10 minutes with: Oliver Zeitoun of Oliver Maki

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th January 2016
Soho is set to become home to the latest branch of the leading contemporary Japanese restaurant, Oliver Maki. Being the first of the chain opened outside of the Middle East, we caught up with the brain behind the brand, Oliver Zeitoun, to discuss the famed Maki creations, expanding the business, and what we can expect from the restaurant. Gindara (Oliver Maki) low resAlthough Oliver is the co-founder of the successful family-run business, his career path wasn't always hospitality-driven. Starting out in economics, advertising and marketing communications, Oliver decided he wanted to pursue a different path. He said: "I got bored with my career and then decided to open a restaurant like loads of people do usually. The reason is basically I'm so passionate about food in general and Japanese cuisine specifically." Being Canadian-Lebanese, Japanese may seem a far cry from his area of speciality, but the cuisine captured Oliver's taste buds from an early age. "I was exposed to Japanese cuisine when I was young", explained Oliver. "I didn't like it. Then I developed my palette rapidly and I fell in love with it and it's my cuisine, like I can eat Japanese for breakfast lunch, dinner, like that. "I'm sure you know that Japanese cuisine is a very specific and very delicate cuisine. It's so specific that it's difficult for people to accept such a cuisine because it's so far from every other cuisine like French, Italian and even Chinese.But Oliver Maki isn't your traditional Japanese cuisine. It's a fusion of both traditional and modern Japanese, and takes culinary risks, to create a unique dining experience.Kizami Wasabi Maki (1) low res "Our concept is very different. I can't say completely different but it's really different and the reason is we keep creating leadership. We do that on a daily basis and we have never stopped innovation. So we create difference and we do a mix of different ingredients from all over the world and we basically, due to my extensive visits abroad." And it's this innovation and experience that's helped create some of the restaurants signature dishes, including the famous 'Oliver Maki Roll'. Oliver said: "The Oliver Maki roll is a presentation of what we do. I thought, how can we do a tasting menu in one dish? This came from my visits to different conventions in Spain, Japan, London, Paris - in culinary capitals of the world. I said you know what, I don't want people to spend two hours waiting for a tasting menu because it's really frustrating and usually kills the joy and pleasure of enjoying it. "By the end of it it's like you get bored and you say 'I want to finish, I want to be done' and I'm sure this is what people feel. I checked with others and myself even. Then this idea struck me, 'you know what, why don't I do everything in one dish' and this is where it came from." Oliver Maki Roll_2 low resThe Oliver Maki roll is made up of over 30 different ingredients across 8 rolls, and requires nine cooking processes! But of course the creations aren't always menu-ready. He said: "I mean what you see is the result of trial and error and ongoing experimentation. You never get the best thing always but persistence is everything. We keep trying and trying until we get an idea, a brilliant idea, and you get them like once every two/three months. "But the creative creations aren't limited to the chefs. Celebrities and loyal regular customers can all get involved with creating a personalised, signature dish that sometimes even features on the menu. "So I said, why don't we have loyal customers personalised dishes that they would feel more connected to? So we told our loyal customers 'you wanna be the chef? Your welcome. Show us what you like and lets choose together, work together on a dish that really represents you or is more personalised to you.' Then we name it after them and they get really excited. And these are normal people, not just celebrities." Oliver added: "Mind you this is an operational hazard and a disaster for the chefs. Imagine, the chefs are letting any customers do what they are supposed to do. But then our chefs have to understand that this is a concept. A beautiful concept and the most beautiful interaction between the chef and the customer and its amazing. I love that. And people love that."Maki Style Sushi 2 low res The London restaurant is the sixth Oliver Maki to open, with five already running in the Middle East: four in Kuwait, and one in Bahrain.The Japanese-fusion produced in Oliver Maki has proven extremely successful in the Middle East and Oliver decided that London should be the next stop to spread the culinary experience. He explained:"We've chosen London because of it's upstanding of notable organisations, as a culinary crossroads with different flavours and textures. London is the centre of the world. Soho is the centre of London so I think we have chosen the right place. We've been trying to expand outside the Middle East for the past ten years. "Once we had Sherry Blair, wife of the prime minister, and she just loved everything. She asked me please do open in London. And this idea was in my mind all the time and it is coming true now so I'm sure she would be happy to hear that we're opening here." Oliver speaks highly of the acclaimed Louis Kenji Huang, who is the executive chef at the restaurant and will be heading up the team in the new London restaurant. Oliver states he is like family and how his presence has boosted Oliver Maki. Chef Louis-Cropped low resHe said: "He puts his heart and his talent and his expertise and everything that he has in the business. From my experience, if a chef is not really passionate about what he's doing. You ask the chef what's his favourite cuisine - if he tells you something other than what he's doing, then this chef is not passionate about his work. It's just a business, it's a mechanical thing that a person is doing. "You have to be passionate about it and Chef Louis is like this. He comes from an excellent background, he was Head chef at Nobu Las Vegas, he's worked in California, New York and his achievement in the Middle East is phenomenal actually." Oliver added: "It's gonna be a foodie hub. It's going to be a success story, and we're looking forward to share our passion and love with Londoners and UK people." By Renee Bailey
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th January 2016

10 minutes with: Oliver Zeitoun of Oliver Maki