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Thu 26 Oct 2006 04:00 AM

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The Italian Job

With no end to the number of Italian restaurants flocking to the region, the team at Certo have certainly managed to make their mark in a crowded market

|~|certo2.jpg|~|Certo sources ingredients from a nymber of specialty suppliers|~|Living up to its name, Certo restaurant at the Radisson SAS Hotel Dubai Media City certainly promises a true taste of Italy. With the executive chef, restaurant chef, restaurant manager and assistant restaurant manager all hailing from Italy, the contemporary restaurant offers Italian cuisine from both the north and south of the country.

Designed with high ceilings and metallic and sleek finishes — as well as a glass wine store placed in the middle of the service area reaching from the floor to the ceiling — the food has also taken on this modern concept.

“When I first saw the sketches for Certo it was clear that the food needed to complement the design. The high ceilings and open kitchen means that acoustically the restaurant has a lot of life, and this is reflected in the menu,” comments Marco Aveta, executive chef, Radisson SAS Hotel, Dubai Media City.

“You cannot have a traditional Italian menu, nor can you have a fine dining restaurant because of the high ceiling, so we have gone for modern Italian cuisine, letting the freshness and colour of the products speak for themselves,” adds chef Marco.

No stranger to an open kitchen or modern Italian cuisine, Italian restaurant chef, Vincenzo Gatti, previously worked in a business hotel in Germany. Although he is familiar with the demands of serving business clients during the day and leisure diners in the evening, this is his first post in the Middle East. However, with a strong Italian presence in the restaurant there have not been many challenges.

“Although I am used to this style of restaurant, it is my first time in the UAE. It took a little time getting used to a wider clientele base, but working alongside Italians
has been a big help,” comments chef Vincenzo.

With both the restaurant manager and assistant restaurant manager originating from the north of Italy, and chefs Marco and Vincenzo from the south, it was an intentional move by the hotel to employ Italian managers to ensure the food remained as authentic as possible. Although employing Italians for both front and back of house does cost more in terms of wages, chef Marco says it was a key investment made by the hotel, as more people are looking for authentic Italian cuisine. And, with more than 35 Italian restaurants listed in Dubai, chef Marco adds that only a handful offer truly authentic Italian cuisine, with Certo ranking among them.

“It is not science, it is just a matter of fact that Italians know how Italian food should be cooked, as you are surrounded by the food from your childhood. You cannot teach this or learn about it, it is just something that your mother gives you,” comments chef Marco.

Located in Dubai’s Media City, the first hotel to open in the Media City district, the restaurant initially relied on lunch trade from people working in the surrounding area — including Dubai Media City, Internet City and Knowledge Village.

“We always knew that lunchtime would be busy because of the sheer number of people working in this area. However, at the beginning, the main challenge was letting people know that after 6pm there is still something happening here,” says Maximillian Corradi, Italian restaurant manager.

“Dinner is now picking up, but it is difficult to let people know about us when we are not a beach resort or offering a city-wide view 50-floors up,” Corradi adds.||**|||~||~||~|Catering to a different clientele during the day and in the evening, the menu has also had to reflect the wide variety of customers. Working in the Middle East for more than nine years now, chef Marco is aware of what food is popular in the region, hence Certo’s first menu offered many dishes he has carried throughout his career, as well as some more traditional Italian meals in order to build up a firm client base.

However, this month the Certo team have introduced a new menu for both lunch and dinner. Previously offering a medium-sized a la carte menu in order to see what proved popular, and enable the front and back of house team to familiarise themselves with the outlet, the restaurant also had a business lunch option.

“The new menu has kept some of the popular dishes, but we now have an increased a la carte menu for dinner, which has expanded by around 30-40%,” says chef Marco.

While the lunch menu has reduced slightly, there will still be a business lunch menu as well as several daily specials in order to cope with the midday rush.

“Overall, around 90% of the dishes were popular, but we found that during the day, around 40% of people opted for the a la carte menu, with the remaining 60% choosing from the business menu, specials, or pizza menu. More diners are wanting faster served food, so you have to adapt to this,” says Corradi.

Because the restaurant is also witnessing an increase in the number of Italian diners visiting Certo — a sure sign that it is on the right track — both chefs Marco and Vincenzo make sure that as much produce as possible, including pastas, rice and flour for the pizzas, are sourced from Italy. As are other more specific products like cheeses, balsamic vinegars and some hams.

“You can get hold of any ingredient here, and if one supplier can’t find it, there are plenty more suppliers who are willing to search for your ingredients; and even bring it exclusively for you,” comments chef Marco.

“However, when we are not looking for specific Italian ingredients; like vegetables, fish and meats, then we mainly import them from Europe, Australia or the US, depending upon the seasons,” he adds.

When it comes to the wine selection, the wine tower plays host to 130 references, of which 50 are Italian. The remainder comprises wines from the Old World, including Germany and France, and the New World, including Australia, the US and South America. Over time, assistant restaurant manager and wine connoisseur, Kafka Pucciarelli, hopes to gradually increase this number.

Prices range from AED120 (US $33) to AED5000 ($1361) per bottle but the average price is AED250 ($68). The restaurant also serves 15 wines by the glass.

More recently, Certo successfully hosted its first winemaker event. It hopes to host around six winemaker events next year and to fly over chefs from Italy to help create a complete food and wine pairing.

“The first event was completely sold out, so we are confident that more gala dinners and wine and food pairing events will prove a success. Bringing over a chef also helps increase the profile of the event as they work closely with the winemaker to make sure the food works well with the wine,” says chef Marco.

Implemented as a marketing exercise to help promote the hotel, rather than to increase revenues, winemaker evenings and visiting chefs also allows the back of house team at Certo to promote specific foods, like truffles, cepe mushrooms or asparagus, as well as giving regular diners another dimension to the outlet.

“We are still a relatively new hotel, so winemaker events and gala dinners help us promote our restaurant. It is also great for the team,” says Corradi.

“From when we first opened until now, we have come a long way. We now feel like a solid unit, so it is a great achievement,” he adds.||**||

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