Dubai gourmands should be very familiar with the name Chef Reif Othman. The former executive chef of the popular Zuma Restaurants (in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Istanbul), is now the creative food mastermind behind the newly opened PLAY in Dubai.
Chef Reif says that, although he was approached by friends and investors of PLAY to join earlier on in the concept planning process, he only took the leap of faith once he was sure that Zuma was established and where it needed to be. So what exactly was it that lured him to PLAY? He discovered that the investors were just as enthusiastic about the culinary aspect as he was, and they gave him carte blanche on the menu.
Thanks to this creative freedom, when you visit PLAY, you’ll be entranced by a menu that beautifully blends Mediterranean and Asian influences. It is a menu that not only pays homage to Chef Reif’s home country of Singapore but which is also tinged with the international flavours experienced throughout the chef’s travels. One will find playful twists on classics that he won’t elaborate upon, preferring to have people come in and experience the food for themselves. He does mention that his signature dish is the Pita Surprise, an idea that first sparked when he saw people eating carpaccio and tacos. Using that as inspiration, he then incorporated pita bread, one of the staples of the Gulf, to give the dish a Middle Eastern flair.
When creating a menu, Chef Reif states that he likes to go back to the basics and reimagine them. What you won’t see on any of his menus is anything akin to a science experiment. Regarding Molecular Gastronomy, Chef Reif is quick to say that, for him, good ingredients don’t need to be extracted in order to be enjoyed. As much as he likes to reinvent dishes, the chef is a traditionalist at heart, preferring to let the food speak for itself without all of the fancy foams and gels. This is evident in the answer he gives when asked about the best meal he’s had in the UAE (apart from his, of course). It was at Wox in the Grand Hyatt Dubai, which he describes as comfort food that was enjoyed by both him and his family.
Chef Reif has an impressive background, with a culinary journey that began at the age of 16 when he had the opportunity to work for “culinary goddess Miss Violet Oon” in Singapore. Under her tutelage, he learned Baba/Nyonya cooking techniques, as well as how to make her famous Singaporean-style Shepherd’s Pie. Another culinary great that Chef Reif is grateful to have had the opportunity to work with is Justin Quek, who is known for his Franco-Asian cuisine. Chef Quek demonstrated the finer skills of French cooking, teaching a young Othman how to draw out the highlights of even the most basic of ingredients.
His appreciation for the French continues to the people who inspire him, as well as some of his favorite restaurants around the world. The former includes chefs Pierre Gagnaire and Michel Roux, whose careers Othman aspires to have, mentioning their innovative natures and how they have remained active in the kitchen. The latter includes Eric Frechon’s Le Bristol Paris and Christian Têtedoie in Lyon.
It is evident that Chef Reif takes pride in producing delectable dishes, from his careful selection of quality ingredients to his precise cooking techniques. He painstakingly finds the best suppliers for ingredients, looking at the quality and freshness of their products, where the ingredients are sourced, if they are ethically grown, and even the cleanliness of the factories and farms from where the products are derived. His entire brand revolves around the combination of quality ingredients with good presentation.
Stepping into a Reif Othman establishment, one might notice that all of his food is perfectly paired with a dish that accentuates the presentation, from shape to color to size. Chef Reif reckons that the minute the food complements the plate on which it is being served, he knows he’s on the right track to creating something that is as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate.
Although he is passionate about what he does, Othman is far from the shouting chef stereotype, despite heading up a team of 40 other chefs. He chooses to focus on cultivating creativity and motivation by getting the team members involved in the entire process, from creating the menu to testing out the ingredients to tasting the final product. While the basic cooking and cutting skills obviously have to be present, Chef Reif notes that commitment and communication are the key values that he looks for in anyone who wants to join him in the kitchen.
Does he shout? Well, yes, but “every chef shouts orders”.
Want to find out more about PLAY? Read our review on the restaurant and lounge here!
One Sheikh Zayed Road, P.O. Box 125511 Dubai, U.A.E.
Tel: +971 4 336 4444