What might have been the business challenges that the New Year has carried so far? Fear of AI; market incorporation; finding talent; or maybe turning ideas into reality? Well, as they say “the bigger the challenge the bigger is the opportunity,” unless of course it’s one of those deadly #KikiChallenge or #MomoChallenge that get almost everyone scared. Each January brings a renewed desire to challenge and learning; but by February the energy might start to wane. Well, not the case with BIM POS and their guests! We have got the challenge kicking this month across Dubai while we excitedly sit with Chef Ali El Bourji, Atlantis The Palm Executive Arabic Chef. Bullfighting would’ve been nice, and could’ve added to the chef’s award-winning record, yet we’ve chosen to challenge him intellectually.
Bourji, a Lebanese food enthusiast, is currently at the helm of managing the daily operations of the Arabic kitchen at Ayamna, the Lebanese restaurant at Atlantis the Palm as well as overseeing the Oriental Food department of the resort. His role also lies next to menu planning, costing, quality assurance, budgeting in addition to managing the kitchen of Asateer, one of the largest Ramadan tents in UAE and Middle East. “It has always been a cheer being close to people; my career has witnessed the richest interactions that I highly owe my happiness to,” Bourji says when asked on his bubbly presence on social media, among guests, and across worldwide media channels. His successes in the F & B embrace a series of achievements at Sheraton Hotel & Towers, Le Meridien, and Emirates Culinary Association.
We get the #QuoteSlicing Challenge rolling: We’ve asked Chef Ali to relate to a quote that by itself mirrors one of the biggest challenges in the Chef Business; so, how well did he go with it?
Let’s have a hunch…
BIM POS: On the quote: “I call all chefs ‘cooks.’ They’re all cooks. That’s what we do – we cook. You’re a chef when you’re running a kitchen.”
Chef Ali: Well yes; running a kitchen is a whole different ball game. ‘Of course the passion for food and the teaching of others does allow the chef to cook, but not at the same level as those who work the line every day.’ To me, olive oil, pomegranate syrup, yoghurt and spices are as important as grasping the skills to run the show and reach the pinnacle of a cook’s career.
BIM POS: Here’s the difference in responsibility and in what a chef faces monumentally. If we say: “As a child, my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.”
Chef Ali: Mmm; chef’s dream of putting his or her own stamp on a menu - that’s a challenge! In fact, at some level, the right menu is often times a departure from this ideal though and rather becomes the menu that will attract guests and keep them coming back.
BIM POS: Speaking of this Chef; any hit discoveries that keep people coming back to Ayamna?
Chef Ali: I’d say Whole Lobster with Saffron which has been recognized by The Hospitality Excellence Awards to have shown skill, creativity, ingenuity and success. Glazed with saffron, oriental herbs and tahina, and topped with Arabic cheese, “this lobster dish leaves you salivating in anticipation.”
BIM POS:Tell us how you’re going to slice this one: “As I mature as a chef, I no longer aim to pack multiple techniques and ingredients into a single dish. Realizing that restraint is more difficult, I find it often renders incredibly beautiful results.”
Chef Ali: Yes; this one is on technique. Well, Chefs surely like to push the operation to see just how vigorous the menu and individual presentations can be. However; complicated doesn’t always mean better and some restraint is to be shown. Generally speaking, the well executed, simple, clean and flavorful preparations and presentations are often the ones that are well received.
BIM POS: But you cater to your guests’ different expectations…
Chef Ali: Absolutely! Take for example the Arabic elderly guests who seeks nostalgia and authenticity in the Lebanese food, contrary to those of foreign and the young generation are open to trendy delicacies.
BIM POS: How about this: “There’s a bond among a kitchen staff, I think. You spend more time with your chef in the kitchen than you do with your own family.”
Chef Ali: This by far is one of the most challenging tasks of a chef; I am certain that the most important to the restaurants success is identifying, finding, training, and retaining an exceptional crew. And this goes along how tactful the Chef is to develop his or her leadership skills.
BIM POS: So, the Chef is a manager, a businessman, and a great cook; tell us how it’s like to marry these three together?
Now you know why most chefs have somewhat shallow lives after work as a result; they are simply cheating (laughter). Back to your question, this is the person who builds teams, nourishes a restaurant concept, defines the standards, manages the execution of cooking, leads the business forward, and sets the stage for profitability; never easy!
BIM POS: The #quoteslicing challenge continues: “You don’t make money from the onion; you make money from the onion peel.”
Chef Ali: Good one! Well, yes the ‘minimize to maximize’ rule. I believe waste is the enemy of efficiency and the opportunity for waste is present everywhere in a kitchen.
BIM POS: Any dish that you’ve created out of food waste, and probably named it after something special?
Chef Ali: We’ve created a culture here in Ayamna where food waste is unacceptable; for instance, after cutting the meat off, we stock thebones to later use them in soups and sauces. And talking of money, the goal of every chef and manager is a profitable kitchen. In fact, profit is the main concern of any industrialist as it is very important to procure manpower, secure expansion, and attract investments.
BIM POS: That’s a fast leap to the last one: “I don’t have any interest in being a chef without being on the business side of things, or vice versa, because if you don’t make money at the end of the month, you’re going out of business.” …. but regardless of how reputable the Chef or the food is?
Chef Ali: Of course, it’s inspiring to have smiling faces in the restaurant, a clean kitchen and a good moving staff; yet, the importance is beyond that. To restaurateurs especially newly start-ups, a well presented menu is as important as the ability of the restaurant to meet certain specific financial parameters. This can be challenging; and here’s when sustainability, waste management, effective purchasing, inventory control, and implementation of SOP’s, come to their rescue.
And to entrepreneurs thinking of sailing in the Chef business, Bourji sums up some of the freight they’d have to carry along the way:
- The Need to be Unique
- The Need to be Flexible
- The Restraint of Keeping it Simple
- The Challenge of the Source of Ingredients
- The Challenge of Consistency
- The Responsibility for Food Safety
- Finding the Time to Train
- The Difficulty of Having a Life
- The Challenge of Profit
- The Challenge of Time
“The most intimidating of all is the limiting belief that one cannot run over them all…and shall we consider now the BIM POS Chef Challenge?” Bourji adds.