IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE ALAIN DUCASSE was to follow in the footsteps of other Michelinstar chefs and open a restaurant in the Middle East. The region is attracting a growing number of top hoteliers, particularly in the cash-rich GCC. There's obviously the financial attraction of the Gulf, but also the sheer potential and excitement of a new market.
"I love the Middle East. I think what I love is the fact that in the culinary world there's still an awful, awful long way to go to match many of the other great culinary areas of our world," noted Gary Rhodes. The British chef will be launching his third venture in the UAE, the new 44 restaurant opens at the St Regis Abu Dhabi hotel later this year, in collaboration with Starwood Hotels & Resorts. "We've got the Far Eastern food that is eaten all over the world; we talk about western food that is eaten all over the world; but is Middle Eastern food eaten all over the world on a mass scale?" Not yet perhaps but that fact is set to change if Gary Rhodes has anything to do with it.
The Michelin-starred chef already operates two restaurants in Dubai: Rhodes Mezzanine at the Grosvenor House and Rhodes Twentylo at Le Royal Meridien. His new venture in the UAE will offer his signature cuisine mixed with Arabic influences.
"You will be surprised at the Arabian twists I have made to many of my dishes. I've also looked at a lot of real Arabian classics and thought how I can introduce this new elegance without abusing the originality of the dish, by just refining it slightly," he promises.
European chefs compete
New restaurants opened by British chefs have popped up everywhere in the GCC over the past decade. He may have left Dubai following the closure of Verre--his restaurant in the Hilton Dubai Creek hotel in Deira which won the "Best restaurant in the Middle East" accolade by Esquire magazine in March 2011--but British chef Gordon Ramsay came back with a vengeance. In May, he opened two new restaurants in the new St Regis Doha hotel in Qatar: Gordon Ramsay, which offers fine-dining experiences, and Opal by Gordon Ramsay, a relaxed bistro-style eaterie. Another UK chef, Marco Pierre White, the "godfather of cuisine", as he is nicknamed in Britain, owns three restaurants in the region, including his latest venture, Titanic, which opened last spring in the Al-Melia Hotel in Bur Dubai.
Other legendary chefs have also invaded the region's kitchens. Frenchman Pierre Gagnaire opened the popular Reflets at the InterContinental Hotel Dubai Festival City in 2008, whilst fellow countryman Guy Savoy plans to open his newest project at the Pearl in Qatar, a manmade island development off the coast of Doha, later this year.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Beirut is working hard at reclaiming its title as the "Paris of the Middle East" and a flurry of restaurants operated by famous chefs have opened, hoping to cater for sophisticated local palates and attract tourists to the capital.
"Beirut has always had a reputation of outstanding restaurants and very demanding patrons. It probably has to do with the very large Lebanese diaspora who travel to the best capitals of the world and sample the best foods they have to offer. This search for excellence eliminates restaurants with sub-par food and increases competition for the most innovative and inventive gourmet dishes. …