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Tropical inspiration

 Zaya Nurai Island’s culinary director Marc Abed talks epicurean passions, island life and how he stays ahead of the game in the UAE’s bustling capital.

Situated off the coast of Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, Zaya Nurai Island has more to offer than its slice-of-paradise vibe. Tucked away in different corners of the property are six dining venues, offering everything from Mexican cuisine to Levantine seafood, alongside splendid panoramas of the Arabian Gulf. Ensuring the scene is set for a memorable meal, talented chef Marc Abed takes to the kitchens to experiment with diverse flavours, crafting the perfect meal in the process.

How did you discover your passion for cooking?

“My grandfather was a renowned restaurateur in the 1960s and he passed down his legacy to his son. With a chef for a father, cooking was always a big part of my life. I loved spending time at the family restaurant, where I also enjoyed the privilege of witnessing all of the chefs in action. Dining together as a family was also a daily ritual that instilled in me a curiosity for the culinary arts.”

How did your passion bring you to Zaya Nurai Island?

“My travels around the world, as well as my work in Brazil, inspired me to create my own brand of food and the island presented just the opportunity for me to make a difference. Zaya Nurai Island’s culinary philosophy also appeals to me. It’s all about a zest for life, as well as absolute harmony.”

How does working on one of the world’s most exotic islands influence your craft?

“The island fills me with positive vibes and provides a sense of relaxation. The serenity and natural beauty of this place serve as a constant source of inspiration. It feels like a mix of being on vacation and at work. I spent my first two years at the hotel living on the island, which was great as it allowed me to establish a well-structured department from scratch. After that, I decided to relocate to the city in order to keep a closer eye on food trends dominating the capital’s dining scene. But the plus side to living in the city definitely has to be that I get to ride a speedboat to work every day.”

Can you walk us through a typical day on the island?

“As culinary director, I start my day visiting all the outlets and ensuring that the kitchens are functional. This includes making sure that the products are properly purchased as per my requirements. I believe that the key to success is the happiness and comfort of my team. That is why I spend a considerable amount of time communicating with them. I also like to use my spare time to research and create new recipes, as well as experimenting with new ideas, to keep up with the UAE’s highly competitive market.”

Which restaurant is your favourite on the island?

“It’s Frangipani. The venue is an international restaurant where I have the chance to serve a sample dish from every culture I have experienced. In fact, I recently took a trip to Japan and earned a Professional Edo Sushi Certificate, which helped me apply time-tested techniques and introduce sushi to Frangipani. And among all the dishes available here, I have a special fondness for ‘gunkan’, a type of sushi featuring an explosion of flavours that balance Japanese and French hints. I always recommend the dish to every guest.” 

What do you love the most about working in the UAE and cooking for a multicultural audience?

“For me, food is the best ambassador of cultures. And the UAE is a melting pot that contains a colourful diversity of people. I truly enjoy introducing my guests to different cultures with my palate of international flavours.”

Are there any culinary techniques you swear by?

“Profound product knowledge and a respect for classic culinary techniques is always the way to go.”

Any go-to dish at the end of every work day?

“Nothing beats the comforting taste of a buttery toasted sandwich with cheese and goose ham.”

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