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Wed 9 Jun 2010 04:00 AM

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Keep your character

In the past, chefs have got themselves a reputation as a slightly temperamental lot.

Keep your character
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In the past, chefs have got themselves a reputation as a slightly temperamental lot.

Admittedly, this stereotype has been exacerbated over the years by the (no doubt exaggerated) media portrayal of high-profile and highly-strung kitchen characters such as Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White.

But in this line of work, should an artistic temperament really come as a surprise?

This kind of fiery attitude and perfectionist streak is, to an extent, understandable in someone who ‘creates' for a living.

But today - all over the world in fact, but most particularly in the Middle East - chefs are no longer the caricatures of fiery foodies they once were.

Instead, they are more amenable and adaptable than ever.

This is of course a good thing in many ways; but I think a lot of the flexibility displayed by chefs in this region comes down to the demanding clientele.

If a loyal customer wants chips when they are not on the menu, they get them; if an important client wants a different sauce with their steak, the chef makes it.

This flies in the face of old-school chefs who created their food as they wanted it eaten, and who would happily throw a customer out on their ear if they didn't like it.

But working in a region where hospitality is key and the guest is always number one, what else can you do?

Today, chefs and restaurants increasingly understand the need to be flexible; to balance the customer's needs with their own integrity in order to sustain business.

All the same, a little artistic temperament is part of what made the great chefs of the past so great.

On a recent trip to Dubai, renowned Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli told Caterer: "At Locanda Locatelli [in London], the buck stops with me: if a customer isn't happy, I deal with the situation. I tell them to go or sort it out.

"But here [at Ronda Locatelli in Atlantis, The Palm], if there's a guy who is staying in the Royal Suite, paying a lot of money, you've got to listen to them to an extent - and that can really deflate the importance of the restaurant.

"There is a slight problem with the Dubai service industry," he continued. "There's this idea that [restaurants and chefs] will do whatever you want, but I don't agree with that. That diminishes character."

Let us hope the region's determination to provide the customer with whatever they want does not completely eradicate that individuality of spirit that so often comes with a great creative mind.

Lucy Taylor is the editor of Caterer Middle East.

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