We catch up with Giuseppe Cipriani, in Abu Dhabi to attend the grand prix and check on his restaurant at Yas Yacht Club.
Quite the perfectionist at the helm of Cipriani
Last year's F1 event marked the arrival of the luxury brand Cipriani in Abu Dhabi. Twelve months on and standing in the restaurant bearing his name at Yas Yacht Club - with its sparkling marina views and elegant ocean liner-esque interior - a nattily dressed Giuseppe Cipriani says that not only are things going well, but that a restaurant in Dubai and possibly a second in Abu Dhabi could easily be part of the long-term plan. "We had always been interested in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as potential venues, so when we were given the opportunity to open here, in such a beautiful building, it seemed perfect," he explains.
Cipriani is the chief executive of the global company, which boasts luxury restaurants and hotels as well as an upscale events and catering business. The building of this empire began in 1931, when Cipriani's grandfather and namesake and an American by the name of Harry Pickering struck up a partnership and opened the fabled Harry's Bar close to the Grand Canal in Venice.
Eighty years on and the Cipriani name is very well established, with outposts in Istanbul, New York and Hong Kong, among other destinations. The employee count hovers around the 3,000 mark, but Cipriani counters questions about the negative effect of expansion on maintaining standards by arguing that at its core, the business is family orientated: his father Arrigo has not yet retired and his two sons take care of operations in America. You do wonder whether this is by choice or design, though. When speaking about his own career, he is reflective: "I think I had no choice. I grew up in a house where Harry's Bar was the focal point for all the family - my destiny was written. I tried to do something different, but it didn't work. Now, of course, I am glad of that - I love the business."
He says that the company's international presence wasn't intentional: "It's not like you plan for these things to happen, they just do. Then one day, you realise that people recognise the name. I think that if you do your work properly and have a little luck, then things happen."
And that they do. As well as enjoying much success, the Ciprianis have also experienced their fair share of controversy. In 2007, Giuseppe and his father were accused of tax evasion. They both pleaded guilty to the charges - Arrgio for felony and Giuseppe for a misdemeanour and were fined US$10 million (Dh36.7 million). In 2008, the high court in the UK ruled that they were infringing the trademark rights of Orient-Express Hotels by calling their Mayfair restaurant Cipriani (the family sold their stake in Hotel Cipriani to the Orient-Express group many years ago). This decision was upheld in 2010 and the restaurant is now known as C. They (and the company) seem to have survived the strife, however, and at the moment, attention is focused on impending openings in Monte Carlo, Miami and Ibiza.
Cipriani's visit to Abu Dhabi this time combines both business and pleasure. As a former Formula 3000 team owner, he has a keen interest in the sport and says that this is his favourite weekend of the grand prix season. He is also here to check that all is well at Yas Yacht Club. The company prides itself on its reputation for combining simplicity, elegance and luxury and patrons pay a premium for this. "Seventy per cent of our customers are return visitors; people know the standard and what to expect," he says, adding, "in order to do well in the restaurant business, you have to minimise mistakes. A lunch or dinner lasts what, an hour or two? If you make a slip up early on - with the food, service, whatever - you often don't have much time to rectify the situation. It needs to be as close to perfect as possible from the start."
He goes on to describe how to prepare the perfect beef carpaccio, a dish that was invented at Harry's Bar many years ago for Amalia Nani Mocenigo, an Italian countess with an aversion to cooked meat. "The meat needs to be the very best entrecôte and it should also never be frozen. Lots of places do this, because it makes it easier to slice, but that takes away from the flavour," he says. He then advises slicing the meat with a sharp knife, arranging it on a plate and seasoning it with salt, before putting the plate in the fridge for just five minutes, to allow the salt to penetrate the meat. The dish is then served with mayonnaise spiked with lemon juice.
"Attention to detail is key and the way that we serve it will never change," he concludes, which is, of course, exactly the point of a Cipriani restaurant.