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Interview: Chef Claudio Cardoso – from Sushisamba to Nikki Beach

The pioneering Portuguese chef explains why he chose Dubai and reveals his secret for achieving originality 

Before arriving in Dubai earlier this year to helm the kitchens of Nikki Beach Resort & Spa Dubai, Claudio Cardoso was chef in residence at the James Beard Foundation in New York and group executive chef of Sushisamba, one of the most hotly anticipated and long-awaited restaurants to open in the region. It’s Palm Jumeirah launch is still pending.

Growing up in his native Portugal with a grandmother who was a chef, Claudio Cardoso’s childhood memories begin in the kitchen. When his mother mentioned that there was a cooking school close to the family home, he applied the next day, joining the Chef Academy in Estoril, Portugal at the age of 15. Three years later, he went to university where he studied food production and the culinary arts. For Cardosa, food has been a life-long vocation. CT grilled him about how he got into the business and what he plans to do to shape it in future.

Connecting Travel: How did you get your break in the business?
Claudio Cardoso:
I started very young and as I was one of the best students I was always selected for the best internships. From the moment I entered a kitchen as an intern, it never stopped. My first internship was at Lapa Palace, an Orient Express Luxury hotel in Lisbon.

CT: What professional achievements are you most proud of?
CC: I’ve managed to prove that younger chefs are able to progress towards higher roles and bigger responsibilities; I became the group executive chef of Sushisamba worldwide at the age of 29 and building such a successful brand allowed me to prove that. I’m proud to have travelled the world, and of becoming an ambassador for Cool Earth after my first visit to the Amazon rain forest.

Seaweed Taco, Cornetto, Mango Salad, Candy Tomatoes

CT: What made you decide to move to Dubai?
CC: Before moving to Dubai I had offers to work in Hong Kong, Miami and London. I have worked in all these places in the past and know them quite well, but my intent is to build my family and have children.

Dubai is a wonderful place for that; there’s no safer place to raise a family

CT: How do you rate the F&B scene in Dubai, compared to other destinations?
CC:
 It’s extremely cosmopolitan when it comes to food. It reminds me of New York and London in some ways. There are positive things happening with local producers and the market is becoming more aware of quality products and local production. One area were Dubai could improve is in creativity, rather than focusing on what other places are doing. This tends to generate a lack of originality and identity.

CT: You’re passionate about sustainability. How are you incorporating your ethos into your dishes and the wider F&B operations?
CC: When it comes down to respecting our planet, chefs need to be pioneers of changing their menus and choices. They are responsible for what enters the business, and, more importantly, chefs must ask questions.

Many chefs take the word of their suppliers for granted and that’s the wrong approach to start with

Overall we try to source locally as much as possible and we doing a good job when it comes to that. When we can’t find local products, we work with producers who are aligned with our philosophy to do the right thing for the planet.

The focus is quality over quantity. All of our meat is grass-fed, all our fish and shellfish is either locally sourced or from sustainable productions. The majority of our vegetables and salads are locally grown, and our eggs and milk are locally produced. Our culinary philosophy is indeed a lot of work, but challenges help makes us better version of ourselves.

Candy tomatoesCandy tomatoes

CT: How do you keep your team motivated?
CC: Unfortunately, I had to learn from the mistakes of others. I do things in a way that I would have appreciated when I was a young chef in training. I spend time with all my chefs and whoever wants to improve and become better will progress. I mentor them and hopefully contribute to them becoming better human beings as well. I believe in educating young chefs who will continue working toward the same philosophy of sustainability.

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CT: Post-pandemic, what’s your strategy for recovery?
CC: Fortunately, the UAE has not suffered as much as other countries. The industry in Dubai almost never stopped. The pandemic has given people opportunities to appreciate things differently and look at life with a better perspective. I believe the only thing that has changed for us is that we have to use a mask. Business is going well. We keep busy and our supply chains are working like before. We are very much blessed for that.

CT: What does Nikki Beach Resort & Spa have to offer guests that other Dubai hotels don’t?
CC: It’s a peaceful resort with beautiful turquoise water. It has got great waves to surf, and impeccable, friendly service without being pretentious at all. Celebrating life is our motto and this is palpable throughout the resort. There’s something about the place that makes you feel like you could be anywhere in the world. In regards to the food, we are doing a ‘Down to Earth’ menu every other Thursday, with locally and ethically sourced products that perfectly showcases our philosophy.

For more information, visit www.nikkibeach.com

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