On Wednesday, the final night of Gourmet Abu Dhabi, the Executive Chef of the Year was announced to rousing applause at the St Regis Abu Dhabi hotel on the Corniche.
Cladys Magagna from the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr was crowned the winner of what is the capital’s biggest food festival – and promptly shared the credit with his team.
“It means a lot,” Magagna says. “It’s not just my award. This is the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr award. It was the combination of a lot of creativity in 2013 with the food and beverage team.”
The Italian arrived at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in 2012. But he says he didn’t grow up with a desire to be a chef, and only started cooking at the age of 20, in Vienna.
“I started to cook simple Italian food and people were impressed,” he says. “People were saying I had a good touch for seasoning. That’s all. I realised it could be an interesting path to take.”
The restaurants he oversees, which employ 98 chefs, include Frankie’s Italian restaurant and Marco Pierre White Steakhouse and Grill. When guests arrive at one of his restaurants, Magagna says they can expect “good food. Good people. Good service. This is what we do here.” It’s important to Magagna that the chefs who work under him consider him an equal.
One of the items in his daily routine is to tour his kitchens – “I make sure I say hello to everybody”. He says a respectful workplace is not only reflected in the staff, but also in the guests’ experience.
“If you have happy colleagues, then automatically you’re going to have happy guests. That’s our formula for success.”
What will change now that he’s been crowned the culinary king of the city?
“There’s no change. We keep going, keep proving ourselves and that creates a lot of good food.”
Magagna says Gourmet Abu Dhabi provides a welcome platform to highlight what the city has to offer: “It’s growing a lot. Every year, you see a better product. Every year, you see something new. That’s good. That’s good for the city.”