The racing chef

Chef Marco Aveta joined Radisson SAS Hotel Dubai as part of the pre-opening team. He talks to Caterer Middle East about how he manages to juggle work with his passion for driving, and why he likes the challenge of new openings

  • E-Mail
By  Laura Barnes Published  March 1, 2006

|~|chefmarcoforweb#2.jpg|~|Chef Marco has been working in the region for nine years|~|Despite being a staunch Ferrari Formula 1 fan, chef Marco Aveta, executive chef at the Radisson SAS Dubai does not always like to follow the crowd. Having been in the Middle East for over nine years working in Oman, Egypt and the UAE, he does not subscribe to fine dining cuisine like many of his native Italians do. Instead, he sticks firmly to the traditional Italian line of using plain ingredients and being truthful to the food and its heritage. However, it is not only in the kitchen that he follows an Italian line up. Despite being part of the pre-opening team of the Radisson SAS Hotel Dubai, he still has time to follow his love for racing and fast cars at the Dubai Autodrome, with Ferrari naturally being the car of choice! “I have passed the first three stages of racing and now I am working up to driving a mono seat like the Formula 1 cars, but not as fast!” says chef Marco. “I’ve always been a huge fan of Formula 1 since I was a child and supported Ferrari through their highs… and their lows. On the track though I have driven Audi saloons and Subaru Imprezas. But if I were offered a Ferrari or a Masserati then I certainly wouldn’t say no. Driving is so relaxing and on my days off that is just what I do, get in my car and drive.” But when chef Marco isn’t racing around the track he is building up his restaurants and working closely with management in order to make the new hotel and its outlets a success. Opening in January, the Radisson SAS’ first tower has an Italian restaurant, Certo, and when the second tower opens later this year there will also be an Asian fusion and an all day dining outlet. Chef Marco’s roots in the cooking industry are firmly rooted in Italian cuisine, and from a young age he was woken every Sunday with the smell of home cooking. As Sunday was the only day the whole family could be together he would help his mother prepare the fresh pasta and sweets, or simply watch her cook dinner. “My father never let me stay in bed late so I was always up early helping my mother. My father used to say that time in bed was time wasted, and there would be plenty of time to stay in bed when you were old,” reminisces chef Marco. Since then, he has certainly not let the grass grow under his feet, and at the age of 12 he enrolled in a catering school for a five-year course, spending each summer working seasonal jobs across the region, including a season on Elbe Island and one spent in the Dolomite Mountains. “At a young age I was willing to sacrifice my summer holidays as it was what I wanted to do. But that was just one of the first sacrifices I had to make. And if you can’t do it, then you are best getting out of the industry,” he says. After graduating from school he then moved to Monza to help a friend who had opened a restaurant. Whilst great for his career, chef Marco was also able to feed his passion for Formula 1 with the Italian Grand Prix coming to Monza each year. However, after two years he moved to London to improve his English and worked in a popular celebrity haunt in South Kensington, cooking for actors like Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino, as well as Princess Diana. After two years in London he decided it was time for a change and received a job offer as Italian chef for Al Bustan Palace InterContinental Muscat, Oman. At that time, chef Marco had no idea where Oman was, what to expect, or whether this would be the mistake of a lifetime. However, in 1997 he moved to the Middle East and has not looked back. “I worked in an incredible hotel and the group I worked for really believed in training. London was very multicultural but I didn’t feel that I learnt much about other foods. In Oman I started to experience Indian, Japanese and Omani cuisine and it made me realise there was so much more to food than just Italian,” chef Marco comments. After two and a half years in Oman, chef Marco — never one to lie back and relax — then moved into hotel and restaurant openings with his first opening in the Red Sea for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, before moving to the Beach Rotana Hotel, Abu Dhabi. “I was curious to see how it all starts and how things are put into motion, the great thing is that when you are part of a new hotel the whole product, the whole restaurant, feels much more yours. In a way it is also a lot easier as you are the one who puts things into place where you want them to be,” says chef Marco. Because of his experience with restaurant openings, chef Marco easily adapted to the Radisson SAS and was able to bring a lot of ideas with him. Arriving three months before the opening, the concept for the restaurants had already been made, but chef Marco was heavily involved in the kitchen layout, the menus, the furniture and the logos.