Back in 1980, the Radisson Blu in Kuwait City was the first Carlson Rezidor property to open outside Scandinavia. It was the local place to be. Now, after a multim-million dollar refit, the hotel now rebranded as Radisson Blu Hotel, Kuwait is addressing a changing market. Melanie Mingas speaks to Rezidor’s Area Executive Chef, David Harnois, about the new look F&B approach.
“I think the new trend is going back to real food. The fancy food thing is finished. Now food is all about good taste, convivial experiences and good atmosphere. To me that’s the most important change. The five star dining thing is finished and you can see the increase in the number of delis and other such places so that will more and more be important.”
French chef David Harnois has worked for Radisson for over a dozen years, with spells on Yas Island and an earlier period in Kuwait from 2003-7. Now he has been tasked with the implementation of food and drink initiatives and concepts; the enhancement of culinary delivery in restaurants; culinary training and procurement liaison as well as contributing to increased departmental profitability.
Talk us through the local dining market.
Kuwatis do not cook! They go out every night and perhaps they will stay in one night a week. The approach is quite European and anybody who lives here will go out at least three times a week. There is a huge mix of standalone restaurants and hotel restaurants. On this beachfront strip there are probably around 100 different places to eat, including the hotels. In addition to that there are a lot of events that we specialise in at this hotel, hosted on the Al-Hashemi-II, the world’s largest wooden dhow, that can seat up to 800 people for a banquet. It stayed open during the renovations. And, of course, we also do outside catering.
Of course, renovations are a great time to refresh F&B offerings. What did you want to achieve?
We started working on the hotel about a year ago and created all the menus. Some of them were already in place, at restaurants like the Chinese, Peacock, which is very popular and so the menu didn’t change. In fact, we didn’t need to change it. What I have worked on is the modernisation of what we had before because the hotel modernised. It was really working on bringing in quality products, simple cooking because I don’t believe in complicated dishes and nice presentation. Kuwait in general needs some rejuvenation and the local market here is becoming more modern. But modern doesn’t mean less on the plate, it means a better quality product.
Does Kuwaiti cuisine make it onto restaurant menus?
There is a Kuwaiti cuisine but it’s something that is made in the home. It’s not a cuisine but a way of life and it’s something that you bring to the table. There are certain traditional dishes, but it’s how you eat them and who you eat them with. It’s convivial – a lot of fish, a lot of lamb, rice, that’s what it is.
So what is your approach?
Here we’re creating an international experience across a number of different dining destinations. We have a Chinese restaurant, we have a steak and seafood restaurant, which is a little more in line with the Kuwait tradition because we do everything on a charcoal barbeque. Nothing fancy, but good quality fish, meat, grilled, simple garnish. You come also for the atmosphere of the place. All day dining is modernised but we also need to cater to all the different nationalities. We have a lot of Arabic, European and American guests, but also a lot of Asian, so balancing that is the challenge. But then again we keep it simple with good ingredients. Also, the guest can touch into the other cuisines.
Any challenges in sourcing high quality produce?
It’s an international supply chain, as there’s not a lot growing here! It’s the same as other GCC countries – we bring fish from France, meat is from the US, vegetables come from Egypt and Lebanon. It’s no secret but we are very lucky. The availability and range of produce has evolved a lot.
What is the favourite dish on the hotel’s new menu?
Number 95 – the diced beef at Peacock! We have worked on everything but I like simple things. I don’t like to mix too much. Salads should be simple, no funny presentation. The quality should speak for itself. Mozzarella salad is a basic dish so sourcing that mozzarella – and it has to be the real thing – is crucial. For example, when we bring in products from Italy I will source the authentic product. When sourcing from France I only use certain markets. We specialise on the meat and we don’t use a huge variety but what we do use has to be the right product.
Is staffing an issue for you here?
We probably retained about 50% of the staff from prior to the renovation because we were still running the events and banqueting, but the recruitment of the rest of the team wasn’t a challenge. I think we are very lucky in this part of the world because at the end of the day it’s about how you recruit also. I do not recruit on knowledge, I recruit on personality. I want somebody who may be more of a challenge, but is able to develop into the skilled chef I need.
You can teach anything apart from personality.
What is your top F&B trend for 2014?
For Rezidor the big thing is going to be children’s menus. We have a lot of families travelling but everybody forgets about the kid’s menus.
Are we talking organic, nutrition-based, separate dining areas?
It’s going to be much more fun for them. Perhaps a lot less traditional. New flavours. I’ve learnt a lot from watching children of different nationalities here. Asian children for example are so much more open to flavours. They can have a spicy curry, noodles, rice, pizza, pasta. For them it’s all the same. A European child will not eat a curry. You have to call broccoli green trees! But it’s important to start developing the tastes for children and it’s definitely going to be a focus point at this particular hotel and across the region, but it’s still in the planning stages. I’m a parent myself and we have our own people and we have a lot of guys who, when they start travelling with their children, they realise how bad it is. You go to a hotel and you get a piece of paper to colour, two pencils – one usually broken – and you’ll get your spaghetti, burger, pizza. It’s all carbohydrates. And you have parents that choose the pizza for their own convenience, but if you engage the child in what they are eating we can bring new flavours to them and educate children. But I think the new trend is going back to real food. The fancy food thing is finished. Now food is all about good taste, convivial experiences and good atmosphere. To me that’s the most important change. The five star dining thing is finished and you can see the increase in the number of delis and other such places so that will more and more be important.