Caterer Power List 2015: Influencers

The 10 F&B professionals who make a mark in the industry in the region

Sunjeh Raja, Director and CEO, International Centre for Culinary Arts
Sunjeh Raja, Director and CEO, International Centre for Culinary Arts
Michael Kitts, Director of Culinary, The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management
Michael Kitts, Director of Culinary, The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management
Duncan Fraser-Smith, Founder, The Cutting Edge Agency
Duncan Fraser-Smith, Founder, The Cutting Edge Agency
Naim Maadad, Chief Executive Officer, Gates Hospitality
Naim Maadad, Chief Executive Officer, Gates Hospitality
Robert MacLean, Principal, National Hospitality Institute Oman
Robert MacLean, Principal, National Hospitality Institute Oman
Yael Mejia, Brand Consultant, Baker & Spice, Foodcraft Solutions
Yael Mejia, Brand Consultant, Baker & Spice, Foodcraft Solutions
Ajaz Sheikh, Global Managing Director, Zuma
Ajaz Sheikh, Global Managing Director, Zuma
Yasser Jad, President – Saudi Arabian Chef Association and Manager onboard product F&B at Saudi Arabian Airlines
Yasser Jad, President – Saudi Arabian Chef Association and Manager onboard product F&B at Saudi Arabian Airlines
Laura Allais-Maré, Founder and President, Slow Food Dubai Convivium
Laura Allais-Maré, Founder and President, Slow Food Dubai Convivium
Francisco Araya, Culinary School Director, School of Culinary And Finishing Arts
Francisco Araya, Culinary School Director, School of Culinary And Finishing Arts

01. Sunjeh Raja, Director and CEO, International Centre for Culinary Arts

In the past 12 months, Raja has launched the ICCA Dubai Culinary Scholarship — an AED 1 million dirham (more than US $272,300) award to train and certify young chefs in the UAE through a 52-week day-release professional training programme — which was quoted by many of our Power 50 as being one of their achievements. Raja has also developed and launched an online and TV-based culinary learning platform, the Fatafeat ICCA Academy Online, which sees ICCA Dubai join forces with the Discovery Network’s 24-hour dedicated food channel, Fatafeat. This joint initiative brings together television and online learning resources in an educational model that is accredited by City & Guilds, London. In addition to seeking to grow market penetration for the Fatafeat ICCA Academy Online programme in the Middle East and North Africa region, Raja’s priorities for 2016 include completing the expansion of ICCA Dubai’s facility in Knowledge Village, the construction of its new facility in Abu Dhabi, and exploring new opportunities in Saudi Arabia and Iran. He will also begin the groundwork for ICCA Dubai’s participation in the culinary segment of the upcoming World Skills Abu Dhabi 2017 competition.

Bite-sized facts:

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Number of years in the F&B industry: 11
Number of years with this company: 11
Number of years in this role: 11
Number of years working in the Middle East: 11
Number of people you are responsible for: 35
Number of F&B outlets in the Middle East: 2
Nationality: Indian

02. Michael Kitts, Director of Culinary, The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management

Kitts joined The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management (EAHM), part of Jumeirah Group, in 2001 as a lecturer and executive chef and worked his way through the ranks. One of the highlights for Kitts in 2015 has been seeing the success of Miraj, a restaurant concept designed and run by a team of 13 EAHM students as part of a four-day project. As EAHM's reputation continues to go from strength to strength, Kitts remains very involved in Dubai’s culinary scene. Next year he is looking forward to being part of the management team that will take Team UAE to Erfurt in Germany for the Culinary Olympics 2016.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 40
Number of years with this company: 15
Number of years in this role: 10
Number of years working in the Middle East: 15
Number of people you are responsible for: 100+
Nationality: British

03. Duncan Fraser-Smith, Founder, The Cutting Edge Agency

If there’s a black book in the region’s F&B market you need to get your hands on, it would be Duncan Fraser-Smith’s. Forging introductions between key industry stakeholders, integrating the right teams and concepts to deliver maximum guest activity and employee engagement, and delivering innovative food and beverage outlets through master planning, consumer insight and market research, The Cutting Edge Agency strives to establish benchmark food and beverage outlets.

