Chef Jason Atherton Chef Jason Atherton

In an exclusive interview with Caterer Middle East, Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton discusses what guests will get with his second innings in the region and how he implements the word ‘social’ in everything he does

It seems to be the season of celebrity chefs and well-known international brands either opening or announcing new ventures in the Middle East. With the F&B market growing in leaps and bounds, the market is proving to be attractive for chef-restaurateurs keen to make their mark on a global scale.

And now Jason Atherton, who is well-versed with the Dubai scene, is returning. In 2001, Gordon Ramsay (who has not confirmed he is looking to return just yet!) opened his first restaurant in the Middle East — Verre at Hilton Dubai Creek. In 2002, Jason Atherton took over the venue when Angela Hartnett left to open her restaurant back in the UK.

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Ramsay’s protégé left Dubai in 2005, and in 2010 left Gordon Ramsay Holdings to launch the Jason Atherton Restaurant Group. He opened his flagship Pollen Street Social in April 2011 in Mayfair, which won a Michelin star within six months of opening. Since then Atherton has won many accolades, not to mention further Michelin stars for his work.

Rumours were flying that Atherton was considering a new venture in the UAE, and in August 2013 Caterer Middle East confirmed his return. In March 2014, the InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) made the official announcement that Atherton would open his restaurant, Marina Social, at the InterContinental Dubai Marina.

I met Atherton and the InterContinental Dubai Marina general manager Michael Martin in August 2014 on one of Atherton’s reconnaissance visits to the city. The chef is soft-spoken but the passion shines through his voice when we start talking about all things food.

Even though he lived in Dubai when the F&B industry was still taking baby steps, the Emirates definitely won him over. He says: “I remember Gordon Ramsay saying to me, ‘do you want to go and run our new restaurant out in Dubai?’, and at the time, I asked, ‘where’s Dubai?’ He said, ‘let’s go out there for the weekend’.

“I had never been to the Middle East at that point in my life. I came and I was so taken aback, even back then, at how cool the city was. I said yes straightaway. I moved out here and just had the best time of my life. I loved it, those four years were very special to me.”

He adds with a smile: “It was always an ambition when I left that I would, one day, hopefully, open a restaurant here of my own. And that’s now being realised.”

Martin reveals IHG and Atherton have a “consultancy type of arrangement” where both parties are working in partnership. He says: “We are supporting, Jason is the lead, he brings the concept, he brings the ideas, he brings his key members and we operate it around that. So we are absolutely in partnership. There will be key people from Jason’s team, leading the team, then the staff we recruit. It’s probably [best described] as a joint venture.”

Martin continues with saying that the restaurant is the “perfect fit” with the ethos of the hotel. He says: “We wanted to be a lifestyle destination, and Jason’s restaurant is just the jewel in the crown of what we have to offer in the Marina. It’s just so vibrant, and we’re right in the middle of it. What’s really important to us is that we engage with our customers.”

Social is a word on everyone’s minds [see box out on page 30] and nearly half of Atherton’s restaurants around the world have the word ‘social’ in their name. It’s not a coincidence.

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