Restaurants produce waste, but we also have a voice and can make an impact: BOCA general manager

by Dina Maaty | Published 6 months ago

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We interview DIFC’s BOCA General Manager Omar Shihab for a look into the world of sustainable Spanish cuisine – tapas and beyond.  

Omar Shihab

What would you say is the essence of Spanish cuisine and how do you ensure your dishes have the right components?
There are ingredients that are unmistakably Spanish such as paprika, Padrón peppers, Spanish rice, chorizo and a good aioli or bravas sauce but I think technique is as important in showcasing Spanish cuisine as are good ingredients.

The post-El Bulli era has perhaps looked at re-introducing big Moorish flavours of classic dishes using modern and contemporary techniques without being overly minimalistic or molecular.

Simplicity and freshness is also extremely important in Spanish cuisine and always pays ode to locally sourced products, something that’s monumental to our operation here at BOCA.

Why do you think there aren’t as many Spanish restaurants as there are Italian or Indian, and how do you see this changing in the coming years?
Italian and Indian cuisines are more mainstream globally because, perhaps, they identify with the public a lot more easily. Locally in the UAE, late trade ties and direct flights with Spain could have contributed to this.

In the year post the introduction of the first direct flight with Emirates, the country saw at least five new Spanish restaurants open their doors, including BOCA. Perhaps modern Spanish cuisine will get another boost over the coming years with an increase in travel throughout Spain from the UAE, the continued domination of Spanish restaurants in the list of top 10 restaurants in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants (three out of the top 10 are Spanish) and the arrival of Jose Andres and David Munoz restaurants in the city.

What are your newest concepts and dishes, and what can your diners expect in the upcoming months – what about next year?
In the autumn edition our menu is more concise, seasonal and local. We’ve featured the first Hamachi fish coming out of the local FishFarm facilities. We also saw the return of an old BOCA favourite: black rice with scallops and introduced a whole grilled Spatchcock baby chicken.

We promise to turn our menus more frequently moving forward, pushing out four a year, and working closer with fishermen and farmers to showcase the best local produce in season.

In 2020, BOCA’s Head Chef Matthijs Stinnissen will introduce a test kitchen out of his gastro bar which will focus on experimenting with seasonal, and perhaps unknown, local and regional vegetable varieties, and smaller, lesser-known fish, among others, in a seating hosted once a week for five guests only.

What’s the secret ingredient?
We would like to think that there’s no such thing. Good technique, respect for the product, conscious sourcing, mindful use and responsible disposal are extremely important.

Of course, the guest’s experience is of extreme significance and has to have all the right elements of warmth, knowledge of the server, attentive-yet-relaxed service, a good beverage offering and value for money.

Please tell us more about how you’re championing sustainability and managing waste.
Sustainability is something that we strive to keep at the core of our operation. We continue to source ingredients locally and support local farmers and fishermen. As tackling climate change becomes more pressing than ever, we’ve stepped up our efforts to reduce waste through the continuous auditing of our kitchen and bar operations, avoiding single-use plastic from suppliers and to customers, building a more demand-driven inventory, and selecting like-minded partners to work with across the value-chain.

We like to think of BOCA as a platform to promote issues that revolve around sustainability. We recognise that we, as restaurants, drive a lot of waste. We also produce a lot of waste, but we also have a voice and can make an impact.

Last month, BOCA hosted Jo Ruxton, producer of the multi-award-winning film ‘A Plastic Ocean’ and founder of the Plastic Oceans Foundation. We screened a twenty-minute version of her 2016 documentary, and hosted a reception with sustainable movie snacks and beverages, followed by a zero-waste dinner drawing attention to lesser-known local produce and maximising usage of our food paired with environmentally-conscious drinks.

How important is it for restaurants to take part in community events and initiatives?
Extremely important. A restaurant has to be built with its neighbourhood in mind. Take this example: DIFC is an important stop on the art trail of Dubai, so when we found BOCA, we dedicated all of our walls (and part of the ceiling) towards the art. We currently work with our friends at Fann-a-Porter to manage this programme for us and hold regular installation openings which change four times a year.

Restaurants have a voice that they can use to influence people, and perhaps drive or steer attention towards important topics, especially when it comes to food and natural resources. We believe that this will be the most important topic of discussion and shape the next 30 years of our existence.

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