Towering high

Constantly sourcing new ingredients and working closely with niche suppliers, Luigi Gerosa, executive chef at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, tells Laura Barnes how he keeps ahead of competitors

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By  Laura Barnes Published  January 1, 2007

|~|Luigi1.jpg|~|Luigi Gerosa, executive chef, Jumeirah Emirates Towers. |~|Constantly sourcing new ingredients and working closely with niche suppliers, Luigi Gerosa, executive chef at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, tells Laura Barnes how he keeps ahead of competitors

Luigi Gerosa has certainly proved his worth at the Jumeirah Group. Moving to the UAE back in 1998, chef Luigi was originally part of the pre-opening team for the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, before he was asked to head up the back
of house operation at the then yet to be opened, Jumeirah Emirates Towers.

That was back in 2000, and after a short stint in Singapore, chef Luigi was asked to come back and take up his previous position as executive chef.

“When I left for Singapore in 2002 I realised that Emirates Towers was the best opening I had done, and I had actually left too early. So of course, when they asked me to come back three years ago I said yes,” he recalls.

But this was not his first role at managing a back of house team. Leaving school at the age of 14, chef Luigi undertook his chef and butchery apprenticeship in Switzerland. Working in outlets across Switzerland, he then opened his own restaurant in Italy, before heading to England and the Mirabelle restaurant. After this, he worked in Southeast Asia before coming to Dubai.

“I received a telephone call from Gerald Lawless [Jumeirah CEO], asking if I wanted to come to Dubai to work for the Jumeirah [Group]. It was in 1998 and the East Asian financial crisis had just happened. I decided at that point
it was time to move,” explains chef Luigi.

“The move to Dubai was out of the blue and not really part of my plan. I didn’t really know much about Dubai or the Jumeirah Group, so I did a bit of research and decided to move,” he adds.

Overseeing 16 outlets, a banqueting division, ballroom, 12 meeting rooms and four function rooms — as well as the Emirates Hospitality unit that is based at Emirates Towers — and, with a brigade of 190 chefs, creating the right balance of restaurants was pivotal to the success of Emirates Towers. Although some generic concepts had already been decided during the early stages of the business plan, including one Cajun restaurant — which is now the Rib Room — an all day dining outlet and a Japanese restaurant, chef Luigi was given the task of creating food concepts.

“I was only given the name or theme of what they wanted. But before you can even decide on a menu you have to hire the right people,” says chef Luigi.

“When you have your team, then you can create something good. If you don’t have that, then you can forget about it; don’t even start.”

For chef Luigi, having the right team members was essential to operating a smooth operation. And although he says the chef de cuisine and sous chef are what makes a restaurant truly authentic, it is also important to have a solid team, from the rank-and-file staff upwards.

Working and hiring in Dubai has been a challenge for chef Luigi. Not only are expectations from customers high, but the expatriate community eat out more than in Europe or Asia.
Finding good chefs is also a problem, as chef Luigi says the next generation are lured into thinking that a career as a chef is glamorous, rather than a craft.

“Nowadays chefs are becoming superstars, but before it was about having an honest job. It is very intense, and to be a good chef you have to be a good craftsman. Also, a lot of people are coming out of culinary school and think they can get a great first job and have weekends off; this is not the case. You have to start from the bottom and maybe you will have a good mentor, but being a chef is your life, not just part of your life,” he comments.
||**|||~|Luigi2.jpg|~|When you have your team, then you can create something good. If you don’t have that, then you can forget about it, don’t even start," comments chef Luigi. |~|“Looking after so many outlets, if you choose the right people to work for you, it is a lot easier, so you can take on more of a coaching role,” he adds.

Chef Luigi says this is evident when creating new menus, and with each outlet having three to four menu changes a year, he likes to give his chefs a free rein.

Before finalising the menu though, both he and the chef de cuisine for each outlet undertake food tastings and re-adjust the dishes several times until they are 100% sure it works.

“It is not just about one recipe, but the entire menu. It takes a lot of work, but it is fun. But it is not just about me: you have to leave some room for the chef to create his or her own food. You cannot be there all the time, and it can frustrate chefs if they don’t have some sort of freedom and creativity,” warns chef Luigi.

He also says it is important to work closely with the suppliers, as there is no point creating a menu if you cannot get the ingredients — and of a good enough quality — which is another issue chef Luigi experiences in Dubai.

“You have to be aware of what is available, that doesn’t always mean the consistency is there unfortunately,” says chef Luigi.

“This is the case with fruit and vegetables. While there are some good suppliers in the market we need more, this is the only way it can improve.”

When working on the menu for Vu’s restaurant, for example, he tries to source high quality ingredients from niche suppliers. By doing this, he says he is able to offer original dishes, as other hotels cannot always afford these high-end ingredients.

In Vu’s and the Agency, chef Luigi works alongside Middle East Trading to import aged Italian cheese that has been matured in cellars. When it comes to the Rib Room, he sources top quality products, including American Black Angus, using a range of suppliers including Quality Plus.

“We have a number of key niche suppliers, including Middle East Trading, Classic Fine Foods, Fresh Express and Quality Plus. Of course, we use a range of other suppliers, but these are the main ones for us,” says chef Luigi.

Constantly looking for new products, he has also been working with one supplier to import Japanese fruit and vegetables for the hotel’s Japanese restaurant, Tokyo@thetowers.

Although this has proved a challenge, he has been able to source Japanese sweet potatoes, turnips, eggplant and asparagus, and hopes he will soon be able to import more.
Using quality produce does come at a price, with the food cost percentage ranging between 30-35%. However, he says that with a wide range of outlets to suit the market, it does balance out.

“We are a business hotel, and while we have a high number of in-house guests dining at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, the majority of custom comes from expatriates, so you have to offer a complete range,” says chef Luigi.

“The Rib Room offers Wagyu beef, so of course it is not going to be cheap. But we also have the Noodle House, where a meal can cost between AED60-AED70 (US $16-$19), it is about charging the right price and offering value for money,” he says.

Aiming to maintain its position as a popular haunt for expatriates and in-house guests alike, chef Luigi is always looking at improving the outlets. And with a number of refurbishments in the pipeline, he is constantly looking at new ideas and concepts.

“Vu’s was a good restaurant when it first opened, but it is still very good. We have not sat back and instead, we keep on pushing ourselves further in order to stay ahead,” he adds.||**||

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