F&B Focus: Sheraton Grand Hotel, Dubai

Antonio Ostuni leads the FB team at the new hotel

Antonio Ostuni, director of F&B.
Antonio Ostuni, director of F&B.

Leading the F&B department at Sheraton Grand Hotel, Dubai is director of food & beverage Antonio Ostuni. When he joined the hotel in April 2014, Ostuni says his first task was fixing major issues such as operating supplies.

“We started talking about culinary concepts a little bit later because many of the operating supplies had already been ordered and we had to revise many of them, and revise the purchase of the outstanding operating supplies.

“We also had to revise some of the capacity charts because something new would keep coming in — a marble column out of nowhere, there was a wooden surface we weren’t aware of. But it ultimately tied up in the right way,” he laughs.

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Sheraton Grand Hotel, Dubai opened with three F&B concepts — all-day dining restaurant Feast, lobby café Link@Sheraton Café, and rooftop pool bar Dawn & Dusk. Leading the kitchen team is executive chef Malcolm Webster, who moved to Dubai from the UK for his first hotel pre-opening.

The hotel also incorporates Starwood’s ‘Colour Your Plate’ philosophy, which offers guests healthy dining choices.
“It’s about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, especially for travellers throughout the hotels, different time zones, using the gym, and then eating healthily too.

So some of the dishes that are developed are no more than 500 calories, lean meat and three different food colours. So you have that well-balanced meal. It’s a Sheraton brand differentiator,” Webster explains.

“Feast is turning out way better than we ever expected. What strikes me about Feast is that we had the marketing team tailor the product to a fast-paced business-oriented hotel. Feast is not only a buffet restaurant, but it has live cooking stations, it epitomises the essence of personalisation that we want to serve to our guests by letting them tailor dishes according to what they want.

The additional component is à la carte. Given the live cooking stations and the fact that there is no kitchen in the back, the guests can really swap the ingredients around to make the dish the way they like. The à la carte is then matched up with Feast Express, which we will launch in a few weeks,” Ostuni enthuses.

Webster is also keen to incorporate seasonality in the restaurants’ menus, but admits working in Dubai has taken some getting used to.

“Coming from the UK, I’m very passionate about seasonal and local produce. Here it’s difficult; everything is imported and the quality of some of the local stuff isn’t great so what you want to achieve with the dishes and style of food is very difficult to do.

“We do try and operate within certain seasons, we look at the air miles of certain products — a local potato is good for a lot of things. It is challenging, my passions and beliefs are tried and tested, and to mould and change has been an experience,” he says.

Webster agrees he faced similar challenges with suppliers. “Working with suppliers was a big learning curve, it’s quite challenging. In the UK I probably had 10 suppliers maximum; here we have 35 different suppliers bringing food in on a daily basis because they all operate with such a small basket,” he explains.

“There’s not really a monopoly of produce supply in Dubai as there would be in the UK. It gets frustrating. You want to try and consolidate the deliveries coming into the hotel, you want to consolidate the invoices, you want to streamline it and make it as easy as possible. It becomes difficult for the team to understand and learn when the different suppliers arrive and with which products.”

However, while coming to terms with operating in a different market, Webster says he has also enjoyed learning about the city and it’s culinary offerings.

Yet to come are two more culinary concepts that the team is staying tight-lipped about; all Ostuni hints at is that these will be announced in Q1 of 2015.

Ostuni also reveals that rooftop bar Dawn & Dusk will host a special concept for SPG members from this month. “We will have a tailored SPG Unwind Hour, for which we have a dedicated SPG food and beverage coordinator that takes care of the admin and service component. The event allows our SPG coordinator to get in direct contact with SPG members and drive awareness of the programme.”

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