In an industry where costs are increasing day-by-day and consumers are becoming conscious of their spending, not having competitive market prices can be a challenge, however head chef and operations manager at Nourish, Julie Watson has found the answer to serving healthy, fresh food at reasonable prices. Her mantra? Do it yourself.
Chef Julie caught up with Catering News Middle East on the challenges, perks and red flags of running a restaurant and educating Dubai consumers on real healthy food.
“Healthy food does not have to be expensive, the trick from my perspective as a chef is, do it yourself,” Chef Julie says.
“I try not to buy as much as I can, from my product list of 600 items, I buy only five ready-made items, like tomato paste- because taking 50kg of tomato and cooking it down to 1kg of paste is not feasible to me and I don’t have the manpower or space to do so.
“The rest, we make it all in-house. Doing it yourself is the key – buying bread or making bread, buying pasta or making pasta, there is always an option and most other outlets buy almost everything,” she explains.
Making all her products at the restaurant also gives her the opportunity to educate the chefs on how to build from scratch, “I don’t just look at the customers perspective, I also look at the people in the kitchen, the ones who are learning.
“I want to take my steward and turn him into a head chef, I never want to hire mid-level but want to work on the talent we already have and the best way to make them grow is to teach them to do it yourself,” the South African Chef adds.
With most restaurants using ‘shortcuts’ also known as canned and tinned products, diners in the UAE have become accustomed to having a dish taste exactly the same every time they dine-in, however when using natural produce, the taste may differ based on seasonality and that is one of the biggest challenges Chef Julie faces with her customers.
“The difficulty with healthy food here is not that it tastes bland, but the fact that the palette is so sensitised because of all the added preservatives that people eat here,” she says.
“We are trying to re-train the taste palettes, and the difficulty I face is that majority of our clientele would comment that the food does not taste the same as the last time they had it. This is a very big challenge for me but six month old ginger will not smell and taste the same as it does right now, it depends on seasonality and I do not aim for it to be the same either. It is not possible to have the exact same taste when the produce is coming in at a different time.
“The consistency part you can get from cooking with tins and packets, it is easy to do but is it really of benefit to the customer?
“We are trying to help people adapt to this change, it is a slow process but it is picking up,” she adds.
Sourcing fresh produce, making your own ingredients and serving fresh food comes with its own set of challenges, one of them being keeping the price consistent, however, Nourish is not the kind of outlet that will only chase profit.
“The challenge is really during the summer because in winter the farms have more variety, where as in the summer it is a challenge to find that variety so we have to import. We try to use as much as local product as we can and also have a farm in Al Khawaneej, but we stick to the prices on the menu throughout. We are not chasing profit, you cannot become rich from one shop and there are expansions in the horizon for Nourish, not necessarily another Nourish but we are aiming for the brand Nourish to become an umbrella for other ideas and I believe the future is collaboration.”
Currently located in Dar Wasl Mall in Jumeirah, Nourish will be partnering with delivery service Deliveroo, who launched a delivery-only kitchen in Jumeirah Lake Towers late last year to help venues reach customers beyond their current range of access.
“By the end of March we will launch with Deliveroo Editions which means we will be able to deliver to Marina, JLT, JVC, Meadows, Greens and other areas around that location. There are more sites in the wraps within the year and this concept does not have big technical costs- working together is the way forward,” Chef Julie explains.
The restaurant will also be rolling out a healthy meal plan delivery service soon but on a small scale.
“If people approach us and say they want a meal plan, we will offer it to them but my route in order to take this further will not be aimed at grown-ups, but children up to 10 years of age,” she says.
“We serve fresh and healthy food and I tell you exactly what is in it, I do not lie whereas I have seen people talking about food from particular places claiming it is gluten free and organic and what not when it is not true, you need to be open and honest to your customers.”
Nourish does not claim to be organic as it is not feasible for the Dubai dining market, but source locally as much as possible instead.
Chef Julie explains: “This is a huge debate within the industry here, organic food is not feasible for Dubai because the shelf life for organic produce is 24 hours. You pay more for organic products with a limited shelf life as compared to just getting product from natural agricultural processes. We try and be as sustainable as possible by sourcing locally and growing vegetables in our own farm.”