When it comes to creating local restaurant concepts, the Kuwaiti dining scene is ahead of its time. The country, a pioneer in hosting franchises from all over the world, boasts a multitude of cafes, restaurants and small shops of all kind. It's a competitive industry; whether they're ethnic cuisines or modern dessert shops, more and more restaurants are popping up on a monthly basis.
While franchises from countries such as the United States are very popular in the region, the challenge today is to create something original. What makes a local concept different, and perhaps even better, is the fact that it has a more personal touch, one which most franchises and fast food dives are lacking.
Naser Almukhaizeem, Executive Chef and owner of Baking Tray Café and Bess Fool Bess Falafel and graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Paris is a prime example of that. With two successful eateries under his belt, and one under way, he is one of those whose career you want to watch.
Bringing a certain freshness – in all senses of the word – to the industry, Almukhaizeem shares with us his experience in launching a café, and what he believes is the future of the food industry in the region.
What made you choose to go into the culinary business? Was it something you grew up with, or grew to like?
I started cooking when I was seven as a fun way to create my own creations of things. It eventually evolved and when I found out in high school that I can actually be a professional at it, I decided to study and train at different restaurants and hotels.
Your café, Baking Tray, emphasizes natural, preservative and additive-free foods. Is this a lifestyle you've adapted or is it just the café's theme?
I strive to have the best lifestyle for myself and my son by reducing our intake of sugar, canned foods, and stick to things that are fresh and well balanced. I later discovered that food actually tasted better when high quality ingredients are used. This became the basis of the Baking Tray.
How did you come up with the concept?
The concept was created based on the demand for simple, good quality food that can be easily delivered to people working in the downtown area. Everything we have done was based on that idea of creating a haven for the workforce to be able to have enough options to order from, and a nice atmosphere to conduct casual meetings. Keeping in mind that people in Kuwait appreciate food and understand what is good from what is not our goal has always been to be as consistent as possible to make sure we satisfy our highly demanding customers.
What are your personal favorite dishes at the cafe?
My favorite dishes would be the Mozzarella Triangles, and the Aby Pasta.
How do you come up with your dishes? What ideas or inspirations go through your mind before creating a dish?
I come up with the recipes based on ideas that pop up every now and then when I see an interesting ingredient and merge it with other ingredients that compliment it and give it balanced flavors.
People love your cookies! What makes them so special?
Certain recipes hit the mark in terms of balancing all the senses, we were successful at doing that with the cookies and that’s why it has received such great success. We strive to make sure that all our products are up to that high standard.
When it came to marketing your café, did you use traditional media and advertising, or did you go the non-traditional route?
I believe that the traditional forms of media are gradually fading away into the digital realm, therefore we decided on focusing our advertising campaigns on two main sources; Word of mouth is how we introduce our concepts to the public, and we then connect rather than advertise with our customers directly through Twitter as it is the only tool available at the moment to communicate with our customers directly (without the need of them actually being there). We make sure that during the whole phase we listen to our customers and take what they say as high priority.
What do you think of the restaurant scene in Kuwait?
The food industry is obviously growing rapidly, which is good for both the industry and the customer as this leads to healthy competition which ensures only the survival of the most stable and consistent. What is great now is that more locally created concepts are being developed; these concepts in my opinion are leading to a new restaurant culture in Kuwait.
What do you think is lacking in the food industry in Kuwait and the Gulf region?
What I would love to see in Kuwait are areas allocated specifically for restaurants and cafes with walk paths and greenery just like what is available in Europe and even Bahrain.
We've noticed that people are nowadays more appreciative of local concepts than they are of franchises. Why do you think this is so? Is it a trend, or is it becoming a lifestyle choice?
Food is very personal. It needs to be adapted to the region it is in, just like when the fast food industry adapts its burgers into "Arabian Versions" for our region. Only a local will know what the locals want.
Any upcoming culinary ventures? If so, will they be natural and preservative-free like Baking Tray?
I have just finished the final touches on our concept Homeslice. It’s a pizza place in Shaab AlBahry where we sell New Yorker pizzas by the slice and salads in a casual atmosphere. I would love to have all of our concepts to be completely natural and organic, but unfortunately prices for these goods at the moment reach almost triple its counterpart's price and that’s why it is not feasible for us to do that at the moment.
Baking Tray is located at Mishal Tower, Jaber Al Mubarak Street, Sharq, Kuwait. For more information visit www.bakingtraycafe.com
– Alya N. Al-Othman