Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton, the man behind Marina Social in Dubai our GCC Restaurant of the Year, takes a short break from his hectic schedule to tell Food and Travel what makes him tick, how he carved his own path and what drives him to keep raising the bar even higher
You have held Michelin stars for some time, how much does a Michelin star still mean to you?
My Michelin stars mean everything to me. It’s the ultimate reward that my food and hard work is recognized.
How much do awards such as these, impact you and your work?
They set the bar really. My chef’s and I put everything into our restaurants. Aiming for a star pushes us to another level of creativity. They are hard to achieve, every year you just do your best and hope your best is good enough.
Running a restaurant is hard work at the best of times; did you always want to be a chef?
Yes, from a young age I wanted to be a chef. I’ve always had a keen interest in cooking ever since my mum ran a guest house and I used to help out with breakfast. I never did allow myself to dream this big however – I know I am very fortunate.
What inspires your cooking? Is there a story you aspire to tell with your food?
My travels inspire my cooking. Every year I travel to somewhere new always trying to search out a new ingredient or a new way of cooking. I’m always working – even on my family holidays, I never switch off.
What does ‘good food’ mean to you?
Good food is literally quality ingredients. It does not mean a complicated dish, it’s all about the quality of your produce.
What has been the most rewarding moment in your work life?
Opening my flagship restaurant Pollen Street Social in 2011 and receiving my fist Michelin Star within 6 months.
As a chef, how do you deal with the pressure of delivering the best food at all times?
I have a highly skilled and talented team of chefs and managers surrounding me. We have some amazing food suppliers who ensure we receive only the best of ingredients. It’s a combination of both and knowing our standards and never compromising.
How would you define your cuisine? And how has it evolved since you first began cooking?
I don’t pin myself down to any one style. I feel I am always creating and my food is always evolving.
What do you feel was a life-changing moment for you in your career?
Branching out on my own and opening Pollen Street Social. My wife Irha and I remortgaged the house, we literally put our life’s savings into that restaurant and getting such amazing recognition so soon after opening was definitely a life changing moment in my career.
What do you think about the local restaurant scene in Dubai compared to other countries and London in particular, and do you find a marked difference in tastes and demands?
I think the Dubai restaurant scene has really exploded in the last few years. It’s such a multicultural city now which is great so you really have every type of cuisine. It might not be to the same scale of London yet but it is on the way.
It is challenging to be successful in the hospitality industry? What defines a successful kitchen
Yes it’s hard and it never stops being hard. You always need to up your game because there is a huge amount of talent out there but for me that’s what makes it exciting – the bar is always high so you are constantly pushing yourself. A successful kitchen is all about team work – from the guy who washes the pots all the way to the head chef. Mutual respect and an understanding for what you are striving to achieve. Everyone has to work in sync.
How do you create a good work-life balance?
I love to work out – for me an hour in the gym is like therapy, that and shopping – I’m a bit of a fashion nut. Creating a good work-life balance is difficult. I have a very patient wife and two amazing daughters. I make sure to take my girls to school every morning and after that my day is spent in the kitchen until the last dish goes that night.
What does the future hold?
We are in the middle of a new restaurant launch – Hai Cenato – my first Italian restaurant in Victoria, London. After that we are going to take a breath and my main focus will be my existing restaurants and making sure everything is running smoothly.