Drinks World catches up with Raven Ruldolph – the Beverage Manager at Karma Kafe in Dubai – to find out how the Food & Beverage industry has developed and what trends he can see on the horizon.
Drinks World: Tell us about your career journey in the UAE?
Raven Ruldolph: I was born and bred in Durban, South Africa. I started in all areas of catering as a young gun with my God Father. After school and then studying Advanced Hospitality Management in Durban, I moved to Cape Town to experience a stronger hospitality industry and to maybe get a job abroad. That opportunity came in the form of a decision between paying and going to America or getting an all-expenses paid opportunity with the opening of Conrad Hotel in Dubai. So I took the risk and ended up in a country I knew nothing about, the best risk I have taken to date.
Through the ups and downs of Conrad Hotel I have met people that I still get advice from now, and people that I will never lose respect for, setting a good foundation for the future. After a while here, I moved to GQ Bar Dubai where I really had free reign to learn and create and submerge myself into the craft cocktail scene in Dubai. I learnt about Dubai in this span of time. After a lot of changes in GQ, I decided to move and ended up in Karma Kafe, where I am today. I joined during the venues renovation and my team and I have been working hard on raising the bar when it comes to cocktails ever since; so far so good… come and see for yourself!
DW: At what stage did you know you were going to be involved in the Food & Beverage industry?
RR: To be honest, when I was very young (around 12 years old), I was always the one to set the family table at my grandparent’s house. My Grandmother, who is traditionally old school English use to inspect every part of my set up and even make sure I poured and served the beers and wine and Gin & Tonics in a ‘professional’ manner. From there we always had a joke in the family that if I could pass those tests I surely would be able to pass in the hospitality world.
At the age of 16 I started working in my godfather’s catering company for extra pocket money. From the bottom I started packing plates and arranging shelves until I was setting up and over seeing functions.
DW: How have you seen the Food & Beverage industry develop in Dubai?
RR: I have been in Dubai for a little less than two and a half years now and I really cannot grasp the amount of growth I have witnessed. I was fortunate enough to come at a time where the craft cocktail scene from London and New York etc was filtering over in Dubai via the expats that came to work and the big name restaurants and venues that came as well. Not only did the bar scene expand but the Chefs are doing amazing and creative things in the kitchen and the competition between everyone in the industry really pushes us to keep up or be left behind.
When I got here I was straight away hit with a new level of service and a dining experience that I had not known before from my home country. The difference now is that so many venues have opened since I have been here that the level of service is not unique or uncommon, and neither is the knowledge and professionalism of the people working in Dubai. The guests are also accustomed to the high standards so the trends being set in Dubai are world class.
DW: Can you please share with us the good, the bad and the exciting news about the current cocktail scene in Dubai?
RR: Well the glass is always half full and there is more good than bad. As I have said before, I love the competition in the industry and the fact that we are always kept on our toes. Also, with the amount of top class hospitality professionals in Dubai at the moment, it is very easy to be replaced if you do not keep up, which could be seen as a bad thing but I see it as more of a challenge and motivation.
I also really enjoy the amount of trainings, masterclasses and competitions that everyone has access to. Information is easily available and shared freely for all those that make the effort to learn.
On the negative side, there are a lot of rules and laws attached to the scene in Dubai, especially when it comes to alcohol and this can take its toll on the necessary processes we need to go through but it is something you learn to work with. There is also talk of a huge number of venues opening in the near future and I’m hoping that the capacity of the venues is kept in range with the number of guests so that the venues don’t struggle.
DW: As a Beverage Manager how do you stay current in the growing Food & Beverage scene and how often are you receiving your cocktail and wine lists?
RR: We are actually getting the artwork for the new cocktail menu done as we speak and our wine menu has just been revised and launched. This is an effort from the renovation of the venue, around when I joined the company and heading into the New Year; so this is exciting for us at Karma Kafe.
With trends, I believe the only way to keep up is to go to bars and read menus and order drinks and actually be a part of what the other venues and people are doing. By experiencing it from a guest’s point of view, you know what to provide as a server. I also have some great support from people in the industry that I am able to bounce ideas off and get advice from, which I am grateful for.
In Karma Kafe, we will look at renewing the wine list only yearly and the refreshing of the cocktail menu is still to be discussed; hopefully I can get it renewed more often. We do however have one new drink on the menu that will not stay constant and be based on barrel ageing so it allows us to play around and experiment all year round.
DW: How do you see the Food & Beverage market develop in the coming years? What trends can we expect to see in the future?
RR: I don’t see anything slowing down, especially in the near future. With all the openings that have happened and will happen within the year, I can see lots of bright and creative ideas popping up that I myself could not predict. In the venues I visit and work in I am glad to see a lot more people chasing a good, classic cocktail rather than getting drunk quickly on a few Bullfrogs.
I look forward to seeing people in the industry stray away from the arrogant, know it all professional and get back to focusing on the main part of hospitality, which is to serve the guest. Closing the menu and finding out what flavours the guests enjoy and then implementing our knowledge to give them the experience they deserve. It sounds like standard procedure, however with the craft and profession gaining so much attention we sometimes forget it.
In our bar we are seeing guests trending towards healthier drinks, with less purees and sugars and artificial flavours but natural fruits and products. This is perfect for the craft cocktail scene to carry on thriving.
Dubai will also still be associated with well marketed brands and the brands that show ‘wealth’ to others, but there are many venues now that have people looking upper class with a Martini glass, like it used to be. I am still young in the industry and have not seen enough phases and trends to act like I know what is coming next, but I will definitely be there for the ride and take part.