Chef interview: Axel Godefroid

Ritz-Carlton Grand Canal exec sous chef on being a award winner

Axel Godefroid enjoys working with people from all over the world (Photo by Murrindie Frew).
Axel Godefroid enjoys working with people from all over the world (Photo by Murrindie Frew).

Caterer Middle East recently congratulated Ritz-Carlton Grand Canal exec sous chef Axel Godefroid on winning the “Rising Star” of the Middle East and Africa region at the Marriott International Award of Culinary Excellence (ACE) Awards.

Why do you think you deserved to win?
I think the opening of the hotel [The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal] helped a lot; at the time, we were two main team members short because we were taking the time to find the right person. And because of the fact that they were not there, I had to handle much more than usual.

The opening was very successful, and the restaurants have been very successful since the first day. The set up of the kitchen was very much about details so of course we had some time to do it, but we really tried to rethink all the time about what was being done.

Through your career you have travelled quite a lot, can you tell us a bit more about your culinary experiences?
I started working with my father when I was 13, because my mother owned a catering company. In addition, my grandfather was a chef, so when I was back home I really had exposure to both aspects: traditional catering company in a small town, and high-end fine dining, so I had a balance between both. When I moved to Dubai it was totally different.

I spent six years in Dubai, and I was always very focused on high-end fine dining. Then I moved away from fine dining and was involved more into commercial aspects, which is all-day dining and banqueting. I moved after that for a little while to Thailand and Singapore. If you’ve been to Asia, the food is very spot-on, it’s on the mark.

The type of food you find there opens your mind as it is totally different from what you can find in Europe. The Chinese kitchen for example has a different way of working and that really makes you understand more about the food. Singapore is very multi-cultural — the influence there is really something different and very exciting.

You have worked in the UAE earlier with The Monarch Dubai (Now The H Hotel Dubai), and Madinat Jumeirah, before you moved to Asia. Why did you come back to the UAE?
I wanted to open a Ritz-Carlton and I like to work in the Middle East region. The opening of the Ritz-Carlton in Abu Dhabi was a chance for me to do that.

What do you enjoy most about your role at this hotel?
I’m currently looking less at positions and progress on that level; what is exciting is to see the work being done, especially with the opening. That’s why I like openings because you do things from scratch, and three months down the road or longer, you see the restaurant busy, you see the public in there. So from a personal point of view it’s really very satisfying. Satisfaction is important in this job. It is true that I’m back in the kitchen from time to time and it’s really exciting to work with the guys. It’s more about guiding them to do new things.

Since you’ve travelled far and wide and seen this region before, can you tell us whether you think the UAE is a culinary destination yet?
Well, Abu Dhabi is very different from Dubai. Dubai might be there but while Abu Dhabi is not there yet, I think the emirate is really on the right track. Big names are coming here. But it will take a few more years down the road, perhaps four or five years, before we can say Abu Dhabi is a F&B destination.

Let’s talk working styles. How different is it working in Middle East vs Asia?
I think working styles are not so different, everything is still the same. However, what makes a big difference is the people. Over here, everyone is an expat, everyone has come in from different areas. In Singapore everyone is local, from there or from Thailand. So that answers your other question as well... why I decided to come back here? Because I like to work with different people.

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