INTERVIEW: Ritz-Carlton exec chef David Gache

Chef David Gache explains why being authentic ensures success

Gache believes that reinventing a menu is possible, but it?s important to do so while staying true to the restaurant?s original concept and vision.
Gache believes that reinventing a menu is possible, but it?s important to do so while staying true to the restaurant?s original concept and vision.
Gelato and ice cream shop Dolce
Gelato and ice cream shop Dolce
Lebanese restaurant Mijana
Lebanese restaurant Mijana

Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi’s David Gache on why staying true to a concept and being authentic ensures a restaurant’s success

As I approach the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, I marvel at the hotel’s exterior which looks like a majestic palace perched on top of a hill. Entering the lobby leaves me with the same sense of wonderment with its high ceiling and glittering chandeliers. And knowing there are 10 F&B outlets within the venue is just the icing on the cake.

Heading these outlets is 41-year-old executive chef David Gache, who doesn’t stop smiling during the entire duration of his tête-à-tête with Caterer Middle East. Gache leads a team of 106 chefs and 42 stewards at the resort’s 10 food and beverage outlets as well as overseeing banquet operations.

When asked whether hiring a first-class team to work with was hallenging, he shakes his head and says it wasn’t.

“The culinary world is very, very small,” he says. His staff members range from being transfers from other Ritz-Carlton or Marriott hotels, those he has worked with previously, and through recommendations.

“It’s always like that: when a chef is moving, he always has what I call his ‘captain’ with him. So I have couple of captains who followed me, and people whom I recruited through agencies, and through people that I knew. It works the same way as word spreads about a restaurant.”

Spread the word
Even though the hotel officially opened in March 2013, intensive marketing of the restaurants is only scheduled for after Ramadan. Since opening, word of mouth about the quality of food offered is what has caused the seats to fill.

“Until today we are surviving by people spreading the word around the city. So that’s really good for us, and actually, that’s the best PR we can ever have,” says Gache proudly.

He also reveals the hotel is witnessing an influx of UAE nationals visiting the venues, for which, Gache says, the hotel is blessed. “It’s very good that we can say a lot of locals are coming to the hotel.

Alba, for example, has many members of the local population, especially for high tea. We have been well received on the market in Abu Dhabi,” he says.

Gache adds that the target audience is varied and doesn’t attract just one age group. “We can go from three-year-old children with Dolce to young adults in Li Jiang where it is more funky and more hip, or 60-year-olds where we have a more refined outlet. We are targeting all ranges; I would say we are quite eclectic.”

Gache explains that the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi is not the kind to focus on a particular type of visitor or an age group. The quality of food and the service offered by the hotel, he says, is what attracts every demographic.

Accessible Concepts
One of the directions the hotel is taking, Gache explains, is to move away from the idea that it is a fine dining destination, instead choosing to reinvent its image as that of an accessible F&B venue.

“It’s the new vision of Ritz Carlton in the culinary and food & beverage sector. What the company is looking at in F&B is simple ingredients, but of good quality. The best that you can afford on the market, cooked and presented in a simple way. So by having this technique and using really fresh, good products, 50% of our job is already done. And the other 50% is just the technique of the chefs,” says Gache.

He adds: “We’re not fine dining; that is really not the vision anymore — we want to have good, friendly, fresh food and make it more accessible to everybody. For example, when you see the menu you understand right away what will be on the plate; we stopped using big words that nobody even understands. A tenderloin is a tenderloin, there is no need to use some French word in the middle. This is what defines all the outlets in the hotel.”

But with 10 outlets in one venue, I wonder if there’s a danger for one to overshadow another. Gache denies this and says such concerns can be averted through clarity of concepts, something which the hotel is keen to promote.

“The restaurants are totally different, so there is a different demand for each one of them. You will have people who will prefer to go to a steakhouse, and then you will have some people who will go to an Asian place.

“It was easy because the concept was already well-balanced from the beginning. It’s not like if you open an Italian restaurant and then you open a Spanish restaurant in the same venue — then it will be difficult. They are not the same food but we call it ‘Mediterranean food’ and that uses the same products and techniques.

