Reif Othman – Executive Chef and Business Partner at SumosanTwiga
Reif Othman is working in Japanese restaurant Sumosan. Reif Othman teamed with businessman Flavio Briatore and elevate the Sumosan brand to the next level. Today Reif talks about his beginnings, the different cuisines that he has come to know on his culinary journey and how he would survive on a lonely island with a knife, a pot and a mixing bowl.
A Chef portrait of Reif Othman
Reif, you have been working as a Chef in several places like Singapore, Dubai, Turkey or London. Where did your culinary journey start? When did you know you want to become a Chef?
It started in Singapore where my mum ran a small Indonesian food stall in a school tuckshop. I will spend my mornings where I’ll accompany my mum to the wet market to get her groceries for the day.
I remember watching Jacque Pepin in the tv show, and that’s where it struck me to explore the culinary world beyond my mum’s stall. Back then, it wasn’t my intention to be a chef, I just wanted to gain more knowledge about the culinary in world. I wasn’t your typical grade A student and I must say that I have exceeded even my own expectations.
How important do you think it is to get experiences as a Chef in foreign countries?
It is important at the young age for chefs to travel and see other countries. To experience the culture, people, ingredients and technique of cooking first hand. Having said that, I know to some people travel is a luxury, so what I am trying to say is, if the opportunity comes, grab it. It could be that you get to travel for job or leisure. To have an open mind is key.
Because you have worked in these countries you learned a lot about different cuisines. What is typical for Singapore cuisine in your opinion? How is Singapore cuisine different from others?
A typical Singaporean cuisine is Chicken Rice, Nasi Lemak, Prata with Curry and Kaya Toast with Soft boiled eggs.
Singaporean cuisine is diverse and contains elements derived from several ethnic groups, as a result of its history as a seaport with a large immigrant population. Influences include the cuisines of the native Malays the largest ethnic group, the Chinese and the third largest ethnic group, the Indian as well as Indonesian, Peranakan and Western traditions (particularly English and Portuguese -influenced Eurasian). This is really different from others, where we are in a very small country and yet boasts such multi cuisine. Unlike in others, example Italy, they go by the region (Sardinia/Venice/Napoli and etc.) of cuisine but still Italian.
When working in foreign countries, do you try to let your roots be part of the dishes, to get them something typical? Is there anything that might be typical for your culinary style?
Not at all, as I want to stick with what I have learned and stay focus on it. Same time, Singaporean cuisine is not a cuisine that I want to meddle with. Singaporean cuisine has to be authentic and pure. Some chefs do try to make it much more interesting. Instead of changing the taste of the dish, I tried to incorporate ingredients. I’ve made Wagyu Cheek Rendang Lasagne, and Chilli Crab by using Softshell Crab instead of the usual mud crab.
Today you work as Executive Chef and Business Partner at SumosanTwiga. What is working at these multi award winning places like? What does it take to work there?
The whole idea of me working alongside with Flavio Briatore, is to grow his empire wider and to look for opportunities to expand. Sumosan has been in around a long time and as more and more Japanese restaurants coming into the market, I need to ensure that we are on top of our game. My job is to elevate the Sumosan brand to the next level. That doesn’t mean a full menu overhaul. I will be focusing on product development, menu expansion, implementation of new dishes and improving plating presentation.
Listening to them as a team makes the whole journey smooth and better and closer like a family. – Reif Othman
Has there been an experience in your career as a Chef that was life changing?
Especially after treating my cooks badly by shouting or not listening to them, I received such low morale in the kitchen, I felt that I didn’t command any respect, instead I was this chef that keeps yelling.
I have now learned to speak at their level and try to understand what it is that they are not getting when I gave instructions, speaking directly to each individual. Listening to them as a team makes the whole journey smooth and better and closer like a family.
ArabianBusiness.com listed you as one of the Dubai 100 – the most influential people in the Emirate? Do you feel like an influential person?
I’m not an influencer and I’m not there yet but I am honoured at that listing as I am not an influencer or don’t feel like one for that matter. I feel proud that they have me and I represented South East Asia.
I guess, having only moved to Dubai, taking the helm of Executive Chef in Zuma Dubai after 2 years being with them and putting Zuma on the culinary map bagging the top 100 best restaurant in the world by San Pellegrino, 4 years in a row, was a huge achievement for me. After a successful 6-year stint in Zuma, moving on to Play restaurant to start something new, was a challenge that changed my life.
Everyone makes mistakes that you do not do a second time. Have there been mistakes made by you, you can laugh about now? Is there a funny anecdote?
Once I threw a plate to my chef’s chest and told him to re-do the dish. He had to do it of course, albeit unwillingly. To think back, that commis of mine was double my size and now thinking about it, I was lucky I didn’t get hammered by him after the shift.
Is there any current trend in the culinary world you cannot understand and that is not worth the hype?
Fermentation. When this process is already been done years ago.
How do you imagine a nearly perfect gastronomic world?
To have chefs with passionate heart in cooking, to have a best product and ingredients.
If you were on a lonely island and you could take five ingredients and three tools with you – what would they be and which dishes you still could create?
Salt, chilli, eggs, flour, oil. Knife, pot & mixing bowl.
Grilled catch of the day, chili herbs aioli and warm pita bread.
Are there any places you would like to visit and study the food culture and cuisine? Where in the world you would like to work as a Chef one day?
It will be any African country to understand their cuisine plus I’ve never been to Africa and would love to one day.
I would like to be in Ireland in the city of Dublin or Galway. As the country has a lot to offer in terms of fresh produce and no one has spoken of Irish food so outspokenly. So, I would like to make that happen.
Thank you very much, Reif!
Chef Reif Othman likes to gain some experience in an African country or Ireland.
Where do you want to work as a Chef one day? Where have you already been?
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