In this interview we present Steven Peter, who worked his way up the career ladder and now works as a executive chef in Dubai.

STARTING OUT AS A CHEF

What motivated you to become a chef?

My grandmother was a great cook. I loved her food, which was always on the table when I came home after kindergarten. From a young age I already began to appreciate food, so I chose the food technology class at school. There were times when my mother had to eat cakes and desserts every day for weeks on end. I thought about making this hobby my profession. That was when I decided to become a chef.

You trained as a chef in the Bavarian spa town of Bad Kissingen. Were things very traditional and German there?

I trained in an international à la carte restaurant. My head chef had spent many years working on a ship, so the cuisine was inspired by local but also many international dishes. We had sheikhs from the Middle East and Asia as customers, who enriched the character of the restaurant and the experience of the chefs – especially mine!

 What did you find best about training as a chef here in Germany, and what do you think could be different to make it more international?

The dual training system in Germany prepares apprentices for their future job by means of a balance of theory and practice, allowing them to acquire experience and skills whilst training. With my Indian colleagues, on the other hand, the focus of their training was on theory, which was mostly taught in school facilities. The German system teaches pupils how to be organised and precise, which is a great advantage in professional life.

WORKING IN AN INTERNATIONAL TEAM

What was your first impression of a large and international kitchen?

It was overwhelming. At first I was the arrogant young European guy who thought he knew everything, but very soon this attitude saw me fall flat on my face. I realised that I had a lot to learn. That’s why I actually put more effort than other chefs into working precisely, into doing more in my spare time than my rivals, so that I could become a better cook than everyone else.

With the same employer, you managed to become junior chef and then sous-chef. Was Madinat Jumeirah planning a career for you?

An important part of my career was my time at PIERCHIC, an award-winning fish restaurant in Madinat, where I ended up working as a junior chef and sous-chef before being promoted to CDC. I learned a lot about produce and ingredients, about developing menus and how to manage my own team. In this respect I drove myself to achieve more. We won the “Best Seafood in Dubai” competition three times. At the same time, my mentor Sebastian Nohse saw potential in me. Working with him for the last 7 years has made me the chef I am today.

DUBAI: A NEW WORLD TO LIVE AND WORK

In 2012 you worked as chef de cuisine at Al Qasr in Madinat Jumeirah, where you headed a team of 50 chefs. What did you think of this new experience as a manager?

When I started my career, I wanted to become a CDC one day and move to Dubai. But I realized that CDC wasn’t enough for me. I knew I wanted to become an executive chef, and I understood that it wouldn’t be enough to just understand the restaurant business. I made the change and took responsibility for the many options in Al Qasr, which included an award-winning buffet restaurant, a night bar, two in-room dining services, a lobby lounge and function rooms for up to 400 guests. It was a big change in my career, from 16 to 75 chefs, so I had to adapt my leadership style in order to stay focused, be more organised, train the chefs the way I wanted them, and, most importantly: I had to trust the people around me and give them responsibility for their own areas.

The next step saw you promoted to the role of executive sous-chef at JW Marriott in Dubai, where you led a large team of 300 chefs, managed banquet events with up to 1400 people, and were responsible for 14 restaurants and bars: Did you still have time to simply cook and create new dishes?

If you visit my Instagram accounts yes_chef_sp and a_chefs_life, you will see some of the dishes I prepared on the side for promotions, magazine photo shoots and the national team. The JW Marriott Marquis is a real powerhouse, we have some of the best chefs in town working there at the hotel, with some of the best restaurants the country has to offer. There are days when it’s an admin job and I spend all day writing menus or setting procedures, but then I also have these top VIP events or promotions where I give my all and spend the whole day in the kitchen. At the same time, I am still the captain of the United Arab Emirates national team, and we meet each week to develop new ideas for dishes for competitions in Singapore, Hong Kong or the Olympic Games in Germany or the World Cup in Luxembourg.

CURRENT TRENDS IN DUBAI

What is the latest trend in Dubai’s culinary scene?

Dubai is perhaps one of the fastest growing cities in the world. I remember a time when there were 2000 restaurants in the city, but now there are over 9500 registered. There are so many products on the market and the demand is the same as a few years ago. You have some amazing places here in Dubai, with some of the best chefs I’ve met, and at the same time there are these hidden treasures in the industrial area that you will only find if you go looking for them. Many restaurants in Dubai are now focusing on healthy, local produce sourced from organic farms in the United Arab Emirates.

If you were to open your own restaurant, where would it be and what would you specialise in?

Seafood and sharing concepts – delicious, because I had the best time of my career in Pierchic and it is so versatile to use in so many dishes, such as raw, cured, boiled, roasted, confit. At Pierchic the emphasis was on great food, so everyone had a plate in front of them and just a small selection on the menu. I want people to come, look at the menu, and not know what to order because they would rather try it all. That’s why I would serve small portions, but bursting with flavour, creative and well developed.

WHAT MAKES DUBAI SO SPECIAL

What is it about Dubai that makes working there so appealing to chefs?

The produce – you can get everything in Dubai from scallops from the US or Japan, to amazing beef from all over the world, and seafood from every ocean, such as Glacier 51, a Patagonian toothfish found 4900 km southwest of Australia, almost in the Antarctic.

What do you do in your free time in Dubai? Eat out and look for local dishes…?

I like hunting! So if I have free time, I like to go to the new places in town or to the hidden ones and try pop-up restaurants that are perhaps only here for a month. Every now and then I go to a high-end restaurant for a special occasion or if one of my friends has developed a new menu.

Many young European chefs would love to work in the Middle East for a while. Would you have any suggestions or tips for them? Perhaps on how to get started once they have more experience – is it best to start with an international hotel group, or maybe with an internship, etc.?

Come if you are young but mature enough to get on with more than 200 different nationalities. When I came to Dubai, I was making 500 euros and had my apartment and transport paid for, and from January I became executive chef for two restaurants: Ritz Carlton Properties in the UAE. My advice: Don’t do it for the money, but instead because you loving cooking, which is why you want to cook with some of the very best chefs. Dubai recognises great talent; after two years, I beat 150 other applicants to be named young chef of the year.