||**|||~||~||~|One of the most important components for chef Marco was building up a solid team. The first job he did when he arrived at Radisson SAS was to go through every CV for the back of house team, spending several days sifting through job applications before interviewing everybody, from the most junior to the most senior post. “The most important aspect of any set-up is your team, and I believe it is the biggest task you have to do in preparation for an opening. You have to have trust in your team, because you cannot be there all the time,” comments chef Marco. As well as being the driving force behind building up his team, the Radisson SAS has around 500 varieties of wine, and chef Marco, working closely with the restaurant manager of Certo, selected the wines. Allowing for a wide selection of wines from across the world, the range includes a Marche Sangiovese and a Marche Trebbiano Moncaro at AED100 (US $27), as well as the more exclusive Opus One 2000, Mondavi, Napa Valley, priced at AED4995 ($1360) and a Puligny Montrachet, 1 er Cru Les Perrieres, Domain E Sauzet for AED1695 ($462) Creating the right atmosphere for the Radisson SAS hotel’s first restaurant was imperative to the ethos of the property, and being a business hotel the restaurant had to be able to provide food for businessmen who are constrained by time but without compromising on quality. As such, chef Marco designed a menu offering traditional Italian dishes that can be easily prepared and served within an hour’s time frame. “Because businessmen come here for lunch they do not always have time to sit down and relax for hours, so as well as the á la carte menu we have a lunchtime business menu for those that do not have that much time. We also have a special each day, so there is one dish that really can be made in the shortest time possible,” says chef Marco. “But Italian food in general does not take long to prepare, it is mainly salads, pastas and pizzas so there should never be a long wait for Italian cuisine,” he adds. While Italian is still in fashion, chef Marco admits there has been a move away from the Trattoria style restaurant. However, he is quick to add that he will never go down the fine dining route. He claims that it leads to the presentation becoming more important than the flavour and also, as a business hotel, it is not the right location for this style of food. Although the menu has some modern dishes alongside more traditional offerings, chef Marco is keen to concentrate on the flavours, and if he serves bolognaise that is what the guest gets. “I don’t agree with altering traditional dishes and still calling it by its name, as you aren’t being respectful to the food. For me, staying true to Italian cuisine is very important, for example, making a mashed potato stronger so it can hold a piece of meat on top is not what I do. Eventually it will ruin the food as it gives priority to texture and appearance rather than taste,” says chef Marco. However, despite chef Marco using traditional recipes he has no problem sourcing ingredients in Dubai, as he claims that the region has a good supply of imported goods regardless of the cuisine or the time of year. “Dubai is very fortunate with its location as it can play around with the seasons, with Australia on one side and Europe and America on the other, so pretty much anything can be sourced throughout the year,” says chef Marco. The region is also starting to increase the number of items that it produces locally, including seafood and vegetables, while farmers are trying to grow new products in the region, including strawberries and melons, as well as trying to push dairy products like cheese. However, in 1997 when chef Marco was working in Oman it was a different story. Sourcing food was difficult and between 70-80% of supplies came from Europe with only fish being supplied from the local market. Imported food supplies used to arrive twice a week on containers, and the chef and his team had to go to customs to collect the food. “There has been a tremendous improvement in sourcing food, and the market is completely different compared to the situation in 1997. Almost everything is available at a reasonable price. And if you are ready to pay the price you can get almost anything,” comments chef Marco. With nine years experience in the region, chef Marco is keen to see how the market will change over the coming years, and now that he feels adopted by the region he can only see more evolution in the area, as well as with his own career. “I like to see the whole business, the full 360°. I began my career as an Italian chef and now I am an executive chef, so the next step is to move onto the larger food and beverage, and hotel management level,” says Chef Marco. “But of course, if Ferrari contacted me to be a test driver or to have a seat, then I would have to rethink my plans,” he adds.||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code