Joey Ghazal is the busiest man in Dubai.* While everybody else was in lockdown, the serial gastropreuneur was not only pivoting his business to a delivery model for the pandemic, and masterminding the opening of The Maine Land Brasserie, housed in Zaha Hadid's masterpiece The Opus, but he also started filming a compelling new cooking show with Grazia Middle East called The Sizzle.
In this first-of-its-kind new series, Grazia Middle East joins the Dubai restaurant scene's very own rock star in his own home as he elevates everyday dishes into fine-dining experiences, using the freshest ingredients delivered to your door, with a focus on supporting and celebrating local farms, fisheries, producers and suppliers.
Every episode will be served with a generous helping of creativity, community and isolation inspiration. Watch out for guest appearances from his friends and fellow restauranteurs as they share recipes and cooking ideas for a never-seen-before fusion of Dubai's It-eateries.
Here Joey reveals why he believes food is love, his steps towards sustainability, and what to expect from The Sizzle...
What are the ingredients needed in order to cause a stir on the restaurant scene in the way that you have? And is there a recipe?
I’ve been in the restaurant industry for over 20 years, so experience is definitely part of it. I like to visualise each of my restaurants as if they were a person: how would they look, how they dress, how they sound, what kind of music they listen to, who are their friends and so on. It helps me cultivate the identity of the concept and helps keep my bearings now that I have four restaurants.
Food is love. True or false?
Fact. Some people treat food as fuel. I've always prefereed to see food as love and inspiration.
What’s your guilty food pleasure?
My weakness is chocolate and particularly chocolate ice cream. I can’t eat just a cup, I will always polish off the whole tub.
What’s been your most memorable meal and why?
It’s hard to pick just one, but I would say anything coastal where you can eat barefoot, where the seafood is caught right in front of you and grilled with a fresh salad made from the garden.
Who are your dream dinner guest - living or dead - and why?
Anthony Bourdain for his contribution to food and to travel and for just being an all-around legend.
How did you manage to open the hottest new restaurant in town during a pandemic?
With great difficulty! The third outpost of The Maine was ready to open before we went into lockdown, but the universe had other plans. I’m just happy that we managed to open all three of our outlets, that we were able to get our team back to work and that The Maine Land Brasserie in Business Bay is being so well received.
What sets a dining experience at The Maine apart from any other restaurant in Dubai?
It’s a combination of honest brasserie food, friendly service and great value. But mostly it’s about the atmosphere which is always warm, inviting and transports you to another time making you feel like you’ve been a regular forever.
How would you like to see the restaurant landscape evolve in Dubai?
There is a big barrier to entry in Dubai. The competition and the cost of opening restaurants in this city is high and the risk is even higher. I would love to see a day when former chefs, waiters or maître d's can afford to open their own restaurants in Dubai, especially in under-serviced areas like Satwa, Bastakiyah and Bur Dubai. This will create a more diverse restaurant landscape with a richer food culture.
How are you making your guests feel safe during a global pandemic?
Apart from following government regulation in terms of masks, gloves and social distancing, we implemented a range of additional safety measures like disinfection gates that kill 99.9 per cent of all germs and noroviruses, printed our menus on single use disposable table mats in order to reduce contact surfaces and we moved all of our sanitation stations in plain sight so that guests can feel more comfortable.
What are the toughest challenges the restaurant community has to face in the months ahead?
Make no mistake, these are still very uncertain times and we have yet to see the full effect that COVID-19 has had on the economy. Restaurants need to react more quickly and more decisively than ever before. We don’t yet know what the next 12 months will look like, so adaptability and flexibility are key.
What does sustainability look like in the food industry? How are your restaurants working to be more sustainable?
Delivery is one of the highest perpetrators of plastic waste, so we eliminated all single-use plastics from our home delivery packaging and replaced them with completely biodegradable materials derived from corn starch, sugar bagasse and repurposed wood. We are also in the process of looking at ways to use our discarded oyster shells to help the environment.
What are your restaurants doing to support the region?
It’s more important than ever to support local. There are almost 40,000 UAE farms and fisheries to choose from, so we are truly spoilt for choice! We had to narrow it down to 15 local farms that we are using in our menus and we have gone as far as listing the ingredients and the supplier on our Maine Essentials menu.
Are the rumours true about The Maine Cookbook?
Fortunately they’re true! It has been a lifelong dream of mine. The Maine Cookbook won’t only showcase the recipes of our most popular dishes, but will also include our signature sips and the inspiration behind the design.
What can our audience expect from The Sizzle?
Viewers can expect some recipes from The Maine menu, but mainly The Sizzle is about elevating your everyday dishes into restaurant quality experiences. It’s also an homage to the comfort food that I’ve grown up with, cuisine that has influenced me over the years and dishes that hold a special meaning to me.
*And the most delicious
- Find The Maine Land Brasserie, Business Bay on the ground floor of ME BY Melia Hotel, Opus by Zaha Hadid, Business Bay, Dubai. For reservations, call +971(0)4 577 6680 or book online here.
Photos: Natalie Lines