When four European chefs were asked about the downsides of working in Dubai, silence descended. This was not so much because of a breakdown in the technology that had created a live link-up between Chef Conference delegates at the Hilton London Metropole and the chefs sitting in the Dubai Hilton on the Creek, but rather because there are no significant downsides.
Willi Elsener, who took the position of head of food with Jumeirah International's Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management two years ago??, said: "It's a terrific place. All the projects are coming on beyond people's imagination."
Jason Atherton, who runs Verre, Gordon Ramsay's fine-dining restaurant at the Dubai Hilton on the Creek, said he had no regrets about leaving a burgeoning career and a growing reputation in London to join the hotel scene in the Middle East. "It's been a magical move. Obviously there was the great appeal of working with Gordon and I've been able to develop my management style, managing 50 cooks and doing the room service and breakfast."
And Atherton's colleague, Angela Hartnett, executive chef at the Creek, has found being a professional female in the Middle East surprisingly straightforward. "I had no previous experience of the Middle East, but it's not as strict as you think providing you play by the rules. You just have to respect it as a Muslim place," she said.
For Elsener and John Wood, executive chef at the Burj Al Arab hotel, where rooms cost from £400 to £6,000 a night, it's been a smooth transition for their families too. "It's very safe, the schools are good and it's sunny," said Elsener. Wood, whose wife will give birth to their second child in Dubai this summer, agreed it was a good place to bring up a young family. "Facilities are excellent out here, particularly hospitals," he said.
The working days are as tough as any in the hospitality business, however, with long hours and six-day weeks the norm, said the chefs. Atherton also admitted to feeling a bit left out of the London scene, but, like the other chefs, keeps abreast of what's happening at home by reading Caterer.