F&B Focus: Seasonal sustainable Spanish

Boca general manager Omar Shihab discusses the successes and challenges of adopting an ecological approach to F&B in the region

Omar Shihab
Omar Shihab

Boca is a restaurant that is taking a stand and standing out from DIFC's slew of F&B outlets. General manager Omar Shihab's approach to hospitality is a forward thinking one that takes the land, environment and culture he operates in and represents into account. He speaks exclusively to Hotelier Middle East.

What makes the F&B offering at Boca stand out from the competition?
Casual, modern Spanish and Mediterranean tapas has always been and still is underrepresented in Dubai and DIFC. Combine that with a value for money, an all-day dining approach, our relentless search for local ingredients and more recently, following the seasonality of produce is probably what has guests coming back for more.

What is the main challenge you face in your role and how do you overcome it?
I think hospitality, and mainly operating restaurants is like managing a large production machine that requires knowledge and skills of its every moving bolt and nut. Setting it up has its unique set of challenges and requires skills that range from technical knowledge of equipment, to human resources management and recruitment, to contract negotiation and procurement.
At this point in time, the challenges that I face lie in communicating my brand’s ideas and visions of what we believe an original and homegrown F&B and hospitality production of Dubai, the UAE and the Middle East should stand for in the global arena.

Is it becoming easier to source sustainable ingredients?
We are seeing great expansion in the number of new farms in the country trying to do different things and offer different produce locally and seasonally. They range from traditional to hydroponic and organic farms. The majority of those are running very efficient set-ups in terms of water and electricity consumption. Offerings remain limited however, as we do not see a lot of unique and smaller produce being cultivated. Logistics also remain a big hurdle and local and regional ‘wild fishing’ remains largely non-traceable with a lot of middle-men standing between the actual fisherman and the end-consumer.
We do not know of any activities within the poultry and cattle space locally and hope that would change soon. I would personally like to see the single quail farm in al Ain move to raise free-range quail at some point along with the other poultry producers. 

What do restaurants need to do to become more sustainable?
Restaurants need to first and foremost recognise the role that they play in driving consumption, impacting trends and producing waste. Owners and operators need to first commit to this new way of building and operating restaurants and to recognise that it is the only way to move forward. Without this commitment it all stays as a side thought.
From that point onwards they need to evaluate every step of their value chain starting with the build and design of their restaurant and its operations. Rethinking what we take as a norm or something that we have always been doing is key to transforming businesses to become more sustainable. We also develop small projects and events that encourage the team push their own boundaries and experiment with techniques and skills in a controlled environment with immediate feedback.

Some key questions that the entire team at Boca constantly asks themselves are:

  • How do we source? Where do we source from? How does produce arrive to the restaurant?
  • Where is my supplier sourcing from? Can they pick up the packaging after consumption?
  • What do we throw away? How is it disposed of?
  • Is it single use? Is it necessary? How can I give my guest an experience using what I already have?
  • Challenge the kitchen, what do you discard? How much do you discard?

Do you have any upcoming projects or new launches you can tell us about?
One important launch in February is our Tapas Forward experience; an off-menu experimental food and wine tasting experience featuring lesser-known local crops, sustainable seafood, and artisanal and ethical produce from local farmers and friends abroad. This is a single-seating weekly experience limited to five guests, hosted on Boca’s gastrobar by head chef Matthijs Stinnissen alongside Boca’s directors and sommelier.
We also have two new events coming up in Boca. On February 19th a takeover of our floor, kitchen and wine service by our friends from the 1 Michelin-starred Taller and Bodega Arzuaga from Ribera del Duero, Spain. Then on April 3rd we’re hosting a pastry masterclass and cocktail party with Fabrizio Fiorani, Tokyo-based chef who was recently named Asia’s Best Pastry Chef 2019 at The World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards.

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