French national Damien Duviau helms Japanese-Peruvian restaurant, Nobu Dubai, as the executive chef.
Now with two venues in Dubai (Nobu in Atlantis, The Palm and Nobu by the Beach at Atlantis The Royal), Duviau brings over two decades of expertise including stints at Michelin-starred restaurants including Mas Candille in France and 1 Lombard Street in London.
Duviau prides himself for his constant innovation and offers an elevated sophistication in every dish that Nobu is worldly-renowned for including hero dishes such as the black cod miso, salmon nashi pear, lobster tempura and the Nobu-style sushi.
Emirates Man speaks to Chef Damien Duviau to talk about the business of food and the experience and skills he learned throughout his career to bring new levels of success to Nobu, Dubai.
Talk us through your daily routine, the first 30 minutes of the day?
I always start my day by arriving early at Atlantis, The Palm, this gives me time to focus, check emails, plan for the day ahead, and create orders. This way I am all set for the briefings at both Nobu Dubai (Atlantis, The Palm) and Nobu by the Beach (Atlantis The Royal); even though we have a full-time head chef at Nobu by the Beach, I visit the new concept three times a week to support the team and to ensure we are delivering a fantastic new experience that is aligned with the high standards that Nobu is known for. Briefings are very important, here we discuss any special events, VIP guests staying at the hotel and other special plans that require attention.
Can you talk us through your career history and your journey to becoming a renowned chef?
I began my culinary studies at Lycée Hôtelier de Toulouse in 2000, completing a hotelier diploma in 2002 and a professional baccalaureate in 2004. My career then took me to Michelin-starred restaurants including a stint as Commis Chef at Mas Candille restaurant in Mougins, France and London’s 1 Lombard Street restaurant. I then moved to Dubai, UAE, to work as Sous Chef at One&Only Royal Mirage from 2008 to 2010, before joining Nobu at Atlantis, The Palm as Sous Chef. My dedication and talent across the ensuing three years resulted in me having a place at the helm of Nobu Moscow, where I spent five years at before returning to Nobu Dubai.
When did your love for food begin?
My story is very simple. Even though I grew up with my parents, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, she was always cooking. I never admired her skills from afar, I was always right by her side, acting as a sous chef. I would lift pot lids, smell the aroma and taste what was cooking inside. I have many fond moments where I discovered flavours. My uncle was also an enthusiastic chef and he used to take me to different restaurants and taught me to cook when I was little.
What initially inspired you to enter the hospitality realm?
Everything began in my hometown, even my inspirations. Cooking excited me, it was my passion and I always had dreams to become a chef. I started my education in my hometown, Toulouse, at the same culinary school as my uncle. After spending three and a half years at school, that’s when I packed my bags and moved abroad to launch my culinary career.
What eventually bought you to Dubai?
While I was in London, my uncle would visit me and take me to the best restaurants so I could experience what other chefs were doing. One of those times was Nobu London, and during our visit I knew that one day I would work for Nobu. Everything after that dinner happened so quickly — I jumped at the opportunity, packed my bags, said goodbye to the rain and hello to the sunshine and culinary opportunities that awaited me.
In your personal opinion, what are the hero dishes to must try at Nobu Dubai?
This is always a hard question to ask, not because I can’t choose but because Nobu is an experience for a variety of reasons and flavours — given the range that the menu offers. Yes, if you are going for your very first experience then you must try the Black Cod and the Nobu-style sushi — after all, these are two dishes that took Nobu’s fame to new heights.
There are so many amazing dishes (for their own reasons) on the menu — our signature dishes such as the shitake salad, the lobster tempura as well as new additions like the scallops aji amarillo are fantastic and I highly recommend them.
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Why do you think Nobu Dubai has maintained continued success for such a long span of time?
Nobu has its own identity and while other brands have tried to replicate it, the only place it can ever be experienced is in Nobu. We use quality ingredients, prepared Nobu’s way – which is, very simply. People know what they’re going to get and that it will be a quality amazing experience. I think Nobu Matsuhisa also has a lot to do with this. He always says that no one can truly replicate his recipes because they cannot take his heart that has gone into each and every dish. Every dish has a story that’s special and personal to him. This passion and love for the brand is then ingrained into each member of staff who Nobu personally spends a lot of time with. I think, this is the recipe to our success.
What sets the F&B fine dining industry in Dubai apart from the rest of the world?
Looking at F&B overall, Dubai is a very special place when it comes to dining and that’s because you can find everything here. Think of any cuisine and you’ll find it and it will taste good. Every country is represented and all cuisine styles can be experienced. From high-profile restaurants to homegrown concepts, you have everything in one place – it’s amazing. If I went to France where I am from there are very good French restaurants and Italian restaurants, but it isn’t easy to find a good Chinese or Indian.
What are the hurdles you have experienced throughout your career?
After leaving culinary school in France, I went to work at restaurants in Paris and there I learnt the French technique in the French language, but I always wanted to go abroad and work in other countries — this is where I faced a few hurdles. During my first six months in London, I loved it — but, I did face a language barrier in the kitchen. When I moved to Dubai, I had to adapt to the culture and how the customer was. I like to look at these as learnings rather than hurdles and challenges.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, what have been the milestones?
After my first six months in London, I accelerated in my career and had various promotions. From arriving in Nobu Dubai to going to Nobu Moscow, and then back to Nobu Dubai where I became executive chef — these are all highlights of my career. I now play a very big role in Nobu corporate, and I look forward to the opportunities that lay ahead.
As a highly accomplished chef, you have developed an elegant and approachable signature style. What sets your cooking style apart?
I started cooking in Michelin restaurants where everything was made in a complex manner, with multiple ingredients and techniques. At Nobu our philosophy and way of cooking are simple; we use the best ingredients and create dishes in a simple way. This is how people can understand what they eat and enjoy it.
How does it feel to open in Nobu by the Beach at Atlantis The Royal? How does the restaurant complement the look and feel of the hotel?
We have opened two new Nobu restaurants this year, Nobu Dubai Atlantis, The Palm and Nobu by the Beach. Nobu by the Beach is a new concept and one that compliments the Nobu brand. It’s exciting to take the Nobu menu and reimagine it while ensuring it meets the ultra-luxury standards of Atlantis The Royal. It has been an honour to help spearhead this new Nobu concept.
How does Nobu Dubai in Atlantis, The Palm offer a new experience from its previous location?
The newly reopened Nobu Dubai now offers the most incredible views, a beautifully designed dining area and elevated bar — along with private dining rooms and lounges. With the new Nobu Dubai came new menu items, we wanted to make sure that we complemented the elevated experience. We introduced 15 -20 new menu items, we created a new bar bites menu that would perfectly match the new beverage options that were created by our new Bar Manager, Angelo.
Finally, what are the future plans for Nobu Dubai?
We will continue to deliver culinary excellence for our guests and showcase the best of Nobu. Besides from this, we have a very exciting in-restaurant concept that is due to launch this year, Nobu Privé, and we look forward to sharing more details soon!
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