“Food Made Good – transferrable, accessible and easy to understand”

By Tom Tanner, Sustainable Restaurant Association

We recently agreed a strategic partnership with Sustainability Consultant Keary Shandler and Restaurateur Omar Shihab to make Food Made Good available to all restaurants in the UAE. There are more than 13,000 restaurants in Dubai, more per capita than London and New York City. We interviewed Keary and Omar to get a taste for where the industry and its customers are at on their sustainability journey and how they hope to shape the future.

Tell us a little about yourselves – your background in hospitality and sustainability?

Keary: “My work in hospitality started in hotels in New Zealand before I arrived in UAE in 2002 working for Hyatt. I then went back to school and completed an MBA. This is when I realised how much business is responsible for moving the needle in sustainability. I’ve been supporting hospitality and tourism organisations to design and implement sustainability into their DNA ever since.”

Omar: “I’ve spent my whole life here in UAE. After eight years working in research and consultancy, I was asked by family members to get involved in their hospitality business. Dubai’s always been known for it’s glitz and glamour, so we wanted to try something different and put together a more homegrown concept. Now at Boca, which is situated in the business district and is on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Discovery list, we use lots of local, organic ingredients including the first farmed oysters in the region. This became our narrative. We now have a waste officer, and we plan and do everything looking through this sustainability lens.”

Boca Tapas Bar

How did you first hear about Food Made Good and what was it that attracted you to it?

Omar: “I got loads of emails from people asking me for advice and I’m happy to share. But we need a common understanding as to what it means to be sustainable and having one platform where we can all come together and work towards a common goal, sourcing better, wasting less etc. Being involved with the World’s 50 Best that’s how I came across the SRA and Food Made Good. I really like the fact that it is made specifically for restaurants and has the backing of major chefs like Angel Leon and Eneko Atxa – that gives it great credibility.”

Keary: “I was attracted by the SRA’s longevity, proving that what it does works – over a number of years. I looked at a lot of frameworks and what I really liked was the way in which Food Made Good is so transferrable, accessible and easy to understand, compared to some others which are protocol driven and complicated.”

Tell us about where restaurants are at with sustainability in UAE?

Omar: “There’s a big range – with people at different points on the spectrum. Most will tell you that they want to get started but where they stand right now is a different matter. There definitely are some people doing good things, like Carlos Frunze at Teible, who is obsessed with local ingredients. Then there’s Russell Impiazzi at Sofitel The Obelisk who are leading the way on waste and Emma Banks at Hilton who’s leading a big project sourcing from local farms here. So, there are examples of people doing good stuff, but it is fragmented and scattered, and people talk about it more than doing it.”

Keary: “There lots of things putting it at the front of people’s minds in 2023. It’s UAE Year of Sustainability and COP28 will be here in November. Infrastructure is improving and UAE is a place where things can happen quickly. So, with our passion for making the industry better we think this is the right time.”

Are there particular areas in which UAE restaurants face challenges?

Omar: “There is a real culture here of people not wanting to make mistakes or to fail in any way and that can make them risk averse. That means we have to overcome that by encouraging people with big voices to share the importance of sustainability and using Food Made Good.”

‘Yesterday’s Bread’ at Boca

What is consumer demand like for sustainable dining in UAE?

Keary: “People are starting to be aware and it is on the radar. It’s up to us as chefs, restauraturs and industry professionals to guide people to make their dining decisions based on more than just the latest exciting trend.”

What are you hoping to achieve with the strategic partnership with Food Made Good and what will success look like in a couple of years from now?

Keary: “I’m confident we can be an active partner in contributing to a global community where we share and participate together in tackling challenges that go beyond borders. Changing mindsets of restaurants through education and driving consumer behavioural change will be what I’d like us to achieve.”

Omar: “For me, success will look like bringing people together in a global discussion to work on common goals together on this one platform, with the big name chefs leading the way. And to anyone I meet here who says they want to start on the sustainability journey, the best thing to do is to assess where you’re at using the Food Made Good framework – it’s such an insightful exercise.”

Keary and Omar are at Gulfood 2023 from 20-24 February and anyone interested in meeting them to find out more about how they can get involved can find their stand at the Top Table. And Keary is chairing a panel discussion: Consumer dining demands: Healthy. Sustainable. Viable at 1.30pm on 21 February.

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