insight - Michele Mingozzi, Executive Chef, Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels
Written by Karen Martin
Executive chef Michele Mingozzi uses experience he has gained from all over the world to oversee the array of restaurants in the Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels group.
Growing up in Italy, Michele Mingozzi knew at ten years of age that he wanted to become a chef after watching his mother and grandmother prepare meals for the family.
"Since I was very young I was so in love with what my mother and grandmother were creating every day in the kitchen," he says. "It was meant to be; I never even thought to do anything else in my life."
Now, 30 years on, Michele heads up the growing number of restaurants in the Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels collection dotted around Doha's souq, after working his way up through an impressive range of Michelin- and 5-star restaurants.
Before joining Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels as executive chef, he worked on Laucala Island in Fiji, the private island of Dietrich Mateschitz, the owner of Red Bull. Prior to that he worked for Raffles Hotel Dubai and The Peninsula Manila, and his experience at Michelin-star restaurants includes La Pergola in Rome, Restaurant Schwarz-waldstube in Germany, and La Frasca in Forlì.
"During my career many chefs inspired me, and thanks to them I grew first as a person and then as a chef," he says.
Despite his Italian roots, Michele's international experience has heavily influenced his style of cooking. "I've worked more or less all over the world, from Fiji to the Philippines, Dubai, and all over Europe," he says. "The first ten years of my career, yes, I cooked Italian, but after I started to travel the world I experienced different cuisines. So I would say I love fusion, but not confusion! It's a thin line."
Chef Mingozzi arrived in Doha over a year ago, before the first of the hotels had opened. "When I first came here we started to gather creative ideas to come up with a unique concept," he says. "We started to design some kitchen layouts and develop the concept of the restaurants, and after that I started to hire my chefs from all over the world. From Fiji to the USA, to South Africa, Nepal, and Europe – it's a blend of a lot of different cultures. Theyre all from 5-star or Michelin-star places. This allows us to keep the standard very high."
Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels currently has five hotels open and another due to open soon. Each hotel has between one and three restaurants that are also open to outside guests. Every restaurant is different, from a terrace lounge, bistro, fine dining restaurant, and a rooftop grill restaurant. Most cuisines are covered, including Japanese, Moroccan, Asian, Arabic, and Continental.
"That's one of the nice things about working here: we have so many different chefs from so many different restaurants, we can utilise all their experience," says Michele. "We have a specialised Arabic chef and a centralised kitchen for all our Arabic food, and a specialised executive pastry chef for the bakery at the upcoming hotel to supply all our hotels.
"This project is unique," he adds. "The concept of a boutique hotel, although not new in Europe, is very new here, so we offer something very different to the big 5-star hotels and the regular small hotels in Doha.
"We have between 14 and 37 rooms in every hotel, so everything is very personalised, very one-to-one. The main thing is to have an interaction with the guests all the time to make them feel at home and at the same time, important."
Chef Mingozzi was involved in every aspect of the food from day one, from the layout of the kitchens, down to the crockery, the way to serve, and the food presentation. Each of the hotels has its own chef who is in charge of their menu and recipes, and Michele provides the staff and training, and works with the chefs to see how they can develop the restaurant and menu.
"To be responsible for all the restaurants is a really huge job because it's obviously also a logistics situation," he says. "I work around all the hotels and also at the central office, so it's never boring. The difficulty is we keep opening! One hotel will be in operation and another will be in the phase of opening. Things are always moving and changing; ideas are developed. But Im a creative guy so I love to be challenged every day,
"I start work at 7–7.30am and finish 12–14 hours later. I still get to cook every day, but not as before. I don't want to spend all my time in the office because I feel you lose the reality of the operation. You need to try to make your staff happy because they're working very hard. They need to feel you trust them and at the same time they need to like you otherwise they will never follow you; they need to respect you otherwise whatever you say they will never do. And it's very complicated when you have 20 different nationalities working for you because every person will receive what you're saying differently. But we are all very humble people. Every day
"Every day is unique and the daily challenge that we face makes everything very interesting," he adds. "The adrenaline there in the kitchen during a busy service is just incredible.
"To become a chef is definitely a life choice. When you are very young it can sometimes be tough but if you have a passion and love for what you do, one day you will realise that what you are doing is the best job in the world."
The collection of Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels between which Chef Mingozzi divides his time is, as the name suggests, scattered around Dohas famous Souq Waqif. A vibrant focal point for Qataris and visitors alike, its the only traditional souq to remain in the Gulf region, and offers a diverse range of products including spices, perfumes, musical instruments, furniture, fabric, or simply a lively atmosphere for a wander through the labyrinthine alleyways. Souq Waqif is both a working market and a traditional open-air public space. The area is one of the liveliest in Doha for restaurants and entertainment, with cultural events occurring regularly amidst the buzz of all the other activity.
The next hotel to open in the Souq Waqif Boutique Hotel collection will be Al Bidda. The traditional deluxe hotel will feature 17 rooms and 15 suites, as well as a striking glass dome atrium and a rooftop terrace with impressive views over the Doha skyline. The bakery here will produce fresh bread, pastries, and cakes on a daily basis to supply all the hotels in the group, and an Italian restaurant is planned.