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Chef Akmal Anuar has remained at the top of the Dubai F&B game for over a decade. Having recently launched his latest concept 11 Woodfire, he discusses with us how he’s sustained a successful career.

Talk us through your career.

My career started in Singapore as Head chef of Iggy’s restaurant, globally known for being the best Asian restaurant that was ranked 26th in the world’s 50 best awards in 2012. After that, I moved to Dubai in late 2013 and started a new venture with Richard Sandoval Hospitality in Starwood. Two years after that I opened 3fils with 2 partners in late 2016 until 2020. In 2020 I launched my first individual project, White Rice Co which had the most disastrous beginnings due to the pandemic. After a painfully hard year, I now have restaurants in Sharjah with Shurooq Investments, Goldfish Sushi Yakitori, a joint venture with Sunset Hospitality and lastly the sensation – 11 Woodfire. 11 Woodfire is my latest project with Atelier House Hospitality that opened its doors in January 2022.

Where does your love for food come from?

I was brought up in a family where food was the centre of our lives. My parents were hawkers and they owned a catering service company. They worked hard their whole lives, I witnesses their passion for business and food and was lucky enough to support them as a teenager. My mum is the most amazing chef, I have never seen her use any scaled or modern utensils, a true gangster in her field. I got that and a lot from her.

11 Woodfire bar

What brought you to Dubai?

Like every expat, we moved to Dubai to discover new opportunities. We came for a life-changing chapter. The series of stages of my life in Dubai has had its fair shares of ups and downs, either way, I always strive to be positive and do better.

Talk us through the concept of 11 Woodfire.

11 Woodfire is a restaurant that serves fresh, top-quality ingredients that are cooked over a woodfire. We keep everything natural and as simple as possible by keeping our waste low and being responsible for the planet. Woodfire cooking dates way back when humankind first discovered cooking. This type of cooking needs patience and intuition. I’m very thrilled to be able to introduce this concept to the city I call home, Dubai.

You have been a key player in the F&B industry in Dubai over the years. How do you sustain such a high level of quality and stay at the top of your game?

Hard work and sincerity are the key. Nothing else tops that.

What are the hero dishes at 11 Woodfire?

I’ve always been a huge fan of seafood and my all-time favourite has to be whole French turbot. It’s a delicious flatfish that doesn’t have scales and it can be very difficult to cook. When the fish is super fresh, the skin produces lots of gelatin and collagen which makes it tricky to grill, so we thoroughly clean the exteriors and hang dry it in the chiller to partially dry it for 2-3 days de- pending on size and age. This process also helps to soften and relax the meat before it gets into the heat. At 11 Woodfire we have created a special tool that we fit the turbot into before grilling, which really helps the cooking process.

“Hard work and sincerity are the keys. Nothing else tops that.”

What sets the F&B industry in Dubai apart from the rest of the world?

Dubai is multicultural and diversified, it is eclectic and never sleeps. This city has welcomed innovation and ideas that have kept everyone on their toes. This is what I think sets Dubai apart from everyone else. A city that doesn’t sleeps. New ventures and ideas pop up constantly. Keeps us on our toes. New blood and energy all the time.

11 Woodfire Oven

You’ve only been open for less than two months and have already attracted royalty to the restaurant. What does this recognition feel like?

Super honoured and blessed. The work is recognized and that is a testament.

What are the hurdles you’ve experienced throughout your career?

Too many hurdles to mention, some of which include; building a professional culture, finding loyalty is one crucial element of running a successful restaurant. Helping people believe they are working for something that is worth their time and life.

What have been the milestones?

I’ve always run one restaurant at a time, but in 2021 alone I opened three restaurants and in 2022 with 11 Woodfire’s over 200 seats is the next challenge for me. A part of my life where I am going through hustle life again. The work and dream never stop. More to come soon. What’s next for 11 Woodfire in 2022? My focus at the moment is 11 Woodfire, it’s a passion project of mine and I am really excited to have brought it to life in Dubai. This spring, start- ing in March and lasting till around May, I have some exciting new openings in New York and KSA, which I am thoroughly looking forward to getting stuck into. 2022 is going to be very busy and hopefully filled with successes and of course, lots of hard work.

March’s – ‘The Sustainability Issue’ – Download Now

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