Cuisine Focus: American
Caterer speaks to regional chefs about American cuisine's challenges and popularity
How popular is American cuisine in the region?
Heather McKnight, managing director, Clinton St. Baking Company: There are a lot of American expats residing here as well as many that were educated in America so serving the American community is very important.
Tony Jardella, head chef, Perry & Blackwelder: I think now more than ever, casual dining is popular. American food is the pinnacle of casual dining. Order some wings and a cold bottle with friends or family.
Thomas Zwar, head chef, Claw BBQ Crabshack & Grill: After Arabic food, American food is the most popular if you include things like burgers.
Antonio Lagrutta general manager, Ruth’s Chris: American food has always been a popular choice in the region among both locals and western expats. Over 80% of our customer base are regulars and the majority are either English or American. They tell us they love Ruth’s Chris because it reminds them of home, from the food to the warm service.
David Anderson, executive chef, Black Tap: We’ve definitely found the market here really receptive to Black Tap, ever since we first arrived on the scene! The fact we had the iconic New York brand behind us really heightened the buzz and excitement around the launch and we’ve managed to maintain the buzz since.
Bobby Griffing, head chef, Catch Dubai: American Cuisine is a very broad genre, but I would definitely say it is becoming more and more popular in the region. Particularly due to its more casual approach to its cuisine.
Have you noticed any trends in American cuisine?
McKnight: At Clinton Street Baking Company, our popular dishes are the buttermilk fried chicken and waffles, Maryland crab cakes; and, of course, the homemade buttermilk biscuits. Our American pancakes and side of maple butter are also extremely popular.
Jardella: One trend we definitely enjoy following at P&B would be making Insta-worthy food that people can’t help but share with their friends.
Zwar: The trend we’re seeing is fusion. It’s about combining all the flavours of the people that built modern day USA so Chinese mixed with Mexican, Korean with BBQ and so on. You really see it in the food trucks which are at the cutting edge of experimental because of the affordable entry point.
Lagrutta: The American smokehouse has definitely seen an increase popularity as has many southern and Creole flavours. Other trends in American cuisine include the Instagram craze of the freakshake or various burger creations that seem to have to be bigger, better and wackier then the next.
Anderson: Freshness and high quality ingredients are currently a growing trend, both across the US and globally — people really want to know where their food is being sourced and how.
Griffing: More and more American brands are coming out here. In particular, burger concepts and smoke houses.
What are some challenges you face when it comes to American cuisine?
McKnight: There are no direct challenges when it comes to American cuisine, especially for Clinton Street Baking Company. We always strive to maintain strong consistency and stick to the brand secrets.
Jardella: Smoked meats are popular here in Dubai, but people might not understand the different types of hot smoking we do. Our brisket, for example, is smoked for up to 22 hours. This can be a challenge, so good organisation is key.
Zwar: The biggest challenge is actually finding the real ingredients. Sure there are plenty of pickles, ketchup and soft drinks but the real authentic ingredients for fusion cooking are hard to find, such as poblano chillies, proper steaks and locally sourced produce.
Lagrutta: At Ruth’s Chris we often receive feedback on the large portion size which are brand standard in keeping with the brand across the globe. The American portion sizes are big, they are good for family style sharing, but many of our European guests aren’t used to the portion size.
Anderson: There are many variables that come into play mirroring American cuisine in another country. The majority of products and ingredients used are imported from the US and several other countries to ensure that we use the freshest and best quality ingredients available. We have to have the same delicious taste, consistency and food quality that you’ll get in the US, Dubai or anywhere else.
Griffing: Defining it. A lot of people have their own take on what American food should be. America is a diverse mix of cultures that have integrated.
Is it easy to source the ingredients you need?
McKnight: Yes, we have no issue in sourcing the correct ingredients for all our recipes. The team is trained well and all the recipes and ingredients are checked on a daily basis.
Jardella: If you can source good quality US beef, then you’re halfway home! A lot of the ingredients I try to use are quite versatile within the market. Wood for smoking is a bit tricky as we use Mesquite wood shipped from the US but once a good amount of stock is in it’s clear sailing ahead.
Zwar: This can get tricky at times, as suppliers are not always honest, some will tell you it’s the real deal but from a different brand and there lies the problem. For Americans it’s all about the brand, even simple things like ketchup are available in hundreds of different brands but if you grew up in America and are familiar with a particular taste, it is what you would expect to have in an American restaurant.
Lagrutta: Unlike other steakhouse in the region, Ruth’s Chris only serves the top 2% hand-selected, Midwestern USDA prime beef. It is integral to the brand that the same steak that is served in Dubai, is the same juicy, tender steak guests eat in New York, New Orleans, Vegas or at any other Ruth’s Chris in the world.
Quality and consistency are the key ingredients of success that has made Ruth’s Chris the leading upscale steakhouse brand worldwide, and ensures that our guests return day after day and week after week for the perfect steak meal. Fortunately, we buy all our USDA prime directly from a Ruth’s Chris trusted supplier in the USA, so we have never had an issue in sourcing ingredients.
Anderson: Proper planning with suppliers is crucial. The buns, cheeses, ice cream, candies and the condiments. It’s all in the details.
Signature brands and products we use are imported specifically for us and they are not available in the markets or grocery stores which does make it a challenge!
Griffing: More or less yes. Sourcing and bringing ingredients in is easy. However, getting them at the right price is another issue.