Meet the Chef

Xiaomeng Liu
Head Chef Zengo

In my 13 years of living in Dubai, I have seen many places opening, rebranding, losing loyal clientele and also found that some of the best older restaurants in the city are unknown to most Dubai newcomers.

When I meet people who have been here for quite a long time like myself, we reminisce about a lot of places we don’t hear about anymore. It is either because they are no longer fashionable, or because the world has changed and they didn’t follow the trends, or simply because they could not afford to be operate any more due to various factors and closed down.

When we speak about the F&B scene in Dubai, past, present and future, the only F&B venues that have survived all those changes are the one at the Grosvenor House plus Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort and Spa plus a few more in the city.

We as F&B specialists know that those two hotels are above anyone else in Dubai, they are the only ones on top of all the changes that Dubai has seen so far and surely will see in the future.

All the decisions they have made in their F&B offering have always been successful, and our question is always: How do they do it? What’s their secret?  The answer for me to these questions is – Definitely, their secret is the entire team which is headed by, Pam Wilby, Complex General Manager of both the hotels.

This professional team, along with their love and passion for their hotels, have always sustained their operation by anticipating trends and making sure that their customer service was always above and beyond.

The team is the first to bring new concepts in the city as they did with Zengo a fine dining venue and a collaboration between South American and Asian Flavours from the team of Celebrity Chef Richard Sandoval and Akmal Anuar.

They are also the first to recognize when a concept is not popularly received by the Dubai crowd and are not afraid to make sweeping changes to adapt to what the local market requires of them.

The team foresaw the demise of fine dining cuisine more than a year ago and replaced the fine dining concept with a more casual style dining in Zengo with a more value for money price strategy.

In order to achieve this goal, a new Chef and new service style without changing the heart of the venue.

We of TastedAndRated meet the new chef Xiaomeng Liu, who has overseen those changes together with consultant chef Sandoval, and We ask about his new menu and his philosophy behind it.

LG: What’s in the heritage of experience before arriving in Dubai?
LIU: I relocated to Australia and started working in the kitchen as a chef. I had the fortune there to work alongside chefs that were cooking both European food and Asian food. This experience helped me to move to Macau for two years and work for a chef that was making a fusion between European and Asian cuisine. In Europe and other cities, you have many Asian concepts that are fusion with European cuisine, because you focus more on the European diners, in Asia, we do the same, so we adapt European cuisine for an Asian audience.

LG: How do you change those dishes’ appeal for an Asian market?

LIU: Very simply, we adapt our flavors to your recipes, for example, you usually marinate with salt, vinegar, olive oil and parsley, we would adapt with soy sauce, fish sauce, coriander and palm sugar. We would use some of your ingredients and place somewhere we believe would work fantastically, like for example the foie gras. We would use foie gras in a dessert recipe: we would blow torch the foie gras, get that smoky flavor and add to the lime sorbet dish, it’s really an amazing combination. Or simply use with a stir fry rice dish. Another example is the chicken dish: in European countries, you would rub with salt and herbs then roast in the oven with thyme and garlic. We would rub the skin for very long time with plenty of spices to really get it soft. Then we would hang as we do for the Peking duck and then we would roast till the skin get really crunchy, and we would serve with potato cooked in duck fat and parsley.

LG: After those experiences where did you go?
LIU: After Macau, I moved to Spice Market by Jean George at the W Hotel in Doha. Usually, the whole menu in Jean George is fully set up and cannot be changed, however, he gave me the opportunity to express what I have learned in my past and create a selection of dishes for him. I loved to work for Jean George, as he is another crazy chef, he makes simple things into outstanding creations. Dishes like the tuna tataky with lime syrup, ginger juice and soy sauce or the avocado with tuna ginger, lime syrup, smoked chili oil and topped with radish. After two years with Jean George, I was approached to move to Dubai for Zengo.

LG: Why did you accept the job in Zengo?
LIU: Chef Sandoval hired me directly, as he loved my rustic, woody Japanese cuisine with western influences, basically Asian cuisine with crazy ideas.

LG: What are the changes you are bringing to Zengo?
LIU: We are taking a more casual approach, great portions at a very reasonable price. My cuisine reflects very much my personality, I like good portions when I go out for dinner and I love flavors. My new dishes that I’m adding to the new menu have long lasting flavors in common with each other, I take a simple recipe and I make sure that it is different from any other similar dishes. That’s because I change those recipes, I change the cooking method, and the dish looks the same, but the flavors and the taste are more intense with crazy executions. Definitely, I add more diversity in my dishes compared to the typical recipes. Our dishes are designed to be eaten every day, it’s fusion, fun and really different.

LG: How do those crazy ideas inspire you?
LIU: Wherever I am, I write down the recipe that comes to my mind in many situations and then I execute them. I get inspired by friends, or by books that I read, or cooking programmes that I watch, and I think how I can get better every day, so it’s a nonstop thing going on in my mind, really crazy.

LG: What kind of ingredients do you like to work with?
LIU: I love to work with secondary products, for example in the case of meat, I love to cook parts like tripe, tongue, bone marrow, lamb fat, shoulder. This is more rewarding to make them outstanding, than to cook amazing types of meat like wagyu or prestigious cuts like the filet. Unfortunately both here and in Doha, I didn’t see many of these products in the market and I’m looking forward to sourcing them soon. Regarding vegetables, I love to use real farm produce, there are only a few great in UAE as well, and I don’t tend to be keen on organic, as it doesn’t guarantee quality.