Five Minutes With: Executive chef, W Abu Dhabi - Yas Island
Phoebe Donko-Hanson talks taps, trends and reveals what we can look forward to at the property
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in hospitality?
At 29 and living in Boston in the USA, a light bulb went off in my head. I was working as an insurance claims adjuster and decided that I wanted to pursue my passion for food even though I would have to start from the very bottom. It felt quite daunting at that age but I decided it was worth the risks and the sacrifice, so I set out and did just that!
What would you say are three key things that have made you successful?
Passion for food; the drive and determination to make it work, no matter what the circumstances; and some fortuitous encounters with some kind mentoring souls along the way who took me under their wing. I’ve had some great chefs on my journey. They were passionate, direct, strict, they were tough if I was pulling my weight, they let me play with food and explore how flavours complemented each other, how to hone my presentation skills and they picked me up when I had fallen and thought I couldn’t get up and continue the race. I pray that I am half the chef to my team that they were to me.
What is the main challenge you face in your role and how do you overcome it?
I face many challenges as an executive chef of a newly converted hotel. I don’t believe it is anything different than any other exec chefs face. The demands on my time are many and from a vast array of sources. Here is the list of people I need to make sure I keep happy (directly or indirectly) - my guests, the owners, my GM, my colleagues, my team and let me tell you, sometimes it is a delicate balancing act which must be performed while still delivering on the goods with a smile and exceptional service, no matter what kind of whirlwind is whipping around. But you know what? At the end of the day, I wouldn’t change it for anything. I love this crazy life!
What are the elements that make the F&B offering at W Abu Dhabi - Yas Island stand out from its competitors?
1. Love. The chefs here are very passionate about what we do and that is translated through the food and the interaction with guests. We always strive to make our guests feel like they just left our home and broke bread with us.
2. Concept. The beauty of a W hotel is the empowerment that we have to explore and express our creativity on different platform and in different mediums. The concept of Garage, our newest restaurant, is something different than the other eateries currently in the market. It is a restaurant that houses five different kitchens where we serve an array of different cuisines. The Meat Vault is our steakhouse and grill; Mezza Bar serves the most incredible hummus; Steam Table, where our specialty dim sum chef produces some of the best dumplings and ramen outside of Asia; and Nikkei, our powerhouse Peruvian chef showcases food that is a marriage between the cuisine of Peru hugged by the more restrained flavours, techniques and influences of Japan.
3. The Tap Wall. Eleven beverages on tap ranging from wine to Stella Artois and Aperol spritz to peach lemonade. It’s so much deliciousness going on in one place that you might be tempted to try a bit of everything.
Our sharing concept encourages you to come in with friends and family and try a bit of everything. It’s all very cool.
Is it becoming easier to source good ingredients?
Good ingredients have always been around, it just depends on if you what it is that you are looking for. People talk about globalisation and accessibility (our latest industry catch phrases) and how the world has become a much smaller place because everyone is traveling everywhere. Well, ingredients are pretty much the same. We strive to source mostly local ingredients, but there are things that I would have to order from abroad and this is logistically not difficult. However, if there is something that I can get locally and in season, that is always my first go-to.
What are some F&B trends that you see emerging?
I do believe that we are lying in wait for a number of emerging trends here in W Abu Dhabi – Yas Island. Coffee Culture. Where people go to cafés to see and be seen (or not) and sip their favorite caffeinated beverage. Hot, cold or even Nitro. At Roastery, the café in our Living Room (lobby), you can do just that. The beans are roasted daily and we have cookies and cakes to go along with it. Snother trend is the burgeoning health movement.
Do you have any upcoming projects or new launches you can tell us about?
Yes! We launched an awesome brunch on 31st January. It is crafted to encourage maximum interaction between the guests, chefs and the service team. Small bites and sharing plates as a reflection of the concept of the venue. It’s called B.I.G. - Brunch In Garage. It's different, fun and explorative. You must try it!