‘My experience with Emirate was stunning’
Gbubemi Fregene popularly known as Chef Fregz recently explored Emirate Airline kitchen in Dubai. The catering facility has an initial design capacity of 115,000 meal trays a day, but with expansion, the figure is now over 175,000 a day. In this interview with MARIA DIAMOND, he narrates his experience on the tour, which he described as ‘stunning.’
What’s your academic background?
I studied Human Resource Management at the University of Ibadan and I also have a Culinary Diploma in Cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute in Paris.
Why did you choose to become a chef?
I have always wanted to be a Chef because I actually love to eat, and then cooking became important to me hence, the decision to chase my passion to make every meal a truly culinary experience.
Could you share your experience with Emirate?
My experience with Emirate was stunning, because all I could think of was how excellent it all was; it was an unparalleled excellence. I have traveled a number of times but never had such a mind blowing traveling experience in my life. The Arabs are hospitable and the processes were astoundingly coordinated. When you arrive the flight catering office, you don’t even go near the kitchen first; you go through the medical centre, where you have to wear a lab coat, cover your hair and bears. Then you wash your hands before proceeding to the kitchen, which was super clean without a wave of dirt.
How will you describe the Emirate Kitchen?
It’s a kitchen that never stops working with about 300 work heads around the globe including a Nigerian chef. The kitchen is heavily reliant on machinery but more reliant on the human touch because, the machines are guided a lot by the human. The place is super dedicated with series of work sections. After seeing all the sections, I proceeded to where they do cold starters for business and first class. All the food prepared by the cold kitchen goes into the room; they have a time schedule board that displays real time operations for all packages. They prepare a hundred and sixty five thousand meals on the average a day. Because they have an average of 245 to 254 flights a day, the magnitude of operations is immense. They operate on what they call ‘the Najim standard’ Najim in Arab means ‘star’, so everything has to be of the highest quality.
What did you learn from this experience?
One thing I learnt in the Emirate kitchen was that the delicious food was not the deal, but the standard processes behind close door to ensure their customers get a delicious and decent plate of food was out of this world. They have a strict policy on hygiene and time schedule, with an operation control centre where they take special meals order for customers with specific needs and food allergy. In this section, the booking office submits their details and the operation control centre ensures they have special food prepared for them aside the regular meals. They have different levels of checks and balances to ensure they get it right without mistakes or delay, and in terms of quality control they are big on temperature policy because if the temperature start to change the meals can go bad, so they start up very cold and hit up in the plane.
Initially, I thought this would be a trip where I had to be very nice to Emirate because they had sent me on a very nice trip but ‘No’, this was an affirmative scenario of stun with no sentiment; all the food I tasted were delicious. Even the CEO of Emirate drinks the coffee served to customers on the flight because he believes that if it is not good enough for him, it is not good for his customers.
How true is the assertion that a good meal depends on class and length of flight time?
I tasted Economy meals along side that of business and first class, and the chef told me that he wasn’t pulling the meals out for me specially, but regular flight meals and they were extremely sumptuous. Although by virtue of class and money, what is in business will be very different from what is in economy, but I found out that whatever meal they were making, are from recipes they have tried over and over, which are all documented and that is how they maintain their good taste. So, I’m sure anyone can go to the kitchen with the same recipes and produce same taste of meals served.
What are the challenges of being a chef?
Of course regular day-to-day challenges like any business or career. Some seasons are good while some are not. We have the peak seasons and vise versa. When your suppliers’ supply at high prices and you want to maintain your quality standard, you know there would not be much profit. However, it has been very lucrative.
If you were not a chef, what would you be doing?
I would be working in Human Resource or I would have been a writer.
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