Google started in a garage. Amazon started in an empty swimming pool. Apple started in a cupboard beneath the stairs by a boy with a lightning scar on his forehead and a dark coloured turtleneck.
EAT DXB started in Lowe.
The other night, some of the top chefs in the city, each one of them an expert in their chosen discipline came together around a quiet table in a back room of Lowe for a few hours of food, connection, and discussion.
Artisanal chocolates, ramens, charcoal and black cod, puffed pita bread with wagyu, lamb saddle, dark chocolate caramel kibbeh, bone broth, baos and falafel. These are the dishes these chefs produce, and yet these chefs are not defined by the dishes they make.
The invite was for a 7:30 pm Iftar. So, of course, we started at 8:15 pm. Arriving late is a chef’s way to compensate for always having to send food out on time in their own restaurants. It’s how they balance their lives.
Jesse Blake and Kate Christou, the chefs of Lowe very kindly agreed to host the dinner – a big ask, considering the audience they were serving. You would have thought they would roll out their most tried and tested dishes – the big hits that would have the audience raising their lighters and singing along. No, they announced that the recipes they were serving had never been tried before. Not once. “The flavours all work – in my head,” Jesse said, while nonchalantly seasoning something in a bowl.
David Chang of Momofuku fame tells a story of how he visited Joe Beef, a restaurant in Montreal and ended up talking to chef-owners David McMillan and Frédéric Morin at the bar. They had never met before, but sought each other out, as like-minded individuals are prone to do. Their conversation ended with Chang stepping into their kitchen and showing them how to cook fried cauliflower the Momofuku way. A coming together of talent, a sharing of knowledge, an improvement of the industry.
As founders of EAT DXB, our message was clear – we must look up from our day-to-day to see the change-making connections that lie beyond. Restaurants must serve more than just food. We have a responsibility to contribute to a better life for everyone, and we believe in this strongly. This is at the very essence of EAT DXB.
The menu, much like Kate and Jesse themselves, was all about contrast; The Ying and the Yang. One of the “never-served-before” dishes was a cured king scallop with yuzukosho with iced horseradish. It was like dunking your head into the icy waters of the North Sea – refreshing, bracing and deeply satisfying.
There is something powerful about breaking bread together – it builds trust and confidence in your fellow diners, and a special community is born if only for a few hours, allowing each person to relax and speak freely and passionately about what infuriates and excites them. Each one of the chefs represented a hugely diverse array of experiences and yet found connection and commonality in their conversations with one another.
One of the mains we had was the lamb collar with pureed roasted cauliflower. If the scallops were of the sea, refreshing, light and tangy, the lamb was all about the earth, full of umami, terroir, soil, and substance.
Out of the hundreds of mini-conversations that were had over the evening, one topic resonated loudly and frequently. Support – and not just those within the industry supporting each other, although that is much needed too.
There is a need for support from the extended community as well. Support from landlords, suppliers, and customers – the full ecosystem. Support from government and industry reform. Support to deal with mental health and abuse in restaurants, to develop and coach the leaders of the future, to create and innovate. Support to find a healthy work-life balance and to make home-grown F&B a viable career in Dubai.
Jesse and Kate took a few moments to explain to their guests about their food philosophy and their ambitions for Lowe. They spoke with sincerity and gratitude that they were able to create and innovate in their own kitchen. They spoke of growing their own produce on site and have plans for an aquaponic system so they can farm their own fish. They acknowledged the support they had received by the community as well.
They also explained that the dessert was designed as a palette cleanser, a soft refresher to bring the meal to a gentle end. If that was a gentle end, then they should have written season 8 of Game of Thrones.
If the scallops were the North Sea, the dessert, sour gooseberry, sweet ginger, and persimmon was like a chemical peel for the mouth. It was sharp, intense, and concentrated. It was also delicious.
When it comes to support, in my opinion, the F&B industry globally, has a habit of disconnecting itself from other industries, and within itself becomes isolated and distant from one another. The industry suffers significantly from the weight of expectation. The expectation that restaurants are the magic bullet that will save retail, that the restaurant industry will solve over-farming, and sustainability and our world’s oceans or that restaurants can survive the crippling effects of disruptive online business models. But perhaps most importantly, the expectation to single-handedly keep Instagram filled with content.
However, what is clear is that support is a two-way street, and people in other industries have faced similar challenges in their past. We would do well to take inspiration from parallel industries, from overcoming obstacles, introducing regulations, and collaborating so we can power through to a better tomorrow.
What struck me most was this was a table of highly influential individuals with talent, drive, and ambition. More importantly, these were people with purpose and determination and a vested interest in Dubai’s F&B landscape. If talent like this is leading the charge for local home-grown F&B, then we are in safe hands. A new wave is coming, Dubai.
Kate Christou, Jesse Blake and the team at Lowe.
Tom Arnel for hosting
And the attendees: –
Liz Stevenson, Reif Othman, Alex Stumpf, Mohammad Orfali, Scott Price, Neha Mishra, Kathy Johnston, Paul Frangie and Akmal Anuar.