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Mon 27 Apr 2009 04:00 AM

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Experts cite food education trend as key tool in driving F&B business

The growing consumer trend for learning to cook doesn't necessarily spell the end for regular restaurant visits - in fact the trend could help increase business and customer loyalty, say chefs.

Experts cite food education trend as key tool in driving F&B business
Participants get to work at the first L’ateliers des Chefs class, held at its new Le Méridien Dubai venue.
Experts cite food education trend as key tool in driving F&B business
Suzanne Husseini.
Experts cite food education trend as key tool in driving F&B business
Victoria Crick.
Experts cite food education trend as key tool in driving F&B business
James Martin.
Experts cite food education trend as key tool in driving F&B business
L’ateliers des Chefs’ François and Nicholas Bergerault.
Experts cite food education trend as key tool in driving F&B business
Gary Rhodes.

The growing consumer trend for learning to cook doesn't necessarily spell the end for regular restaurant visits - in fact the trend could help increase business and customer loyalty, say chefs.Whether it's down to tough times, the rise of celebrity chefs or the growing global trend for health food, there is no doubt that consumers are increasingly turning towards chefs for more than good grub: today, they want a culinary education.

"I think part of this learning trend is the surge of going back to healthy food; people want to eat what is good for them," said Suzanne Husseini, presenter of Arabic Food Network cooking show Fatafeat.

"They've gone down the path of fast food and quick food and I think now people are reverting back to cooking real food, wanting to know where their food comes from, how animals are treated before they are slaughtered, where their vegetables are grown, whether pesticides are used - all these factors are increasingly important as people become more educated," added Husseini, who also teaches private cooking classes.

According to celebrity chef James Martin, popular culture has also boosted this trend for knowledge. "People are watching cookery programmes and buying cookery books, so it's a knock-on effect," he explained.

Victoria Crick, organiser of Dubai's annual Taste of Dubai show - which this year catered for the food education trend by featuring the Spinney's Cookery School - commented: "People want the opportunity to understand what goes into the dishes and to learn how to put something together themselves; good food doesn't have to be limited to fine dining restaurants."

So what does this migration to home cooking mean for the region's outlets: can feeding the hunger for culinary education be good for business, or will it decrease consumer spend on dining out?

Grosvenor House Dubai executive chef Garry Hollihead believes the trend could actually help the region's chefs.

"I think it's important for businesses to educate consumers at showcases like Taste of Dubai, because then it leads them to the hotels," he pointed out. "If we give them a little taste of what we do, we can encourage them to then come to the hotel and try the whole experience for themselves.

"Every year different restaurants are opening and more well-known chefs and well-known brands are entering the region, so you need to make sure you do enough to make your outlet stand out in all that."

Matthew Pickop, executive chef at Hilton Dubai Creek's Verre by Gordon Ramsay outlet, added: "Rather than putting ourselves out of business by everyone eating at home, we're showing people that there aren't any secrets, but that when they come to us there's that extra touch of expertise and service that make it a truly special experience.

"On top of that, by introducing them to new products we're opening people to new ideas, which then provides us with the right atmosphere to develop the quality, styles and types of food we can feasible offer on our menus," he continued. "And it just makes it so much more exciting for us, for the industry as a whole."

Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia, patron chef of Grosvenor House Dubai's Indego restaurant, agreed that educating the general public broadened a chef's options.

"When you train the consumer and teach them different things, their minds open up and they will repond to new ideas better," he pointed out.

Verre's Pickop added: "In somewhere like Dubai, where there isn't everyday produce and you can't guarantee that you're always able to get the ingredients you want, it's vital to educate people. The more people demand something, the more suppliers will try to supply it, so it'll broaden what we can find here."This attitude of chefs making culinary education beneficial for business seems to be reflected in the region's increasing fondness for cookery schools.

French company L'atelier des Chefs is a prime example.

The firm, which has just launched its first in-hotel cookery school at Le Méridien Dubai, hopes the prototype school will soon be "copied and pasted all across the Méridien network", according to Nicholas Bergerault, who founded the company with his brother François in 2004.

"Two years ago we were approached by Le Méridien and they said they were trying to rebuild a culinary image within the hotels and were interested in our concept because they felt it could help the new positioning," explained Bergerault.

"All the cookery schools you usually hear about tend to be high-end schools with long classes that are very expensive, so what we intended to do was launch a new generation of cookery classes - this means short classes, from half an hour to two hours, that are not very expensive; in Dubai it will be from AED 120-380 (US $33-103)."

On top of the obvious revenue in-house cookery classes can generate for an outlet, Bergerault maintains they can even encourage new custom.

"Classes with a chef make people consider the outlet's overall service and food from a fresh perspective; it's really rebuilding the link between the chef and their customer," he asserted.

"So we're not at all a threat [to restaurant business], we're just adding something new."

Taste of Dubai's Crick predicted it would become increasingly popular for restaurants to branch out into cookery classes in future.

"What chefs want to do is get the consumer to buy the brand in its entirety; they're trying to widen the opportunity for people to come into the hotel and the restaurant," she pointed out.

"Culinary classes are their opportunity to meet their consumers on a one-to-one basis - and thereby help achieve wider brand recognition for their outlets."

Even celebrity chef Gary Rhodes said he would be keen to introduce classes at his fine dining restaurant Rhodes Mezzanine, located in Grosvenor House Dubai.

"It‘s certainly something I'd like to talk to Grosvenor House about. I love tutoring pople, explaining my feelings about a dish and the philosophy behind it," he told Caterer Middle East.

"That's something which I really love and would definitely be interested in getting involved with. It could be called the Rhodes School," he added. "What a great idea!"

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