With concepts such as Choix, Cle, Rodizio, Prime, Hive, Strata, Flying Carpet, and 360 Doha currently operating in the Middle East, this year Fraser-Smith was able to celebrate the opening of Marina Social by Jason Atherton, a project for which he laid the groundwork almost four years ago. The launch of Intersect by Lexus at DIFC was also one of his highlights of 2015. Fraser-Smith encourages owners and operators to move away from traditional high-end fine dining to give the public what it wants — premium casual concepts and more approachable fine dining operations. Continued growth and expansion are top of Fraser-Smith’s agenda, with more than 26 confirmed projects already lined up for 2016 to 2020.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 24
Number of years with this company: 3
Number of years in this role: 3
Number of years working in the Middle East: 9
Number of people you are responsible for: 15 – 150 depending on project
Number of F&B outlets in the Middle East: 10
Nationality: Australian

04. Naim Maadad, Chief Executive Officer, Gates Hospitality

Maadad has his interests spread across the market — not just opening his own venues, he consults other brands and sits on advisory panels of industry events, which makes him a prime influencer of the local market. Q3 of 2015 saw original French bistro concept Bistro Des Arts join the Gates Hospitality portfolio, which also encompasses The Black Lion at The H Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road, and ownership of Six Senses Zighy Bay, Oman. With seven new outlets in the pipeline for 2016, including Chianti Cucina & Bar in Q1, Tub Of Butter and Ultra Brasserie World Trade Centre in Q2, Buns & Bubbles and BeefTRO in Q3, as well as BeefBar and a new Reform Social & Grill in Q4 — Maadad is striving to ensure that Gates Hospitality remains a leader. Maadad’s approach is to connect like-minded investors, operators and brands, shaping the region’s hospitality industry by identifying market vacuums and matching them with concepts that have either an international flag or a home-grown flavour. He aims to diversify his offering with innovative, engaging, value propositions in 2016 and beyond.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 35
Number of years with this company: 4
Number of years in this role: 4
Number of years working in the Middle East: 29
Number of people you are responsible for: 300
Number of F&B outlets in the Middle East: 6
Nationality: Australian

05. Robert MacLean, Principal, National Hospitality Institute Oman

MacLean started working in hospitality at the young age of 12 and later studied hotel management at Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, in his native Scotland. After several years in the industry, MacLean qualified as a teacher and started his first role in education. Arriving in the Middle East in 1995, MacLean began work at the National Hospitality Institute (NHI) in Muscat, Oman. After two years, he was made principal. MacLean has spent his entire career actively promoting all aspects of hospitality in Oman. Involved in everything from food safety training to assisting hotels to reach their Omanisation targets, he has led the development of several important initiatives, including The Gulf Chef School, which has trained hundreds of chefs, and the Oman Chefs Guild. MacLean has helped to build NHI’s reputation for delivering quality training and has an expert understanding of the needs of local industry. As a result, he is at the forefront of developing local Omanis for successful careers in the growing hospitality and travel industry in Oman.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 40
Number of years with this company: 20
Number of years in this role: 18
Number of years working in the Middle East: 20
Number of people you are responsible for: 27
Number of F&B outlets in the Middle East: 1
Nationality: British

06. Yael Mejia, Brand Consultant, Baker & Spice, Foodcraft Solutions

Mejia is best known for setting up Bread Ltd and Baker & Spice in London, and bringing the Baker & Spice concept to Dubai in 2007. She also established the first farmers’ market in the UAE, The Farmers’ Market on the Terrace, which is now in its seventh season. Through the project, Foodcraft Solutions engages with local farmers in the UAE to showcase organic produce such as vegetables, herbs, eggs, honey, beans, pulses, spices and rice, and visitors to the market can also sample Baker & Spice’s homemade breads, cakes, jams, compotes and chutneys, and freshly-pressed fruit and vegetable juices. This year, Mejia has been involved with redesigning the Baker & Spice brand, and the opening of the concept’s fourth store. Two further Baker & Spice outlets are planned for 2016, in Dubai and Kuwait.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 40
Number of years with this company: 7
Number of years in this role: 7
Number of years working in the Middle East: 7
Number of people you are responsible for: 180
Number of people you are responsible for: 4
Nationality: UK

