Front of house
Previously the regional executive chef for Zuma, covering Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Miami, Hong Kong, New York, and Istanbul, the Singapore-born chef Reif Othman left to the join RAW Galadari Holdings and Absolute F&B Facilities as chief culinary officer. The chef opened Play on the 36th floor of Dubai’s H Hotel in 2015, and The Experience, a private dining concept, followed a year later.
Having struck a chord with the city’s gastronomes, The Experience is back for its second season after taking a break over the summer. Speaking to Caterer about how the concept was conceived, Othman says: “We opened up Play first and let everything get to the point where it was running smoothly. The kitchen at Play was pretty small, so I thought of having a research and development (R&D) kitchen. We had the 37th floor that we were using as a storage area, so I made it into an R&D kitchen. Then I thought, let’s do a small place, like my apartment.”
In fact, the chef was heavily involved with the look and feel of the restaurant. With help from the group’s in-house designer, he sourced most of the pieces from Marina Home and The One: “You’ll see we have the lounge, the dining area, and the balcony. You basically feel at home. It’s not a restaurant or a chef’s table.”
Othman hosts 12 diners per seating, with two seatings per night. His approach is hands-on: “Front-of-house doesn’t serve the food, it’s me and the chefs. I explain the food to the guests, so it’s very personal; I want to engage with my guests.”
For Othman, this was a way of not losing touch with what drew him to the industry in the first place — relating to people through food: “I have to make sure that I’m the host. The majority of chefs don’t do that in Dubai. It’s good for me to get close to my guests because I’ll know what their preferences are for the next time, and they also get to know who I am. So far, the majority of our guests have come back, and a lot of them were surprised that such a place existed in Dubai.”
Despite the success of both venues, simultaneously running a restaurant and personally hosting up to 30 guests a night is not without its challenges: “I’m not going to lie, it’s hard work, but I’m a cook and this is my craft. I’m not the kind of chef who walks around holding a file and calls himself a chef. I feel like this is me. I love to cook. I don’t want to lose my touch.”