BOH INSIGHTS: Hilton Doha Trader Vic's Karim Aghai

Executive chef Karim says the new Doha outlet is already a full house

Karim Aghai, executive chef, Trader Vic's, Hilton Doha.
Karim Aghai, executive chef, Trader Vic's, Hilton Doha.

Karim Aghai, executive chef, Trader Vic’s, Hilton Doha reveals why Qatar’s first outpost of the Polynesian-themed restaurant is already running a full-house every night

How have your tailored the Trader Vic’s concept to the Doha market?
This is not Trader Vic’s first outpost in the Middle East and historically the original concept has been well-received across the GCC. For Doha, we have stayed true to the original formula — great food, attentive service in a tasteful and relaxing environment.

This also works well in expanding our customer base because as part of the Hilton Doha, we cater to a global audience – the hotel’s business clientele, conferences and events guests and leisure guests are also integral to our business. By maintaining the international flavour of Trader Vic’s, we are able to tap into these segments.

What do you want your restaurant to be known for in the market?
We want to be regarded as a fun, casual and relaxed destination with social ambience offering good food, exotic drinks and exceptional service.

What strategies do you have in place to keep costs down?
Firstly, we use a daily market list to ensure competitive prices from our vendors.
Secondly, through our market study in the lead-up to the opening and our own experience over the past three months, we have a thorough understanding of best-selling items, average portion size, average spend etc and this has helped us create a menu of fast-selling dishes that does not skimp on quality.

Finally, since we are part of the Hilton Doha, we can use the buying power of the hotel, leading to substantial savings for us.

How do you work with your beverage team and your front of house team to aim for a profitable operation?
We usually pair chef's specials and promotional dishes with cocktails to maximise sales on both food and beverage, which in turn increases the average spend per table.

In terms of pushing beverages, I think the Trader Vic’s brand name helps – we are known for our exotic concoctions so it is rare that our patrons leave without sampling our drinks menu. Our layout is another USP – the bar is an area of action and can be seen from the dining area.

What dining trends do you see at the moment?
Dining is being seen as a fun social event to catch up with friends or to unwind and hence, the focus is shifting back to casual, fuss-free dining. Formal, three-course meals have given way to with sharing menus and exotic fare in a friendly ambience.

What is your most essential kitchen gadget?
The Wok Station and of course the Trader Vic’s signature Chinese Wood Fired Oven.

What is your signature dish at Trader Vic’s Doha?
The spicy chilli hammour a.k.a the Wok’d Hammour is the signature.

What are your plans for the next 12 months at Trader Vic’s?
We are just getting started and are currently focused on expanding our market base. We want the restaurant to be known for its quality of experience and value so we will continue to serve up Trader Vic’s signature standards in food, drink and ambience.

We will also roll out a number of Trader Vic’s Chef’s Specials and signature promotions such as the Kau Kau Luncheon.

My Best & Worst
- My best piece of advice is respect others like you want to be respected and lead by example.
- My best career move was working abroad in locations such as Chicago, which gave me valuable experience.
- My best meal was Barbarie Duck breast at a Michelin star rated restaurant in Berlin, Germany.
- My worst mistake in the kitchen was using salt instead of sugar for pancake dough.
- My worst meal was a particularly bad experience with Ribeye steak which had more fat than meat.
- My worst nightmare is a full restaurant and no propane in the kitchen.

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