07. Ajaz Sheikh, Global Managing Director, Zuma

While Sheikh is still very much a restaurateur for this region, his global status elevates him to an influencer rank for the market — especially with Zuma being the standard everyone else holds themselves against. The Dubai restaurant ranked on the San Pellegrino World's 50 Best list for the third year in a row — an achievement. The vision for Zuma is for the brand to expand in primary locations while still keeping close to the original ethos of the company, which is centred on a family approach to the management and running of the business. This will be Sheikh’s priority in 2016.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 23
Number of years with this company: 6
Number of years in this role: 1
Number of years working in the Middle East: 5
Number of people you are responsible for: 3,000
Number of F&B outlets in the Middle East: 2
Nationality: British

08. Yasser Jad, President – Saudi Arabian Chef Association and Manager onboard product F&B at Saudi Arabian Airlines

Launched in 2009, the SACA is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s official association of professional chefs. It is a non-profit organisation dedicated solely to the advancement of the culinary arts in the Kingdom. As president, Jad’s goal is to enhance international recognition of KSA’s culinary prestige, and to encourage Saudi nationals to consider a career within the hospitality industry. Jad hosts two salon culinary competitions, and the association’s membership numbers and educational partnerships are growing each year. The SACA chefs meet on a monthly basis, and Jad is involved in the training sessions and workshops that form a part of each meeting. Prior to taking on the management of Saudi Arabian Airlines’ on-board product F&B, Jad worked for Saudi Catering as senior manager – production for nearly seven years. During his tenure, he developed airline menus and handled menu costing and analysis, and was in charge of the entire in-flight catering unit’s production area and kitchens at Jeddah’s international airport.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 27
Number of years with this company: 5
Number of years in this role: 5
Nationality: Saudi Arabian

09. Laura Allais-Maré, Founder and President, Slow Food Dubai Convivium

Allais-Maré began her journey in hospitality in 1985 at the Principi di Piemonte Hotel School in Torino, Italy. She worked for 18 years as chef and executive chef at La Petite Ferme in Franschhoek, South Africa, as well as at several prestigious restaurants and agri-tourism businesses in Italy. Managing the Learn To Earn branch in Hermanus, South Africa, allowed her to follow her passion for ethically-responsible, sustainably produced food as she taught life skills, hospitality management, and environmentally-friendly growing methods. Allais-Maré started the Slow Food Convivium in Dubai early in 2013. The urban gardening group holds regular workshops to teach people in the UAE how to grow food more sustainably. Allais-Maré and her team of volunteers run the project at the Urban Rooftop Garden at the Time Oak Hotel in Tecom, growing heirloom, organic vegetables and herbs, most of which are cultivated from seed. Slow Food Dubai runs the Snail of Approval accreditation initiative as well as a programme of regular workshops and talks. This year, Allais-Maré also introduced a farm visit and farm stay programme in an effort to support farming in India.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 28
Number of years with this company: 2+
Number of years in this role: 2+
Number of years working in the Middle East: 2+
Number of people you are responsible for: 37
Nationality: Italian/ South African

10. Francisco Araya, Culinary School Director, School of Culinary And Finishing Arts

As well as offering training in the full spectrum of culinary arts, SCAFA runs an apprenticeship programme that also enables students to gain real-world work experience with the organisation’s training partners Sofitel and Jones the Grocer. Since moving to Dubai in 2012, Araya has been responsible for successfully designing and running SCAFA’s Professional Programmes.

SCAFA’s annual growth at its three Dubai premises, which include the Culinary School itself, the student-run café SCAFE, and the SCAFA Petite Culinary Studio, has been stable at 30% since the launch three years ago. In that time, the organisation has developed good relationships with the governments of Dubai and Sharjah, working with Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing to develop F&B activities for Made In Dubai at Zabeel Park and Modesh World in DWTC. Araya’s goals for 2016 include expanding SCAFA within the MENA market. The organisation currently has two new developments in the pipeline for next year, both of which are still at the contract phase, and it expects to extend the SCAFA apprenticeship programme by partnering with more hospitality businesses in the UAE.

Bite-sized facts:

Number of years in the F&B industry: 20+
Number of years with this company: 4
Number of years in this role: 4
Number of years working in the Middle East: 4
Number of people you are responsible for: 30
Number of F&B outlets in the Middle East: 3
Nationality: Chile

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