Chef-Restaurateur Richard Sandoval was in town a few weeks ago to oversee the opening of his latest F&B venue in Doha. No stranger to Qatar he has previously opened Pampano on The Pearl-Qatar (scheduled to re-open as Isla Mexican Kitchen) and the successful Toro Toro.
His latest opening is located on the 61st floor of the Kempinski Residences & Suites, the tallest residential building in Qatar. Z Lounge by Zengo has some rather impressive unhindered views across the Corniche thanks to this venue. The decor is bold and sleek with perfectly muted lighting. The venue also features a VIP room with its own private elevator.
The name Zengo translates as ‘give and take’ and the concept is a melding of Asian and Latin American influences. From Tacos and Ceviche to Noodles and Sushi the food is varied with a focus on communal sharing plates. Food options are indicative of the cuisine Doha can expect from the restaurant Zengo, which is currently being developed on the same floor as Z Lounge, and is planned to open in 2016.
QatarEating Interviews Chef Richard Sandoval
Qatar Eating interviewed Richard about his experience in Doha’s hospitality business and his F&B concepts.
How did you become a Chef?
I wanted to be a professional tennis player and was playing in college, and I had to make a decision whether I was going to go teach tennis or go into another profession. Growing up in Mexico with my grandmother I was always around a lot of food. Everything in our culture revolves around food…I was always migrating towards the kitchen so I chose to go to culinary school and the rest is history!
Which of your grandmother’s dishes were your favourite?
There are two dishes that are still very vivid in my mind growing up with my grandmother. Mole poblano (a traditional Mexican sauce made with spices and chocolate) was one of my favourite dishes. When you say quesadillas you think of the flour tortilla with cheese, but in my grandma’s house they would make it from scratch. So you would have the fresh masa (dough) and put it on a press, then you get your disc and you stuff it with cheese or zucchini blossoms or poblanos (chilli pepper) and fold it and then you’d deep fry it.
Can you explain the concept behind Toro Toro’s sharing menu?
Toro Toro encompasses all of Latin, South and Central America – so it is a restaurant without borders. When I designed Toro Toro I always wanted to make a restaurant that was female-friendly because steak houses are more masculine. When you see all the small plates it’s all kind of very light food, you know the ceviches, the salads, the anticuchos…my whole ideas was people could come in here and have a whole bunch of small plates to share, and could also order a skewer of meat to share.
Do you have a signature dish?
I am more known for Modern Latin cuisine so more than a dish I think I evolved the cuisine from what it was to where it is today. So I see myself more as a one man show rather than a one dish show!
What’s the concept behind the menu at Z Lounge?
The vision is that Zengo will eventually open here in 2016, so what we wanted to do here is to give people a small taste of what the menu will be like. Obviously at Z Lounge we have a much smaller kitchen, so it’s more of a visual so people can see what is going to come next door – its a little bit of a rough draft of what will be coming for Zengo. We like to say it’s more Asia re-created so it will have an Asian influence more than a Latin influence.
You have a fantastic space here in the Kempinski building.
Yes, what people need to understand is that it’s an iconic location with an iconic view – it is a spectacular space…there is no other place where you can see Doha from the 61st floor. We have designed it as a social restaurant for people to come here and relax and taste a whole bunch of dishes – to really take a culinary tour through Asia and Latin America and taste a lot of different things.
Can you tell us more about Isla Mexico Kitchen?
It’s important to understand that it wasn’t closed because it wasn’t successful. When Pampano was first opened it was the best restaurant in Doha, but when the liquor licence was pulled from The Pearl all the businesses took a downturn. So I repositioned the menu to make it more family orientated and we got it to successful to the point it was always full. But I had a problem with it because the Pampano in New York has one menu and Pampano in Doha had a newly repositioned menu…it’s like if you buy a Mercedes and I give you a Jaguar, you know neither one is better than the other but you asked for a Mercedes…it was confusing for my brand. So we closed and re-modelled completely, and we called it ‘Isla” (Island) which is perfect for The Pearl.
How is the menu going to be different at Isla?
We have kept some of the signature dishes that we had at Pampano because people were really requesting it and came for these dishes. But we have a whole new dynamic which is more approachable and family friendly – it is a more fun restaurant and we are excited to open it.
How do you maintain consistency and quality with your staff?
It starts with the hiring process – you have to hire the right people. Once you have the right profile, you have the passion, the heart then comes the training. Obviously you know you have recipes to teach them, but I like to teach them their palate because a recipe is a guideline, and the ingredients are not always the same. Your tomatoes today might be a little bit more sour, or your onions are not as sweet, so we try to teach them that everything needs to be tasted.
What advice would you give to aspiring chef-restaurateurs?
I think the most important thing is to go and experience the life of a restaurant which looking from the outside everyone thinks is a very glamorous profession but I think people don’t really see the backbone of the operation.
The restaurant industry is probably one of the most complex and difficult industries in the world because what people don’t understand is that there are a lot of moving parts. When you open a restaurant you have to train the hostess, the bartenders, the runners, your busboys, your pastry chefs, your line cooks…and then they’ve got to be like a synchronised orchestra – so just the amount of moving parts and the things that you are working with is incredible. I think people need to understand that before they pick this as a profession. What’s happening is that TV has glamourised the industry which is detrimental to the industry because young kids are going into this with these misconceptions. I think they need to really understand and go work in a hotel or get a job as a dishwasher, whatever it is, to really understand it – you should go into it understanding the reality.
How have you found your experience here in Qatar opening up F&B outlets?
It’s been great, I do stuff where the community embraces me, people really like what I do and i feel part of the community…if I get that feeling I am more likely to do more ventures. Doha is an evolving country, the labour pool is tough, but government is investing in the best buildings – I like to be part of countries and cities that are doing things above and beyond most other places. But I think here for now we are pretty much set with our 3 restaurants. I have almost 40 restaurants and I am actually trying to cut back a little!
Z Lounge By Zengo
Opening Times: Mon-Weds 5.00pm – 1.00am; Thurs & Fri 7.00pm – 2.00am; Sat 4.00pm – 2.00am.
For more information call +974 4405 3561 or email [email protected]