How does this raw fish and potatoes turn into so many beautiful dishes? This was the question on young Reif Othman’s mind every time his mother dragged him to the market as a little boy. Spending the next few years of his life answering that question would award Dubai-based chef and restaurateur Reif, the Chefs’ Choice Award in the inaugural MENA 50 Best Restaurants 2022 line-up, a MICHELIN Guide Dubai 2022 Bib Gourmand, and the much-coveted UAE Golden Visa.
Originally from Singapore, Chef Reif started his culinary adventure in the UAE in 2004 when he worked in Burj Al Arab. After just a year, he left and returned home to gain the experience that he needed to achieve his dream of opening up his own restaurant one day. Back in Singapore, he met his wife, started his family and opened a few restaurants. Five years later, he received an offer to run one of the region’s most-loved restaurants, Zuma Dubai. During his last ride at Zuma, he was responsible for opening Zuma Room in cities worldwide. On New Year’s Eve in 2016, Chef Reif launched a new Dubai concept, Play Restaurant & Lounge at the H Hotel, where he would spend another two years before seeing his name on a restaurant door. The Experience by Reif Othman provided an omakase tasting menu to a twelve-seater table with a new theme every month. This experience allowed Chef Reif to test the market’s reaction to different dishes. After two years, he worked with F1 legend and Billionaire Dubai owner, Flavio Briatore, opening up restaurants in Monaco and London. Following a year of successful openings for Flavio and a few pop-ups later, his self-titled and self-made F&B brand was born.
Chef Reif’s story is not about luck, inheritance, or landing wealthy investors. His story is about having the resilience and discipline it takes to go after what you want and do it your way. His courage did not falter at the expense of naysayers or the prospect of hard work. Knowing that his father disapproved but determined to become a chef, he went to culinary school without his father’s knowledge, a decision that found him on his own financially. Discipline kicked in, and Chef Reif worked as a broker by night and a chef by day to earn his dream. He made a lot of sacrifices when he pursued his passion for cooking full-time by blocking out anything and everything that got in the way of his goals.
Chef Reif is independent in his thinking and in business, and thanks to his good financial sense, he has always looked at things from a very calculated point of view. After spending years surveying the country’s F&B industry with unconventional plate after plate, his data pointed to one key finding – a premium casual F&B concept was what Dubai needed.
Being in debt and not having complete creative control to actualise his goal was not a part of his plan. So, he put his savings to work and started his relaxed, neighbourhood and price-friendly eatery, Reif Kushiyaki. Chef Reif’s attention focuses on the quality of his products, he created a place where people can enjoy premium quality food in their flip-flops without spending a pretty penny.
Thanks to his practical approach to business, good feng shui, and yet another calculated risk, Reif Japanese Kushiyaki in Jumeirah’s Dar Wasl Mall has become the wishlist of every foodie. A licensed outpost of Reif Japanese Kushiyaki followed at Time Out Market Dubai in April 2021, as well as another branch in Dar Wasl Mall in September 2021 to accommodate an increase in demand. To complement the all-day dining menu, he added Asagohan, the Japanese morning breakfast meal showcasing a mix of savoury and sweet Far Eastern-inspired dishes alongside European classics – all boasting Reif’s unconventional twist and his trademark cakes.
His ability to find the right partnerships and loyal staff comes from his honest and open approach as a businessman. This management style proved effective during the COVID-19 lockdown when Reif had to shut down his location, leaving his staff without an income. He assessed his financials and found a way to keep them on paid leave, ensuring they could survive the financial impact of the pandemic. Once restrictions eased, his kindness was repaid in good fortune when the restaurant reopened to a packed house. Chef Reif understands the power of money and knows very well that every cent counts, and his belief system is firmly rooted in always doing the right thing and taking care of the people around you. “At the end of the day, my staff is my foundation. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am, and Reif wouldn’t be where it is. It’s all them. I wasn’t always a restaurant owner, and I remember what it was like to be in their position.” He adds.
Chef Reif continues to embrace Japanese sensibilities in his cooking, with Italian and French cuisine influence. His cooking is renowned for quality, flavour, consistency, creativity and wit. He’s always the first to introduce a new dish sparking a country-wide trend, whether it’s the ‘toilet roll’ yuzu and lemon cake that went viral over the pandemic, his Instagram-famous Wagyu Sando, or his Kushi skewers.
The first franchised Reif Japanese Kushiyaki restaurant in the world opened in December 2021 in Cairo at the 5A By The Waterway complex, with franchised partner and renowned Egyptian F&B operator, Baky Hospitality, seating 140 diners in a licensed space.
Three new franchised locations have also been signed for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. And the brand just announced two new licensed concepts in the UAE, Reif Japanese Kushiyaki and separately, TERO Chef’s Table. Both restaurants, which are entirely self-funded, are set to open in the new district of Dubai Hills Estate Business Park in Q4 2022.
Chef Reif doesn’t just have great taste in food, he also has an eye for fashion. His out-of-the-ordinary streetwear store, Soleside by Reif in Al Wasl Vita Mall is a reflection of his style and passion for clothes. This showcase for sneakers, streetwear and Bearbrik toy collectables houses both a shop and a café. Furthermore, Reif embarks on a new cuisine category with the signing of his own unconventional Korean BBQ concept, going by the playful name of Hoe Lee Kow at the first boutique hotel in the UAE, Hotel Indigo Dubai Downtown, set to open this September with a 220-cover indoor and outdoor licensed rooftop restaurant. He also takes on consultant chef ventures and pop-up collaborations in the UAE and internationally.
Growing up, Chef Reif was always a little rough around the edges. He never saw himself putting on a collared shirt every day to work a corporate job. Even when those closest to him told him that he would never make it big as a chef, he used their words to fuel his passion, and his vision only got clearer and clearer. Today in his kitchen, award-winning Chef Reif continues to wow the industry with his unconventional Japanese cuisines in a cool graphic tee and a fresh pair of sneakers.
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