Nicholas Cuomo is a young and passionate fine dining chef with an extensive background in the hotel industry in several countries. I was taken aback by his culinary talent as well as the creative way he handles his team in the kitchen at Emirates Golf Club.
Tell us about your life before Emirates Golf Club.
I grew up in Malta and finished high school in 1995 when I was 15 years old. I stayed at home for a year, and my father was always getting upset with me for doing nothing. One day I picked up the newspaper and saw an ad for a catering college, and I thought that I should give it a shot. I've never looked back!
I attended the catering college Malta Institute of Tourism Studies for four years. The first year consisted of morning classes at school, afternoon classes in a restaurant or workplace, and the summer in 5 Star hotels. In the second year, we would alternate for a week at a time between the classroom and a hotel. In my third year, I was placed at the Hilton St. James in London, then was later assigned to the Jolly Hotel, where I spent two years.
When I returned to Malta in 2001, I attended college for a few months, but I decided to work full time and earn some money instead. I worked in two family-owned restaurants where things were pretty basic, but I needed the money. It was a much different environment in Malta than my college experience in London, but I was fortunate to work at the Westin, the Radisson, and Corinthia Hotels because they moved us around.
I applied for a job at the Westin and they hired me. I worked a summer there, after which I went to the Intercontinental where I did my first opening. I left that job after one year since I wasn't happy and got a job selling food and wine. I was fortunate to land a job at the Intercontinental where I met Chef Max Grenard, who has been my boss a few times since then, including here at Emirates. After one year they sent me to Crown Plaza in Hamburg for eight weeks, and after a year and a half, I said I wanted to go to Australia. We applied, but no one ever got back to us.
Was that about the time you came to Dubai?
Max and the Food and Beverage Director of the Intercontinental told me they had a lot of connections in the Middle East. I felt a little nervous about the Middle East coming from a small island, but he told me to be open-minded, and that he could certainly find me a position. After several months without a response from the Intercontinental here in Dubai, we had a breakthrough, and I got confirmation that I would be starting at the Crowne Plaza in Dubai on January 7th, 2007. I left for Dubai a couple of days later for the position of Chef Tournant where I would have to fill in the gaps in the kitchen wherever needed. After three months, I was put in charge of the main kitchen and then filled in the gap of the executive sous chef for eight months. It was a challenging time, but it was good for my career, and I stayed for two and a half years.
A friend of mine helped me secure a position at the Royal Mirage, which was one of the best hotels in the UAE. The Executive Chef was old school and demanding, and it was not uncommon for me to work eight weeks straight, sleep in my car, and even nap in the beach house. Everything was made in house including the mayonnaise and Nutella. He was a perfectionist, and it was incredible training for me. After working with him, I felt like I was bullet proof, and nothing could phase me. Although we had our disagreements, and I almost resigned, I appreciated him putting me in charge of Banquets.
Around this time, Chef Max called me. I told him was having some issues at Royal Mirage, and he asked me if I wanted to meet up for a drink. Our visit led to an offer to join Max in 2012 at the Dubai Creek Golf Club, and I stayed there for two and a half years. I had gotten married and was planning to have a family, but I had one day off a week and was working 14 hour days. Ironically, I was approached by a Maltese businessman who asked me if I wanted to help him open a large scale bakery. He offered me an excellent compensation package including two days off each week, and I just couldn't say no, but the opportunity turned out to be too demanding on my personal time.
I called Chef Max and asked him if he had any positions. Fortunately, he said he had a position available at Emirates Golf Club, so after taking six weeks off to help my wife with our newborn, I started at Emirates Golf Club in July, 2015. When I came in, I already knew what Chef Max expected of me, so the transition went extremely well.
Tell us about your cooking style.
When I was at the Intercontinental running the Asian Restaurant, I won the Vodafone Fine Dining Award two years in a row. I love all Asian cuisine, especially Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. When I came to Emirates, I was once again exposed to a multitude of cultures and cuisines, which today is transmitted in my style and presentation.
While being Maltese had a significant influence, my base is French cuisine. You could say I combine French and Maltese with Asian and Arabic flavors. I would one day love to work with any of the following Chefs: Pierre Garnier, Michel Roux Sr. and Jr., the Pourcel brothers, Michel Bras and, during his days, Marco Pierre White. All of them have had and still have a great influence on my cooking styles and inspirations.
Tell us about sourcing ingredients in Dubai.
Many famous chefs have restaurants here, including Gordon Ramsay, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Nobu, Pierre Gagne and many more, so Dubai has an incredibly vibrant restaurant industry. With one phone call, we can get any particular item in a week or less, although it does come at a cost however. There are numerous distributors here, and they source and fly in fresh produce globally each week. We are very spoiled as chefs because of the abundance of global produce from which to select since it's impossible to have local produce here in the desert.
FULL INTERVIEW available in Golf Kitchen, the book