Izu Ani, the mastermind behind popular French-style restaurant La Serre in Downtown Dubai, talks about what it means to be a chef in Dubai, his upcoming culinary research lab and why he’s convinced the emirate’s restaurant scene will soon outstrip London’s
I started out in Dubai when I opened a branch of Le Petit Maison. After I left that venture I wanted to stay in Dubai because it’s a growing place, and if you are a creative person, determined and ambitious, you can carve out a niche for yourself. You can help society grow if you have the mindset of giving back instead of having a transit mentality, like people who have their suitcases ready to leave at any time. I didn’t have that.
So I got into a partnership with property developer Emaar. They had the space and I had the idea and we created something I think is very good. For me, I’m still only at 40 per cent of where I want to be, so next year we want to hit that remaining 60 per cent through hard work. And Emaar is allowing me to develop. I am creating my own space at the moment, a research kitchen just at the back of the restaurant. It will be a research and development lab, which allows me to look at every recipe idea before it comes on. I am always the kind of person questioning myself to do more so that environment is going to give me space to be creative. The space has already been allocated to us over two levels. Hopefully, it will come alive during the second or third quarter of next year.
We are also going to have a cooking class that will involve so many segments of society. We want to help society learn how to eat better. So we will create the space where we invite school kids to come and learn the elements of eating well, and they can take that back to their homes. I am not a teacher, but I am a person who can share his knowledge and would be pleased to do that.
As for the restaurant industry here it’s definitely growing and that’s fantastic because it keeps everyone on their toes. Of course, in every place there’s good and bad. It all depends what mentality you have when you get into this industry. A lot of people come in with the mentality of ‘Oh, there’s a lot of money to be made’. But if you say ‘I want to create and share something and talk about a story or my culture through my food’, and basically give back to society, it makes a big difference.
Of course, we are all here to work, but we are also here to give pleasure. When I designed this place, I put a lot of thought into it, and for me it’s the most beautiful kitchen in Dubai. Even in London you wouldn’t be able to afford this. I wanted to build an environment where I can create, and where my chefs can be creative.
Also, we shouldn’t forget that Dubai has more choice when it comes to products. We have the best meat from Australia and Canada. I can use asparagus when it’s seasonal in England and at different times of the year when it’s seasonal in Australia, so it’s always fresh and available. That’s why the quality here is going to outstrip London as the market becomes more aggressive, and this is why I love Dubai. It’s fun and colourful. You can experiment and be creative.
From a personal point of view, Dubai’s a great place to raise a family. Being married with two kids from London, I wanted to have my kids grow up in an environment that would allow them to express themselves and to evolve. Many people have misconceptions about the city, but I believe you can do anything here. If you are creative, you can do anything.