UK celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay was stopped by airport customs in Doha this week after he was tried to bring a bottle of Dom Pérignon champagne into the Muslim Gulf state, which is currently tightening its control on the supply on alcohol, it was reported.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been stopped by customs,” Ramsay said at a press conference on Sunday. “The alarm went off and I got called into a little room. So it’s been confiscated – the first time I’ve ever lost a bottle of Dom Pérignon! It was a birthday present from a dear friend,” he was quoted as saying by Doha News.
The 47-year-old Michelin-starred British chef was in Qatar to visit the two restaurants he runs at the St. Regis hotel in Doha. Despite his experience with customs officials and the fact he was forced to shut his Maze restaurant on The Pearl-Qatar following an alcohol ban introduced in 2011, Ramsay said he was confident the Gulf state’s alcohol laws would become more relaxed in the run up to its hosting of the 2022 World Cup.
“With the excitement of the World Cup and how the focus of the world’s media will be on Qatar… Things will change. I’m pretty confident. As a nation, Qatar is developing rapidly – but it’s a difficult scenario. I’m just trying to imagine an English fan celebrating with a Perrier,” he told reporters.
His comments echo those he made in January 2013, shortly after the closure of Maze: “We had to make sensible commercial decisions - you’re not going to run that restaurant and look stupid and lose thousands on a weekly basis... When we look at the legislation with the alcohol ban, I’d much rather see a smoking ban than an alcohol ban.”
In a further bid to restrict the distribution of alcohol, authorities in Qatar in November issued a written notice to hotel managers banning the sale of alcoholic drinks in swimming pool areas or on the beach.
Officials have not yet commented on whether the new notice is a new regulation or the reinforcement of an existing rule.
The sale of alcohol is strictly monitored in Gulf states with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait operating an outright ban on the sale and consumption of liquor. The move to offer alcohol licenses to outlets and non-Muslims is largely a nod to the region’s expatriate workers, who vastly outnumber the local population. But the decision has been met with criticism from some citizens who oppose the sale of liquor in Muslim countries.
A number of Gulf states have seen conflicts over alcohol regulations in recent years. Pressure groups in Bahrain forced the closure of bars and clubs in the Gulf state’s three-star hotels in 2009, while Oman has chosen to confine the sale of booze to certain hotels and restaurants.
Dubai, widely seen as the Gulf’s most tolerant market, in June 2011 banned standalone bars and restaurants from displaying alcohol behind their bars.
Outlets licensed to serve alcohol but located outside hotels were forced to tint glass doors on fridges, move entire displays and even re-design whole bar areas to comply with the ban.