DINING

Starring role

Straight from the Michelin Guide in Paris, Jumeirah’s new Chief Culinary Officer, Michael Ellis, is here to transform the brand’s culinary offering as we know it and get it ready for a star or two 

It may be a few years before the Michelin Guide rolls out a UAE edition, but there’s certainly no dearth of Michelin-standard restaurants in the emirates. In fact, a simple search will reveal a raft of top-notch restaurants, helmed by Michelin-star-winning chefs, in almost every neighbourhood. Down the Jumeirah coast alone, venues that have won over the hearts (and palettes) of Dubai’s foodies are present at every turn. This is in large part thanks to the commitment made by Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts to create dining experiences that are unique and memorable. The Jumeirah group boasts 62 dining outlets in the UAE, many of which have enjoyed years of success and are still reigning supreme on the country’s dining scene.

A variety of world flavours – think Peruvian, Japanese, Greek and Middle Eastern – are well represented across the brand’s diverse portfolio. Several new concepts are also in the pipeline, due to open in the lead up to the biggest event of the year – Expo 2020 Dubai. But it’s Jumeirah’s latest addition to its c-suite that’s been the talk of the town for the last few months. As far as executive titles go, it’s rare to find a Chief Culinary Officer. But that’s precisely the role assigned to Michael Ellis, who debuts the new position. Ellis is charged with transforming the group’s restaurant offering with a vision for the Jumeirah name to gain recognition on the global dining scene. “When José Silva (CEO of Jumeirah Group) first approached me for this role, I was initially hesitant. But the more I researched, the more I realised that Jumeirah is at the cutting edge of the food and beverage industry. This piqued my interest.”

And so he decided to leave Paris and take on one of the world’s most visited cities. Before arriving in Dubai, Ellis served as International Director of the Michelin Guide for seven years, a role that saw him interact with some of the world’s greatest chefs and judge renowned restaurants and dining experiences across the globe. With first-hand knowledge of the very factors that make concepts stand out, his appointment as the head of the Jumeirah group’s culinary portfolio provides great potential to steal a march on the competition. To become Michelin-starred, restaurants must fulfil five criteria based on the quality of the ingredients used, mastery of flavour and cooking techniques, the personality of the chef in his cuisine, value for money and consistency between visits.

Ellis’ very first task in his new role was to visit all of Jumeirah’s 62 dining outlets to check if they satisfy the criteria. “I’ve been very impressed with the level of service at Jumeirah, and Dubai, in general. I think the emirate is one of the world’s best-kept secrets when it comes to its vibrant culinary offering.” It’s big praise coming from a man who has judged some of the world’s best restaurants. But he adds: “There’s always room for improvement.” 

“One of the key driving factors behind the creation of my role was José Silva’s commitment to gastronomy. In fact, it is one of the three pillars of the elevation of the brand, which also includes service and design. Our aim is to curate culinary experiences that guests will talk about, remember for a very long time and want to keep coming back to. And this is not limited only to our signature restaurants. We want our guests to thoroughly enjoy their experience wherever they choose to dine, be it in-room or at the lobby lounge.” Enhancing the levels of service at a brand that’s already known for its world-class hospitality is no easy feat. But Ellis has stepped up to the challenge.

“All of us know that Dubai has an extremely competitive hotel market and it shows no signs of slowing down. We have 700 hotels and over 150,000 rooms in the emirate, which exceeds those in mega tourism destinations like Las Vegas or Macau. And with 40,000 more rooms scheduled to open in the run-up to Expo 2020 Dubai, it is time for the brand to be firing on all cylinders, ensuring that even the basics have a wow factor.” From staff to ingredients, Ellis is here to shake things up. “The ultimate goal is to create a great team because great food is about great teamwork and about having the right people in place. More than 50 percent of the staff employed by Jumeirah is involved in F&B, including the chefs, stewards, kitchen staff, bartenders and waiters. And now that greater focus is placed on them, they are very excited to be part of this transformation. “We are seeing new energy and a new dynamic within the team and they are quite confident in our ability to bring about this change together.

But while elevating those already on our teams, we are also looking into bringing people from outside. We know that guests love to connect with the chefs and speak to the artists behind the food. That’s why we are hiring exceptional chefs from around the globe to craft our signature restaurants and create unique dishes.” Many of the new recruits are being handpicked by Ellis himself, who is drawing on his book of contacts from his Michelin days to tap into the best talent possible as the brand moves into its next phase. 

Ellis says: “Ultimately, we want our F&B offering to amaze guests with something they have never tried before or weren’t expecting. That could be the food, the service, the vibes, the look and feel. Even if people don’t stay with us, we want them to dine with us. We don’t want our restaurants to simply be a convenience to hotel guests, like the concept traditionally was in the past. In fact, we want to plug our venues on the culinary map as a destination in itself. “With this in mind, we have introduced several new concepts, the latest one being Kayto, the pop-up rooftop venue in Jumeirah Al Naseem. With chef Cristian Goya at the helm, Kayto offers a unique and experimental take on Nikkei (Peruvian meets Japanese) cuisine.”

From the Chief Culinary Officer…

“Our aim is to curate culinary experiences that guests will talk about, remember for a very long time and want to keep coming back to. We want them to thoroughly enjoy their experience wherever they choose to dine, be it in-room or at the lobby lounge.” – Michael Ellis 

Though he has been with the company just a few months, Ellis already has some firm favourites “Kayto boasts the best Nikkei experience, Rockfish is a great spot for Italian-Mediterranean cuisine, Al Muntaha has the finest French food in Dubai, Shimmers recently rolled out a new Greek menu and finally, our recently-revamped Zheng He’s launched a new Chinese menu.” One of the guiding principles behind the changes taking place at Jumeirah, Ellis explains, is getting Dubai Michelin ready. He says: “It’s only a matter of time before the Michelin Guide arrives in Dubai. Several of our restaurants in Jumeirah are already cooking at the Michelin level, and we want to ensure we are ready when that happens.” 

The team recently added some world-renowned names to its culinary portfolio. Celebrity chefs, including the likes of Francky Semblat, Kim Joinie- Maurin and Kasper Kurdahl, who, combined, have seven Michelin stars under their belts, have already been successfully embedded into the team. In addition to revamping the team dynamic, Ellis says there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes, with everything from the look and feel of the restaurants to the dishes, all of which are being scrutinised under his watch. “We are analysing everything, down to our ingredients. I want to help our chefs source the best products from the best supply chains. We serve close to 12,000 meals a day, and catering to every hotel guest means ensuring we have everything in place, from the best organic produce to quality imports as well as fresh seafood, sourced locally from the UAE.”

But it is not only the hotel guests who they need to wow. A large number of residents make up the client base at Jumeirah’s restaurants. While properties like Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Jumeirah Mina A’Salam draw the crowds in for brunch every weekend, speciality venues, serving up everything from French to Greek, Arabic to European, see packed tables every evening. 

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