Jul 01, 2015
After a brief but successful stint at England’s Petersham Nurseries Café, the renowned Melbourne chef is now based where anyone known as “the godfather of modern Middle Eastern cuisine” should be – in Dubai.
When did you go to Dubai and why?
I arrived in Dubai just over two years ago. The owners of my restaurant, Clé, had a site but didn’t really have a concept. I took it on because I’ve always wanted to cook in the Middle East and I thought this would be a great platform to start with.
Where are you from?
I’m from Melbourne. For the latter part of my life I’ve been living right in the city. It’s beautiful but I’ve done all I can there. That’s why I left – to explore bigger markets.
What’s the key to adapting to a new city?
Looking at the locals for what they are and not trying to compare what you’ve done in the past to where you are now.
Do you hang out with fellow Australians or do you have local friends?
I’m not so social. I spend many hours in the kitchen and I like my own time. There are a couple of chefs I’ll hang out with but really, it’s either work or home. My apartment is not far from work. I’ve made it like a home, with all my own furnishings and art and books and I can lock myself away.
What do you miss about Australia?
The usual things: football, family, food – the three Fs. I go back four times a year. It’s always a wonderful thing but towards the end of my stay, I’m itching to get back to Dubai and my apartment.
Do you have family in Dubai?
I’ve got a cousin who lives here and an aunt and a few cousins in Lebanon and a niece in London so it’s not as though I’m desperately lonely. It’s good having family around because Dubai can be very shallow.
How has your life changed since you’ve moved there?
I’m not sure whether my life has changed. It’s probably a little more enriching with the scope to do other things in terms of design. I’m really keen on crockery design at the moment and designing jewellery with an Arabic or Middle Eastern influence.
What do you like most about living there?
My own space. I’m at work generally around 11am and don’t leave until midnight. I also do dinners outside the country. I just got back from Bangkok; I did a series of dinners there. I’ve been invited to Brazil to do a few dinners and to Malta. I consult in Hong Kong as well.
How long do you anticipate being in Dubai?
I’m not sure. I’ll see how the restaurant unfolds in 12 months. It’s a great hub to live in. I can be in Istanbul, Beirut and London pretty quickly. Then direct 14-hour flights to Melbourne. I love sleeping on planes.
What’s the first thing you do when you’re back in Melbourne?
Just hang out with family; they’re always eager to see me. If I’m not in Melbourne, I go to Sydney to see a good friend there.
What’s your favourite restaurant in Dubai?
I crave Chinese food so I go to Hakkasan [Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel].
Do you have a favourite bar?
VII Dubai [Conrad Dubai hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road]. It’s kind of outdoorsy. I like relaxing there with a nice negroni.
If I was looking for you outside of work, where would I find you?
You won’t find me! I get home pretty tired so I might have a glass of whisky and turn up the music.
Is there any aspect of Australian life you wish you had there?
The café culture. Also some of the work ethic and wait-service standards.
So where do you get a good coffee in Dubai?
The Sum of Us [ground floor, Burj Al Salam, Trade Centre, 6 6th Street]. They roast their own amazing coffee.
What’s your best advice for a new expat?
Don’t stamp your feet and throw your toys out of the cot. Just go gently. You have to go with the flow in this part of the world.
Will you return to Melbourne one day?
I don’t know. I don’t think so. Maybe a third wife will take me somewhere. ￼