’ product quality?
No instrument can beat a good recipe! However, the oven and the work plan are important. I choose ovens that can better manage cost and functionality and then, let’s face it, the effect of the flame in a room immediately makes for a perfect atmosphere.
Is there a particular tool that you take with you wherever you go to work?
Yes, a USB stick to have all my recipes always at hand.
No, the dishes are not complicated at all. The USB has about 200 recipes that I’ve developed over the years, as well as some of my sweet grandmother’s recipes. Then there are some dishes that piqued my interest during the years that I spent in Sardinia before my arrival in Dubai. The most requested dish is always Culingionis with artichoke, mint, Fiore Sardo fondue and black truffle.
And how do you manage to procure raw materials?
In Dubai you can find everything from all over the world – from a wide range of meats and fish to vegetables and fruits of all kinds. Raw materials are not a problem for those who come here to work. So, haute cuisine does not suffer due to the deficiency or unavailability of specific ingredients.
What advice would you give to a restaurateur who is about to open or renovate a local concept?
To have clear ideas and share the project vision and mission with all employees; unity is strength.