F&B Champion: Ahmed Al Bader

Trained chef and Epicure co-founder Ahmed Al Bader speaks to Louise Oakley about the gaps in Kuwait’s dining scene and how he plans to plug them with fresh produce and restaurant theatre.
F&B Champion: Ahmed Al Bader
By Louise Oakley
Sun 26 Dec 2010 12:00 AM

The Epicure Group only launched in November 2009, but over the
past 12 months it has made a major impact on Kuwait’s dining scene. The company,
which is the culinary division of The Sultan Group in Kuwait, was established
by chef Ahmed Al Bader, who decided to go it alone having struggled to sign franchises
in the region.

“At the beginning of my career, I found it difficult to sort
a suitable franchise for the Middle East, so I shifted my efforts after opening
The Burger Hub [an outlet in Kuwait City Al Bader still runs] to personally develop
all concepts in-house and established Epicure Group,” says Al Bader, director and
co-founder of Epicure.

The aim was to offer upscale casual dining concepts “that Kuwait lacks”, says
Al Bader.

The Group now owns, operates and is designing a variety of brands,
including Eighty6 Bistro, Prime and Toast, Pizzetta and Butcher’s Den. A Google search of the outlets reveals rave reviews from diners in Kuwait, who seem genuinely impressed with the restaurants’
creative dishes and energetic ambience, something they claim to have not seen before
in Kuwait.

Indeed, with the F&B market being “increasingly cut throat
as customers expect more bang for their buck”, Al Bader suggests “restaurant theatre”
as a way of staying ahead of the game.

“Diners don’t go to restaurants simply to eat, they want to be
stimulated in some way and come away remembering the experience. No longer is it
enough to serve good food and provide good service — interactive concepts and experiential
dining are expected. Guests want to be more engaged in what’s called ‘theatre-style
dining’ and have a better understanding of the work behind the preparation and cooking
processes,” says Al Bader, who offers a chef’s table and a DJ box at Eighty6.

“The younger generation looks for entertainment, which must be
fresh and lively. Interesting demonstrations, performers, technology and most importantly,
music, are all key in providing the overall experience and showmanship,” says Al
Bader.

Another aspect of Epicure’s refreshing approach is its focus
on fresh ingredients, which also meets the demand of younger people.

“As important as novelty, variety, treats and bargains in consumers’
food and beverage choices, are of course health and wellbeing considerations. The
trend is most apparent in the younger age group, admitting to ‘eating many of my
meals on the move’ and thus requiring emphasis on nutrition and health,” says Al
Bader.

“Unfortunately franchises have washed and altered people’s palates
in Kuwait.
A lot of work has to be done towards nutritional information and knowing their food.
Younger people are diet conscious and want to limit access to unhealthy food to
reduce obesity, thus looking for freshness and demanding fresh products,” he adds.

As a result, Epicure is creating a vertical farming concept in
partnership with Thomas Klein International, called Prime and Toast.

“We want to be the region’s first vertical farming restaurant
concept. The existing outlet  has been successful
and we want to ensure the concept stays relevant and fresh. We have completed two
other design projects, and we definitely feel that they [TKI] are the right partners
to work with,” says Al Bader.

Keeping the improvements Al Bader feels the market so desperately
needs in mind, the focus for Epicure for now remains on Kuwait, where the group
has one fundamental goal: to localise a universal experience in dining.

Al Bader sums it up: “The Bistro Eighty6 concept has enjoyed
success due to its excellent quality bistro-style food with a contemporary blend
of international cuisine, in a relaxed, warm environment with friendly, attentive
service, which offers fresh and a wide palette of unique and innovative dishes.

“Our objective is to strive to offer exceptional cuisine in a
memorable atmosphere, while delivering exquisite dining value and creating a sensation
of tastes and textures that are amalgamated with the modern day.”

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