C'est tres chic

Tang restaurant at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi has just seen completion of an AED 1 million refurbishment. Caterer talks to two prominent members of the team as it prepares to launch its new concept

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By  Laura Barnes Published  February 8, 2006

|~|TANG-RESTAURANT2forweb.jpg|~||~|Two Michelin star chef, Stephane Buchholzer, has achieved a lot in his 30 years. He has worked in some of the best restaurants in France and opened a number of fine dining restaurants in New York. By the age of 24, he had become an executive chef and was in charge of over 60 staff in a fine dining restaurant in New York. However, his latest challenge was to bring his food concept to Dubai and completely renovate Retro, the exclusive fine dining restaurant at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi. For the past two months the restaurant doors have been shut and the outlet received a complete makeover, with chef Stephane given a carte blanche, from the food to the menus — which he designed — to the music and the name of the new restaurant, Tang. “The hotel brought me in so I could introduce my new concept. My idea was to bring in a new way of dining, providing a gastronomic highly fine dining restaurant but with a relaxed feel to it,” says chef Stephane, chef de cuisine, Tang. As Retro was aimed at the business market, with traditional cuisine and layout, chef Stephane wanted the refurbishment to reflect the change in times, and also the change in food. He says he wanted something more sleek and exclusive; “a mix of Gordon Ramsey and Buddha Bar, all in one place.” With only nine tables he has certainly achieved this, and with a funky and modern design, it is a lot more interactive with small cosy booths for each table and a menu that reflects a more personal style of dining. However, chef Stephane has had to be careful not to move too quickly, people do not always adapt easily to change, and in Dubai where there are so many successful generic restaurants and buffet style restaurants, it is a risk. But it is a risk he is willing to take and the management at Mina Seyahi are 100% behind him. “The management understand what I’m about and what I expect, so they let me have control, although occasionally we do have to compromise!” he says. “Things are starting to gradually change in Dubai though and it’s moving forward, but people like what they know and they don’t want to change. It’s the same everywhere, you have to give them the change and tell them it’s what they need.” The refurbishment, which cost just under AED 1 million (US $273,000), was carried out by Dubai-based Bella Decoration and although originally from Italy, the owner of Bella Decoration custom-made everything from Dubai. However, a lot of the raw materials for the refurbishment came from Europe, including the fabrics, crystals and the chandeliers. Chef Stephane admits the refurbishment was slightly easier than a new opening. The back of house remained the same apart from the installation of a tepanyaki grill and dehydrator, and some of the staff had already worked for him so they knew his style. But, it was sometimes difficult to explain his ideas to management: they were reading the same book but were not always on the same page. “Sometimes they misunderstood me, but that’s because we’re different people and we see thinks differently. Also, they see it from a business point of view, I do as well but at the end of the day I’m an artist, so I have an emotional approach,” chef Stephane comments. However, working with a fellow artist he was able to relay his ideas to the designer by showcasing his food so in turn they had an understanding about what his cooking was about. The food, which focuses on the senses of smell and taste, lent itself to the decoration and part of the seating arrangement was to use designs of a mouth and nose to represent this. “We implemented this visual in some of the seats as it’s about letting your senses guide you, and this is the symbol we’re trying to bring across,” comments chef Stephane.||**|||~||~||~|Throughout the two-month renovation period the staff at Tang were stationed in other outlets of the hotel. However, they also undertook staff training for the new wine list and menu style, as well as undergoing cigar and beer training. However, with chef Stephane’s meticulous attention to detail with the ingredients he uses, staff also took part in extra training for vinegar and olive oil tasting, as well as having to learn about the 24 different salts used in the kitchen. “When we put together the team we knew what the food would be like and what the restaurant would be like, so we had an idea about the type of people we would have working for us,” says Brendan McCormack, maitre’d, Tang. “We wanted a front of house team that’s passionate about what they do. We have staff coming to chef and myself each day asking us questions and that’s what we need. Even now we still have training every day, it’s a constant learning process,” he adds. Training the staff was an integral part in creating the right ambience for the restaurant, but more importantly was establishing the link between the food and the restaurant design. Chef Stephane not only created the dishes but also designed the menus, which all comes under the umbrella of renovating a restaurant and creating a link between the food, service, music and drinks was vital. As well as having the appetiser, main and dessert menu, each dish comes with the option of being served as a tasting ‘bite’, therefore allowing guests the option to have a number of smaller dishes rather than one large main course. “The idea is about sharing, not only the dishes but sharing with the eyes. People can see what other diners have ordered and I hope this will create a buzz about the food,” says chef Stephane. Although Tang will not have its official launch until the first week of February it had a soft opening early last month and already it is seeing a demand for the tasting menu. On one evening, out of 11 groups of diners, nine of those chose the tasting menu. The front of house staff have to be sharper in this case and know who has ordered what or logistically it could be a potential nightmare. “There are more visits to tables and there is a lot more explaining about the dishes, so it is important that we create an atmosphere around the restaurant and get diners talking about the dishes. In the past there was a set menu, but people like to be in control and with this concept they are,” comments McCormack. The introduction of the tasting menu has also had an affect on the quality of the food as smaller dishes means the ingredients can be more exclusive. With the majority of imports coming from Europe, America and Japan, chef Stephane is very particular and only uses premium produce. For example, he imports fresh wasabi from Japan that is sent by FedEx; fruit and vegetables come from Australia; and micro greens and special vinegars come from Europe. Using premium products comes at a price, and with some ingredients having to be couriered, his food costs are slightly higher than other restaurants in the same category. With a 40% food cost percentage, chef Stephane is the first to admit this is too high, even for a high fine dining restaurant. However, once Tang becomes more established and high fine dining becomes more recognised in Dubai, he will increase menu prices to better reflect the gastronomy. But for the time being he would rather sacrifice profit in order to let diners have the chance to experiment with dishes and flavours they may not otherwise choose. “The ingredients may be more expensive but that’s what gives chef his fourth dimension. While most dishes in restaurants may only be three dimensional, there is a hidden depth to Tang’s dishes because of the oil, the salt or the vinegar that is used. People can’t put their finger on what it is, but without it, it makes a huge difference to the dish,” comments McCormack. Indeed, with 24 different salts and a range of tasting vinegars, which are made in the same way as wine, it is easy to see why the food cost percentage is so high. A ¼ litre of German vinegar from a company called Duktorenhof is around AED 200 (US $55) at cost price. Additionally, a kilo of black truffle at market price costs AED 6500 ($1770) and with 3kg used in each dish, to make a profit it would have to sell at AED 80 ($22), not including the food price of any other ingredients used in the dish. Snow crab is another expensive product, and 2kg costs AED 400 ($109). However, out of this 2kg only 500g of this is meat, enough for eight portions. “A dish like snow crab as an appetiser is AED 105 ($29) menu price. I make no money on this, in fact, I think I lose AED 4 ($1) on each portion,” comments chef Stephane. However, these slight sacrifices in menu prices are what will help sell Tang in the first few months of operation, and as there are less than a handful of high fine dining restaurants in Dubai, Tang is hoping to be at the forefront of a cuisine revolution. “Dubai is getting more exciting and changes are being made, but it’s an evolution so it will take time. There is not that saturation in the market like there is in New York or Paris, so there is plenty of room for Tang to make its mark in the region,” chef Stephane adds. ||**||

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