DIY dining

Sumibiya unwrapped the concept of yakiniku DIY cooking for the first time for diners in Dubai

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By  Laura Barnes Published  May 5, 2006

|~|rest.managerBODY.jpg|~|Diners are now more than happy to cook the food for themselves, according to Sumibiya's restaurant manager Ronald Sadiz. |~|Taking dining in Dubai to the next level, Sumibiya at the InterContinental Dubai has created a stir with its take on yakiniku cooking; letting customers grill their own food Opening a new restaurant in Dubai is a hard task, predominantly because of the sheer number of openings each month. However, in January 2005, the owner of the InterContinental Dubai came back from Japan full of promise and excitement over a dining concept that he wanted to bring to Dubai. Although yakiniku-style restaurants have long been seen in Japan and Korea — yakiniku meaning grilled meat — the concept had not been seen in Dubai before the opening of Sumibiya earlier this year. Whilst a new concept is always exciting to introduce, it did prove a challenge for the restaurant manager, Ronald Sadiz, and Sumibiya chef, Keita Mizuno. “We were very careful when setting up Sumibiya as it is something that is completely new to Dubai. Not only was it about educating diners, but it was a challenge to train ourselves as well,” comments Sadiz. Although Korean in origin, the yakiniku style of cooking was adopted by the Japanese, with slight alterations to the flavour and ingredients to make it more indigenous to the country. However, the key focus on this style of dining is about customers cooking the food themselves with a grill that is placed in the middle of the table. “It is an unusual experience, but we are finding that guests are excited about cooking their own food. It is all about interacting and having fun sharing the food; it’s an informal way of dining,” adds Sadiz. As Sumibiya is a new experience for many diners, the staff have had to play a pivotal role in educating the diners and making them aware of how the concept works. And management are eager to let people cook their own food, with the front of house staff only assisting when a guest asks. “Once the diner sits down we advise them on what to eat and the idea behind the restaurant. If a guest asks for some assistance we naturally show them how it is cooked, and then let them take over,” says Sadiz. “We don’t advise our staff to cook it for them as that is not part of the dining experience. Besides, if we do that we are verging on tepanyaki territory, and that is not what Sumibiya is about,” he adds. However, Sadiz adds that diners are now more than happy to cook the food for themselves, and to make them feel more at home they are also provided with aprons. However, as raw meat and seafood are given to the guests to cook, there were many discussions and trials to ensure that the food could be cooked easily and properly. As the gas grills maintain a constant heat and reach optimum temperatures within 10 minutes, meats like chicken and seafood still need particular attention. As such, Sumibiya recommends its diners to place red meat in the middle of the griddle, surrounded by vegetables and then chicken on the outer edge. Likewise, seafood should also go on the edges; and only placed on the griddle once the other meats have been cooked. “Most meat can be cooked in a matter of seconds, so it is a personal preference. However, our main concern is the chicken so we advise diners to cook it well. If they place it in the middle of the griddle it will cook on the outside but still remain raw on the inside, so our staff make sure that diners are aware of this,” warns Sadiz. In order to tackle the problem of undercooked meat, Sadiz and chef Keita worked hard before the opening, perfecting how it should be served. After a series of trials, chef Keita opted to cut meats to a certain weight, varying from 30g to 50g. Standardisation of portions has been a long process and something that the back of house has had to adapt to. Whereas a difference of 10g with cooked meat is barely visible, when it comes to raw meat any slight change in size is noticeable. “One of the problems we noticed was with the fish. If you cut it too thick there is the possibility that the fish will be raw. If you cut it too thin, there is the chance that half the fish will fall through the griddle and onto the charcoal rather than on the plate,” comments chef Keita. “Because of this, standardisation is very important, and at the moment I have complete control over the cutting of the meats. If you have seafood falling through the griddle then customers are not happy, as they are not getting what they paid for,” he adds. ||**|||~|chefBODY.jpg|~|Sumibiya chef, Keita Mizuno|~|However, as the meats are cut into small, bite-size chunks, Sadiz says he is not worried about undercooked meat, as they do not need long to cook. However, training the front of house team was one of the biggest tasks that Sadiz faced. Although the staff were competent at serving, the concept of Sumibiya requires a more hands on approach, with staff occasionally aiding in the cooking process. “The staff only had 15 days to train before the opening, so it was quite a busy time. But the hands on training was really difficult to do as the grills did not arrive until two days before the opening,” says Sadiz. “So as part of the training I went onto the internet and got as much information as I could about the concept behind yakiniku; what it would look like, and how it would work. However, once the grills were installed, we had a number of training sessions with the staff so any problems were soon ironed out,” he adds. The grills, which were manufactured by Shinpo products in Tokyo, are all connected through a central exhaust pipe and operated by gas. Although installed by staff from Shinpo — who came over to Dubai for the installation — they trained the managers on how to use grills, as well as training the engineers on maintenance and upkeep. “You cannot buy these products in Dubai so we had to make sure that we knew how to use them, and also how to maintain them. For the safety aspect it is paramount that they are cleaned properly and the components are well maintained,” says Sadiz. “There are nine different components to the grill that need to be cleaned everyday, from the grill and the exhaust bulb, to the filter and the strainer. It is a long job and the people cleaning the grills are always the last to leave,” he adds. However, it wasn’t just the front of house team that had to learn new skills. For the kitchen team, the challenge for them came in preparing the food. Instead of decorating a plate and arranging the dish, food is served raw with meat already prepped earlier that day and stored in collaborated chillers. However, there was always the risk of preparing too much food, so after one month of operation chef Keita assessed what was being sold and in what quantities, so they could better prepare for the day ahead. Although this has worked well, the menu also offers more unusual items like beef tongue, which has had varying success. Luckily, the meat is kept and sliced from frozen. “Unfortunately, a lot of people are wary about trying beef tongue. However, if we have any Japanese diners we do not have to try and convince them to buy it, as they find it refreshing to see it on the menu,” comments Sadiz. Besides beef tongue, Sumibiya has a range of meats with varying quality on offer. The menu contains Australian wagyu beef, Australian grain fed beef and Australian Angus. It also has New Zealand beef on the menu, lamb, and kalbi. “A lot of our beef — including beef tongue — comes from Australia. We tried the local market but the quality just wasn’t there, so we opted for Australian as it has some of the best meat around,” says Sadiz. Sumibiya also offers Kim Chi, a traditional Korean dish of fermented cabbage that was adopted by the Japanese but adapted to a less spicy flavour. Proving popular with diners, the restaurant is now seeing more Korean food items in the market, and after a slight drought of Kim Chi with its suppliers; it is now seeing more food readily available in the region. “Although some items were hard to source at first it is becoming more popular. Over time, we have noticed more and more people becoming familiar with the concept and enjoying the interactive aspect. We are already working on a new menu so we hope to constantly surprise our diners,” Sadiz adds. ||**||

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