“But having a steakhouse and an Asian is totally different, and having a Lebanese is different. So it was easy because the concept was really well planned from the beginning, and they don’t overlap.”

Speaking of well-defined concepts, how much input did Gache have? He reveals that when he joined the team, while the concept was already outlined, it was just a rough approach.

The idea that there would be a steakhouse and an Asian restaurant, for example, already existed, but it was down to Gache and his trusted colleague, Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi’s EAM – F&B, Tabish Siddiquie to iron out the details. “Yes we knew we were going to have a steakhouse.

But do we go to something like fine dining? Do we do it more like an American steakhouse? There are categories. The Asian restaurant can be Thai, can be Indonesian, can be Chinese, it can be a lot of things. The concept was there, the vision was there, but we really nailed the concepts.”

While creating concepts, Gache says there are a few things every F&B team needs to bear in mind. Researching what is available in that particular market is important.

And while creating the right menu is important, it’s also necessary to ensure the chefs as well as the front of house have the products and equipment necessary to produce and present the food. He says: “It’s to have synergy between your ways of thinking, how you create the menu and the equipment to dish out all of that.”

More than just food
Gache explains that with each restaurant, the F&B team has tried to offer something different, and in addition to the food, to interact with the guests. For example, Gache details how the Chinese restaurant Li Jiang has a DJ every night to provide a lounge-like atmosphere in the evenings, along with a chef who prepares hand-pulled noodles in front of the guests.

In the steakhouse, The Forge, the kitchen is placed at the centre of the 90-seat restaurant, where diners can view the chefs grilling and preparing meals. The Lebanese restaurant Mijana boasts a frosted glass behind which the chef’s silhouette can be seen as he goes about baking bread.

He adds: “In addition to that each restaurant has a beautiful bar; we are trying to create a life through their bar to make people arrive a little bit early and interact in a lounge-like atmosphere. After that they can dine, and then maybe later, come back to the bar and continue with their evening.”

Design it right
The three signature restaurants at the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi — Li Jiang, The Forge, and Mijana — were designed by Japanese design firm, Super Potato, which provided an extremely detailed design document to the team.

Gache reveals that the firm was also instrumental in helping him and Siddiquie pick out FoH themes. Super Potato’s designers guided the hotel on how to pick items that matched their original design vision.

The designs in the venues are consequently reflected in the front of house — in Mijana for example, the Arabesque patterns on the ceiling and frosted glass dividers are seen in the linen, the glassware, and right down to the receipt container. In The Forge, the theme was “iron, glass and light” which shows itself through the interiors to the cutlery and glassware.

Gache adds: “It was quite a big help for us to make sure that we nailed down everything really well. The concept always needs to be very strong, and any restaurant with a good concept is successful.”

Authenticity is key
Gache has travelled around the world for more than two decades and he credits his experiences with influencing his work. He smiles and says: “I started my career with expatriation when I was 19, and I’m 41 today. It’s been over 20 years.

“I compare myself to a doctor. Do you know how? There are two types of doctors — specialists and generalists. I’m a generalist, not a specialist. I know a little bit of everything because going around the world with my career has given me some extra perspectives and approaches, that if I had stayed 20 years in Europe, I would not have.”

These wide-ranging experiences have lended to his style of working, and he says being authentic with the food is something he enforces in all restaurants under his wing.

“Yes, the food here is authentic. We have to be. Authenticity right now is the key of having successful outlets. All those fusion restaurants from 10 years ago don’t fit anymore. People really want to go back to authenticity, with the right products and a simple way of cooking,” he concludes.

Chef profile
A French national with extensive experience in European, Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines, David Gache started his career with the InterContinental Hotels Group in Geneva and London, where he honed his culinary skills at Michelin-star restaurants.Having spent more than five years in Europe, Gache joined Le Méridien resort in Vanuatu in the South Pacific Ocean as sous chef and throughout the years worked at the company’s properties in Bahrain, Indonesia and Thailand. Prior to this appointment, Gache served as executive chef of the 245-key Ritz-Carlton in Bahrain, a luxury resort on Manama Bay that he joined in September 2008. Gache enjoys scuba diving, rugby and spending time with his two children.

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