Restaurateurs and suppliers on the popularity of Italian in the region

Reports, Ingredients, Caterer middle east, Italian cuisine

Caterer investigates the popularity of Italian cuisine in the region, exploring the challenges and successes for protagonists of this cuisine

Meet the Experts

Alessandro Bottazzi, chef de cuisine, Ronda Locatelli
Andrea Mugavero, partner and exec chef, Roberto’s
Alessandro Zulian, chef, Carluccio’s
Marianna Rescia, manager, Nais Italian Kitchen
Soufiane Raji, food service manager, ESF
John Salek, managing partner, Intelligent Foods

How popular is Italian cuisine in this region?
Alessandro Bottazzi, chef de cuisine, at Ronda Locatelli: Italian food is recognised worldwide, and in a market as dynamic and multi-cultural as Dubai, of course it’s popular!

Andrea Mugavero, partner and executive chef Roberto’s: Italian food has proven to be timeless in popularity surpassing seasonal trends that have come and gone. In my opinion this has been true in the region as well.

Alessandro Zulian, chef, Carluccio’s: There has also been a rise in specific elements of Italian cuisine, such as pizza or gelato. Italian restaurants cover all price ranges in Dubai from cheap and cheerful to extravagant and gourmet.

What is the demand of Italian food produce?
Maria Luisa Panzica La Manna, general manager, Italian Dairy Products: For the products we make, fresh, sustainable and made at home, the demand is very high.

Burrata has become a very popular cheese in the Dubai culinary scene and is also served in steakhouses and international or fusion cuisine restaurants and cafes.

Ricotta is used as an ingredient for pastry or pasta or for breakfast with other garnishes. Mozzarella, of course is now considered by many an international dish.

Soufiane Raji, food service manager Emirates Snack Foods LLC: As always there is a high demand for pasta, pizza products and extra-virgin olive oil. We have always seen a great demand for fresh cheeses, especially fresh mozzarella and parmesan, as well as a good tomato sauce.

John Salek, managing partner, Pasta, Gelato, & Coffee, Intelligent Foods: I moved in 2004 and started producing ice cream and gelato. Importing was not an option I considered. I never planned on being the biggest ice cream supplier in the region, but I did plan on being the best. That was only going to happen with complete control of the process.

How authentic is it?
Marianna Rescia, restaurant manager, Nais Italian Kitchen: We are all, including our chef, from the same town of Alessandria in the Piedmont Region, the north-western part of Italy and we feature some typical dishes of our region in the menu. These are not yet very popular as many clients don't like to venture into what is unfamiliar.

AM: Modern interpretations of classic recipes are bound to occur in Dubai as it does in Italy too. We chefs are artists and your palate is our canvas of sorts. Roberto’s menu is inspired by the whole of Italy but with strong Sicilian undertones given our personal backgrounds.

What’s the competition like among suppliers?
JS: It is a competitive market. Since we produce the products we sell we can provide a customised product on short notice. This allows our clients more flexibility with the challenges they choose to take on.

What does it take for an Italian restaurant to succeed here?
AB: The best way to stand out is to be consistent with your product and have character in what you do.

AZ: Having a brand name at the start certainly helps but after that you have to build your own customer base. You have to ensure the quality and standard every time people visit you. The brand name can help attract customers at the beginning but if they don’t like the experience and it does not meet their expectations of the brand, they will not return.

What are the challenges?
AZ: The biggest challenge of locally supplied ingredients is the quality and flavour.

MR: Sourcing locally is a challenge in Dubai as most items are imported from the wider region, Europe and other parts of the world. We would rather use local fish that is fresh than use the imported and expensive kind.

AB: There is very little local production. Nonetheless, we do use a local Italian cheese producer for mozzarella and some dairy produce.

How easy is it to import Italian produce?
SR: Italian produce always garners attention from food lovers, making it very easy to introduce. The tradition, trust and quality of Italian products are recognised worldwide. Barilla pasta, Ferarelle water, Pietro Coricelli olive oil, Mutti tomato paste, and Kimbo coffee are all household Italian brands.

MLM: For the Italian chef or someone trying to make Italian recipes true to their origins, one of the greatest challenges can be finding fresh ingredients. Italian cooking combines often only a few ingredients for each dish, but the flavours have to stand out and go together with the others.

What does the future look like for Italian cuisine?
SR: I believe the market is looking to increase here, with growing interest from Europe – there are many European based outlets opening here creating more demand for European products.

JS: The demand for Italian products will always be there, but the key to growth will be creating or trading products that meet budget demands and don’t limit a chef’s ability to make a point of difference on their menu.

MR: When the Mediterranean diet became popular all over the world, Italian food became not only good to eat but it also became healthy. With the positive changes and increasingly discerning palate of Dubai diners I think the future is bright for Italian eateries, particularly independent ones.

AT A GLANCE: Italian Dairy Products
Italian Dairy Products is an authentic Italian cheese factory. Founded by husband and wife team Leo and Silvia Condemi from Milan in 2011, the factory was set up in Sharjah’s Hamriyah Free Zone. Italian Dairy Products crafts mozzarella, ricotta scamorza and burrata from traditional recipes with locally sourced milk. Today it is supplying more than 40 different businesses and hotels in the region.

A taste of Italy

Chef De Cuisine Alessandro Bottazzi at Ronda Locatelli, Atlantis The Palm, shares his favourite recipe: Gnocchi Goat’s Cheese Black Winter Truffle

Serves 4-5 people
Ingredients: GNOCCHI
1,100g red potatoes; 280-300g “00” flour; 1 egg; 15g salt

Preheat oven to 200oC. Cover the potatoes with cold water and add some salt. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until soft. While the potatoes are still hot, peel them and put them in a deep metal tray. Break the potatoes apart and cover with foil. Put them in the oven to dry for 15 minutes.
Pass the potatoes through a fine sieve, weigh them in a big bowl (should be 1 kilo cooked), and add the rest of the ingredients mixing quickly until the dough comes together. Cover the dough in a kitchen cloth while making the gnocchi. Work the dough while hot.


2 tbsp milk; 2 tbsp double cream; 160g robiola cheese or other fresh goat cheese; 1 carrot, brunoise; 2 stalks of celery, brunoise; 1 onion, brunoise; 1 small bunch of chives, finely chopped; Black truffle

Cook the vegetable brunoise with some butter, without colour.
Heat a sauté pan and add the vegetable brunoise. Add the milk, double cream and goat cheese and let it melt gently. Crush the goat cheese with a spatula.
Add the cooked gnocchi into the pan together with the parmesan and chives. Toss gently and serve with black truffle grated on top.

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