We catch up with Brain Voelzing to talk about career, culinary ethos and restaurant development in the GCC region.
Brian Voelzing found his culinary passion at a young age, hosting BBQs for family in his hometown of Ottawa, Canada. While kick-starting his career as a chef at Hy’s Steakhouse, Brian attended the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu to complete his culinary degree. Strengthening his skills in the kitchen, Brian spent time working in Toronto and Sydney before venturing to London, where he worked at four AA Rosette restaurant, Chapter One and at the Royal Albert Hall.
Stepping into the role of head chef, Brian moved to the UAE to open and run The Hide Meatery at Dubai’s Al Qasr Jumeirah. Brian then joined Majid Al Futtaim as executive sous chef to oversee the ThEATre by Rhodes VIP experience across the GCC, before taking on the role of group executive chef for Lincoln Hospitality, where he was responsible for Dubai-based outlets TAIKUN, La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie, The Loft at Dubai Opera, and Distillery Gastropub.
Following two successful years of overseeing the four outlets, Brian followed his creative ambitions to Restaurant Secrets Inc. (RSI) as director of operations, responsible for overseeing all culinary operations and conceptualising and creating new restaurants across the GCC.
Tell us a little bit about your new role and how it came to be.
My career so far has taken me through the ranks of the kitchen brigade, from being a commi at my local steakhouse in Ottawa, to Sydney and London working at Michelin restaurants, to most formerly being a group executive chef overseeing some of the best restaurants in Dubai. Taking on my new role as director of operations at Restaurant Secrets Inc. felt like the right next professional step for me. It allows me to be creative and learn a lot about restaurants outside of the kitchen. Some of my job responsibilities include concept and menu development for clients looking to open a restaurant of their own, feasibility studies, menu engineering, staff training, performing kitchen audits, kitchen design and build supervision, and client consultation.
Are there any significant trends you’re noticing at the moment when it comes to restaurant openings in the region?
We are seeing more openings with a product focus. For example, speciality coffee has become incredibly popular and many clients are putting more emphasis on the quality of coffee they are serving. We are also seeing more unique interior designs with a minimalistic approach and the use of natural building materials.
Despite the market downturn, are you still getting many clients looking at opening restaurants in the UAE?
Things are looking up and I’m thankful to be able to say we’ve been very busy recently. We have many upcoming openings with lots of old and new clients wanting to open additional restaurants. The UAE has been incredible in its ongoing recovery from the Covid-19 downturn. I feel we are now on the upturn and we will continue to see more and more restaurant openings across the UAE.
Since the pandemic began, how has RSI adapted to service its clients?
We have still been creating many concepts and doing lots of menu development for new or existing restaurants but since the pandemic began, we noticed the needs of some of our clients were changing. Many clients have existing restaurants and required assistance with the business aspect of getting processes put in place or marketing plans created to boost sales during the downturn. Further to that, we’ve adapted our working methods to service clients that we can’t meet with face-to-face. Most demand has come from KSA – an area seeing a boom in restaurant openings right now – and many operators are coming to us for assistance with staff and culinary training, which we have been doing via Zoom and pre-recorded videos that offer step-by-step instructions tailored to a client’s operations.
What are the most common client requests that RSI receives?
Restaurant Secrets Inc. does everything from headhunting to marketing to feasibility studies and full turnkey restaurant openings, and because of the multitude of services we offer, we get such a wide range of requests. Each one is unique to a specific concept, so it depends on what the client’s needs are. It also means no two days are ever the same for the team at RSI.
You’ve spent your career to date as a chef. Are you still involved in the kitchen in your new role?
I am still very involved in the kitchen. I oversee the culinary department and still spend time in the kitchen developing menus for clients across the GCC. I am not sure I will ever completely leave the kitchen behind me, I’m incredibly passionate about cooking and that won’t ever change.
Are there any exciting openings in the pipeline that you and the RSI team are working on currently?
We have some very exciting projects opening up soon. We have been working closely with the team at Al Qana in Abu Dhabi to create a very unique concept. I would love to share more about it but we will have to wait for the grand opening to share the exciting news. We also have an opening called M1 coming up in Abu Dhabi that is two separate concepts on separate floors of the restaurant. The ground floor is a café that serves up speciality coffee, homemade pastries, flatbreads and much more, while the first floor is luxurious and has a lounge feel to it, serving premium cuts of beef, fresh fish and some unique dishes guests will love.
When dining out in Dubai, which restaurants are your favourites and why?
Dubai has some great restaurants and we are very spoiled for choice. I try to eat at new restaurants as much as possible, and as a team, at RSI we get together for our weekly meeting at a different restaurant every Sunday morning to experience what’s out there. If I am with my family, we usually eat somewhere family-friendly for my daughter like Reform Social & Grill, Phileas Fogg’s or somewhere near to the beach so she can play – West Palm Beach is great when the weather is cooler. If it’s just me and my wife, we are big fans of the guys at Trèsind Studio. We’ve dined at Trèsind since it first opened and I’ve really enjoyed watching chef Himanshu’s evolution – he’s doing really cool things with food that no one else is in Dubai. It’s refreshing to see, and of course, delicious to eat.
Are there any emerging cuisine trends coming into Dubai this year? If so, which ones?
I believe we will see more vegan and healthy food options in the region. I think many chefs are now putting more emphasis on vegan menus for their guests as diners become ever-more health conscious and concerned with the provenance of the food they eat.