Doha

When a Chef and a Food Blogger Face Off – in Conversation with the Mondrian’s Simon Winchester

With its fanciful and space age design and celebrity chef styled restaurants, the Mondrian Doha is already shaking up the food scene in Qatar.

These include international brands such as CUT and Morimoto as well as Qatari restaurant Walima, casual Hudson Tavern, and bars Black Orchid and Rise. In addition, the much loved Magnolia Bakery has also found a home in the hotel’s sci fi movie set lobby. You can check my blog Facebook page for my first takes on two of these outlets.

This is the first foray into the Middle East by edgy hotel brand SBE – complete with its gold plated elevator, Swarovski crystal chandeliers and I Dream of Jeannie bathrooms. But it’s the food and beverage offerings that have had foodies excited.

I’ve visited two of the outlets – CUT and Hudson Tavern, and there is a lot to like about both of them. Interesting food, great decor and very attentive service.

Like the hotel, this post a big departure from my usual fare.

I had a chance to grill the Mondrian’s Executive Chef Simon Winchester, he’s also had the opportunity to turn the tables and shine a light on me. SQUIRM!

In a wide ranging Q&A we cover everything from the idiosyncracies of the local market to the responsibilities of being a blogger and…vegan cheese – it’s a full and frank exchange of views.

Rachel Morris: In Conversation with – Chef Simon John Winchester.

ChefSimon-ExecutiveChef-MondrianDoha

In conversation with Simon Winchester

What sets this hotel apart from the rest?

Well everything really, from the interior design by Marcel Wanders to our falcon tower exterior as well as most importantly our service and the lifestyle offer we provide. We are not a traditional hotel. We want our guests to experience a new reality when they step through the front doors. We have a lot of unique dining options including some first to market concepts that we are really excited about such as Hudson Tavern, a burger bar as well as Walima, the first Arabic, Qatari restaurant redefining Qatari hospitality in Doha!

How have you adjusted your style to your new market?

Yes and no. You must adjust your style each place you go. It’s a constant learning curve. What you find spicy for example, someone else may find bland. In Walima, for example, there won’t be any garlic, because you must adapt to certain flavour profiles. If you present something new that people can identify with half, then the job is done.

What has been some of the strangest requests you have received from a guest?

In one of the countries I worked in, I did not have caviar and the caviar was flown in on a private jet just for the guest!

CUT-MondrianDoha_designMarcelWanders

CUT at the Mondrian Doha

What’s the one thing you would never cook?

I would never cook shark fin, and I believe in sustainability. If something hurts the environment I will not use it. At Mondrian, we always source ethically. We have done so by sourcing locally from Agrigo which produces organic lettuce, tomato and cucumber and we want to support locally. Our ingredients are predominantly Qatari ensuring we have reduced our carbon footprint.

I have recently come full circle and won’t eat Fois Gras based on ethical reasons, what do you think of this?

I enjoy Fois Gras. Forced fed ducks to plump up the liver is not for me. If I had to source for the restaurant we work with only ethical suppliers, and make sure our due diligence is done.

What do you think of food trends such as unicorn ice cream, and charcoal burgers?

You are always going to get food trends where things are always a bit off the wall, off the chart and a bit of fun. I like seeing these! It’s all good fun especially with food trucks. It’s a transient thing. I prefer cooking consistently that can evolve with time.

What’s the one food you won’t eat?

I’ll try anything but not shark fin. I do not eat sugar and I don’t like processed food. I don’t drink fizzy drinks either. I enjoy food, but it must be nutritional.

What’s your favourite type of cheese?

My wife’s vegan cheese!

And now…my time to be in the hot seat!

Rachel Morris  – In Conversation with Chef Simon

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As a food blogger you have reviewed a number of restaurants, why do you think famed international restaurants such as Cut and Morimoto are so important for the local food scene?

Qatar’s foodies are by their very nature an international bunch who also have high standards. They have also traveled widely. As a result of this, I believe that there is a high demand for international “names” in the food industry to be competitive. Because of this I think it’s important for international brands to bring their offerings to Doha – be that celebrity restaurants or other high profile restaurants. On a local level, it also helps to keep the scene competitive and offer a new dimension for diners.

What was your reaction when you heard Mondrian Doha was opening eight restaurants and bars?

I’m going to be honest, it’s been a quiet year on the hospitality front in Doha, with few big name openings. So the Mondrian has been greatly anticipated and a little shrouded in mystery. I’m always excited to see more diverse offerings on the food scene in Qatar.

What is your favourite local cuisine in Qatar and why?

Qatar is so diverse and multicultural and I’ve been able to sample some incredible food over my 10 years here. As for local food, I love machboos (chicken and rice), especially the mix of spices involved. I also love a good shwarma with lots of spicy sauce.

 As a food blogger how do you balance service, presentation and taste when you review a restaurant?

Let’s be honest, first impressions count. If something isn’t right with the service, you could be eating the best meal of your life but the one thing you remember isn’t that. It’s the service. Honestly, for me, presentation is secondary as sometimes the best food looks a bit dodgy!

How you maintain integrity and authenticity as a blogger in Qatar?

This is the QR64,000 question. For me transparency is the key as is authenticity. Readers can’t trust you if you are not up front about whether the meal was free or special consideration was given. I don’t think there is enough of that in the blogging world.

Out of all the food fads you have seen what has been your worst and favourite?

Food fads. GAH! For me the worst has been serving food in and on anything but plates and glasses – shovels, trolleys, socks – you get the drift. I also can’t handle the rainbow food trend. I DO NOT want a multi -colored bagel. Favorite? Well, tacos seem to be an enduring food trend and what is not to love about that?

 You’ve done a lot of travelling, what has been some of the most unique cuisines you have eaten?

I would have to say crocodile in Northern Australia and snake wine in Vietnam. Never again.

What’s the one food you could eat all day?

That’s easy – cheese! And Chinese dumplings. But not together…hang onnnn.

Is there something you would never eat?

Here’s my deepest, darkest foodie confession. I’m actually a little squeamish. So I’m not a massive fan of organ meat and offal. I know foodies who go gaga for things like sweetbreads but I can’t do that. It’s a texture thing. Plus – sweat glands people!

Thank you to Chef Simon for being a good sport and taking part in this Q&A. Have you been to Mondrian Doha yet?

 

 

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