Disruptive innovation is a common theme across many, if not all, industry sectors nowadays. As in many other cases, the culinary world has also witnessed its rules being rewritten, with many chefs from around the world building their own enterprises to conquer the dining sector. So, how are they going about doing this? We asked some chefs who have embarked on such entrepreneurial endeavors in the MENA region to tell us their stories. Here's what Alexis Couquelet, Partner, The Alleyway Group, and Group Executive Chef, Couqley, had to say.
“To climb to the top of the chef profession, I believe it is extremely important to have passion for what you do. Passion leads to dedication and devotion, which every chef should possess to succeed. A chef must also be creative to constantly improve recipes and menus. This is an integral part of business that keeps customers coming back. Business skills and organizational skills set a good chef apart from the pack. Being at the top of the chef profession requires the ability to work on multiple tasks at once, continuously motivating your team, and being cost-effective.”
How do you turn a passion for food into a profitable business?
“I found my balance, because I was lucky enough to work with great partners and build a fantastic team who share our common vision. My personal culinary vision for Couqley is to transport customers into a great authentic bistro tucked away in the tiny streets of Paris. If you visit Couqley you will feel this cozy ambience in our dining room and you will experience authentic French cuisine. In my eyes, Couqley’s authentic experience sets us apart from being perceived as commercial.
In addition, I rely on the following three pillars. Firstly, noble ingredients since a chef must always find the best raw materials possible. For me, it is not only important to get a good deal on the items purchased for my business, but I must ensure the best tasting and the highest quality ingredients. Secondly, food waste management. After securing a consistent supply chain of high-quality produce, I make certain to use as much of the produce in my dishes as possible.
Thirdly, star dishes are important because a chef’s creativity is revealed through the execution and presentation of a dish. A chef’s business acumen will be measured by the performance of that dish. At Couqley, one of my star dishes is the Steak Frites. It’s a dish I created many years ago using high quality beef filet, beautiful and consistently good French fries, and it is served in my special Couqley Sauce. Our three Couqley restaurants [Couqley Gemmayze Beirut, Couqley Blueberry Square Beirut, and Couqley UAE] sell more than 55,000 Steak Frites per year.”
How have you gone about putting a good team together for your enterprise?
“Building a successful team is not easy. It takes years of experience managing, understanding the human condition, and building respect between team members themselves and with the management. Couqley is more than just a restaurant, it is a family. My success and the success of chefs around the world can be attributed to their teams.
Being behind the scenes in the kitchen is very different than what we see on TV these days. There is so much pressure on the kitchen during service hours, and thus time for creativity is minimal. The kitchen is the engine of a restaurant, and the engine never stops. During down times, however, I like to challenge my chefs and let them develop dishes that they think would be loved by our diners.”
What are some of the trends you expect in this sect or in the future?
“I wouldn’t say that technology has revolutionized the culinary world (yet), especially in a full-service restaurant format. However, technology has advanced the restaurant industry and has made it more efficient. Even with robots and artificial intelligence, you still need a creator, a visionary, to develop the taste and smells and flavors of a dish, something technology can’t do (yet). On that note, technology has made the execution process of food (cooking), cheaper and more efficient, especially in the fast food and quick service formats.
We believe a big trend in the culinary world is the focus on healthy food concepts, a.k.a. farm-to-table. We see more restaurants trying to source organic, locally grown products to create healthy menu options. Another growing trend is street food, or street-food-chic. Street food festivals, night markets, food trucks, and food halls are becoming popular and ethnic street food has exploded on to the culinary scene. So much of our daily lives are on the go, so that trends, such as street food and healthy street food, will not be going away anytime soon.”
Couqley co-founder and Managing Director Ziad Kamel's dos and don'ts for running a business
Have a solid understanding of the business of restaurants. Invest enough time to build a solid, well-trained, and loyal team.
Know how important a comprehensive marketing strategy is for building topof- mind brand awareness and driving customers to your restaurant.
... expect your restaurant to become successful only because the food is good.
… expect that hiring a highly-paid executive chef means that your kitchen will run smoothly.
… be impatient, there are no shortcuts. Building a successful restaurant brand requires time, dedication, sacrifice, and perseverance.