The panel of experts discussed restaurant refurbishment, and said chefs need to get involved with back-of-house design as soon as it is feasible. The panel of experts discussed restaurant refurbishment, and said chefs need to get involved with back-of-house design as soon as it is feasible.

The fourth annual Caterer Middle East Chef & Ingredients Forum 2015 saw a crowd of chefs and F&B operators gather at the Grosvenor House Dubai on October 6.

The usual issues of supply chain and staffing challenges reared their heads, but new discussions this year included restaurant refurbishment and the effect of discount vouchers on operational costs. A further highlight of the day was an on-stage interview with keynote speaker, Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

PANEL 1: 10:05 AM

Local, Organic & Sustainable — keeping up with the supply issue

Chefs discussed on the rise of local produce and the trend towards using of organic ingredients on the panel session moderated by Gates Hospitality CEO Naim Maadad.

“There has been a 275% rise in local farm produce from in and around the UAE. A farm in Sharjah, that is about 2ha in area, has assumed an important position for our group of restaurants as we source a lot of ingredients from there. The family-owned farm use natural methods of growing vegetables and we are happy with the produce,” said Akshay Nayyar, corporate chef — EMEA, Sanjeev Kapoor Restaurants.

In the past, chefs have been wary of using local produce, but many are now keeping an open mind to what’s on offer locally.

“I visited a local market recently at Al Aweer, and was pleasantly surprised with the ingredients on offer there. The price point was very competitive, and I would recommend chefs visit the local markets more often,” said Izu Ani, head chef, La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie.

But Ani said he will not buy local “for the sake of it”, adding: “I will invest to make my customers happy, not the economy.”

Meanwhile, Dirk Haltenhof, resort executive chef — F&B production, Madinat Jumeirah, spoke about what farmers in the UAE should cultivate. “It doesn’t make sense to grow pumpkins, which will require as much water as an entire swimming pool to grow just one.

“At Madinat Jumeirah we have our own little back garden where we cultivate herbs, chillies and baby tomatoes. We educate our guests about it and more often than not we are appreciated for our efforts,” he added.

For much of the produce that the UAE or its neighbouring countries cannot grow, chefs need to be extremely careful from where and how they source.

“They need not get drawn into the organic fad. Mentioning the word ‘organic’ on the menu does not translate into demand from guests,” said Sascha Triemer, vice president, culinary, Atlantis The Palm. Almost all of the chefs unanimously agreed with his sentiment.

“Another aspect we need to consider is whether people are ready to pay the premium for organic dishes. The answer is no; it’s often expensive on account of the cost of ingredients,” said Nayyar.

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