Michael Ellis, Jumeirah’s new CCO, or Chief Culinary Officer, is a titan in the F&B industry, with over 11 years experience working with Michelin guides and a career in hospitality dating back to when he started working as a busboy at 13 years old. His passion for cuisine is unmatched: having discovered the wonders of sensational cooking on a school trip to France, Ellis joins Jumeirah as the veteran of over 1,500 restaurants across 30 countries.
Brought into the Jumeirah family last year, Ellis is the protagonist in Jumeirah’s mission to make dining the centrepiece of any Jumeirah experience. For him, great dining experiences begin with variation and excitement, qualities that he hopes to continue and build upon during his role as CCO.
We caught up with Ellis to discuss food concepts, new menus, and the competitive F&B market. Here is Michael Ellis on how to make a restaurant stand out from the crowd:
Creating a new dining concept must be hard, where do you begin?
We start by thinking of what our guests would like to eat, and what environment they would like in terms of the ambiance, the music and lighting. It is important to think about the dining experience as a whole, not just a sum of the parts. Our objective is to create a memorable experience for our guests, to inspire them to return and talk about our restaurant with their friends.
What are the first steps? How do you settle on a cuisine?
Several different criteria are looked at in the beginning: what is currently on offer in the immediate vicinity? How will the new concept fit in with our existing restaurant offerings? What is the profile of the guests we want to attract and what is the price point they are looking for? There is always an element of risk when we, or any operator, decides to launch a new concept. We try to limit the downside risk be having the best possible execution in food, service and atmosphere.
Tell us about some of the new menus, chefs and concepts you’ve helped with at Jumeirah since joining
With the corporate F&B team, we have been busy reviewing our existing concepts, trying to ensure that all the menu items on offer are of the highest quality and consistency, providing a great guest experience. We are also looking to refine the menus, concentrating on those items that are really exceptional, for example at Rockfish adding some of chef Marco’s signature Italian dishes. At Summersalt’s new pop up restaurant Umi Shio, we asked Chef Christian to express his talent by developing a special South American-influenced Japanese cuisine, which has been extremely well received. And we are also helping newly opening managed properties develop all of their F&B concepts, whether modern Cantonese, Mediterranean all-day dining, Japanese Kaiseki countertop dining. There seems to be no limit to the projects we are working on.
How much of a concept is weighted towards hotel visitors and how much to local residents?
Certainly our in-house hotel guests are a very important part of our clientele, and we need to make sure that we are providing the dining experience they are looking for. But we also have to consider other key guest segments, such as visitors staying in other hotels, the local Emirati population, expats, etc. The huge proliferation of new dining establishments in Dubai over the last few years has meant more competition, but we are confident that our F&B offer has something for everyone.
How much does a restaurant’s design affect its popularity and performance?
I have seen in Dubai that design, or the look and feel of a restaurant can be just as important as the food. So, we are taking a close look at what we can do to ensure attractive, fun and comfortable venues.
How much input does the chef have into the design, or the designer into the menu?
The chef’s input is absolutely key, because it is the chef and his team that will be executing the day-to-day menu items. It is essential that the chef and the team are comfortable with the recipes, the quality of the ingredients, the necessary prep work, etc., this insures smooth delivery of quality dishes.
How would you compare Jumeirah’s dining concepts to other hotels’ or restaurants’?
Overall the Jumeirah F&B offer is at a very high level compared to our competition. Certainly, we are looking at raising the bar at all of our restaurants, continual improvement is a good thing. It is worth noting that it can be challenging to pull locally-based guests into a hotel for a restaurant meal, but I think Jumeirah does a very good job of doing just that.
How do you try to stay ahead of the competition?
The key to staying competitive is to understand what your guests’ want, and staying fresh, fun and delivering top-notch cuisine. Success in our profession is based on our ability to execute a vision, and I think Jumeirah has shown that we have what it takes to succeed.
What is your personal favourite restaurant in the Jumeirah brand?
If you asked me what my favourite 10 restaurants at Jumeirah were that would be slightly easier! I have visited and eaten at virtually all of the Jumeirah restaurants in Dubai and I can say that I found something in all of them that made me want to return. I especially like the Tempura shrimp at Umi Shio, the Seabass at Rockfish, the Kimchi marinated Flank Steak at The Hide and the Tres Leches cake at Tortuga.