Cedric Darthial has returned to Dubai after nine years in Asia to take up the role of executive chef at Atlantis The Palm. Catering News asks how he intends to tackle the challenge of overseeing 23 F&B outlets, 12,000 covers and 480 staff.
Cedric Darthial has returned to Dubai after nine years in Asia to join Atlantis, The Palm as senior executive chef, where he oversees the 1,500-key resort’s 480 F&B staff, 12,000 covers and 23 fine dining and casual outlets, including celebrity chef eateries, Nobu, Ronda Locatelli and Bread Street Kitchen & Bar by Gordon Ramsay.
However, overseeing a mammoth operation like Atlantis is something Darthial is no stranger to, having come from City of Dreams in Manila where, as executive chef, he managed over 400 staff, and an average of 14,000 covers per day. Some of the 14 restaurants he managed included Nobu – which he is overseeing again at Atlantis, The Palm – and the Tasting Room.
Commenting on what attracts him to operations of this scale, Darthial says: “It is an exciting thing; instead of working in a small hotel with three F&B outlets, I think this gives us a lot of opportunity to be creative.
“I think it is more exciting for a chef to be managing everything from a casual outlet to a fine dining outlet. This gives you the right opportunity to be creative; even though my background is in fine dining, I do get creative in casual outlets in terms of the concept.”
And while the size of the operations under his management in Manila and Dubai are similar, Darthial admits consumer behviour is different, with restaurants in the UAE having to work a bit harder for their piece of the pie.
“I think Dubai is a good platform in terms of F&B trends and people like to try new things while in Asia, people like to stay with what they feel comfortable,” he says. “The power of spending is much higher here than in the Philippines.”
“The market is very difficult, with 9,000 restaurants in the city; I think we need to maintain the business level that we have, be creative, have a good quality of product, and satisfy the customer. We need to be affordable and have the best quality we can get”
He observes that compared to his last stint in the emirate, which ended in 2009, inbound markets have changed. “Nine years ago, the market was mainly UK and Russian, but now you can see a lot of the Asian market so I do believe that the demographics have changed a lot.
“Chinese people like to travel and like to spend money so I think it is good to have a Chinese market. [At Atlantis] we also work a lot with tour operators due to the language barriers.”
While Darthial is not heavily involved in menu creation at Atlantis – with each outlet’s chef de cuisine overseeing this – he is focused on enhancing the overall experience and is working on a number of refurbishments for the year ahead.
“The concepts are working; they have been established for many years,” says Darthial. “People don’t come only for the food but for the experience. We are going to refurbish a lot of concepts; we are doing Kaleidoscope, Levantine’s terrace and we will launch a new brunch in Ayamna. The good thing about Atlantis is that we keep on evolving and changing things.
“At Kaleidoscope, the concept will remain the same, it is still an international buffet, but we will refurbish the whole design, the whole interior will be redone. In terms of culinary, we are going to do some enhancements but again it is a buffet so there is limited space to do all of that. We’re not changing the concepts, we’re just innovating.”
And while Saffron restaurant’s brunch is doing well, Darthial still intends to optimise it further by increasing the range of beverage offerings. “The clientele who come to Saffron are not looking for food as a priority; I must say the beverage is the priority,” he says.
Implementing changes can get a bit more challenging when it comes to celebrity chef restaurants as all decisions must be discussed with the corporate team before implementation, says Darthial.
“If there are any changes in terms of the menu, then we go back to the corporate team and sit down with them,” he comments, offering the example of Nobu. “Nobu is a very corporate and standard place, I mean they do a brunch here and we used to do a brunch [in Manila]. It is still a great place to eat but again they are very systematic in terms of offers.”
While the diversity of the market is something Darthial admires in Dubai, he knows this translates to more competition. “The market is very difficult, with 9,000 restaurants in the city; I think we need to maintain the business level that we have, be creative, have a good quality of product, and satisfy the customer. We need to be affordable and have the best quality we can get.”
Darthial doesn’t see himself moving from Dubai any time soon now that he has a young family – “for the family it’s a great place to be” – and he looks forward to continuing his career in hotel F&B for the foreseeable future. “I have an ambition of becoming a VP of F&B but again I still have time ahead of me, so let’s see what happens.”