Nick Alvis and Scott Price on the cut-throat Dubai restaurant scene
“Every night when I stand in Folly and it’s bustling, it gives me an enormous sense of achievement,” says Scott Price of the dynamic, Madinat Jumeirah-based restaurant.
That ‘hard work’ that Price makes note of is not only a culmination of nearly 20 years of working as a chef, but also the gamble him and his business partner Nick Alvis took in moving to Dubai to become restaurateurs. Together the duo have opened nine venues, with the home-grown Folly very much the flagship.
“It’s an exciting time for Dubai,” says Alvis. “It’s starting to develop its own real style of what Dubai is in the food scene and not relying on importing it from somewhere else, and I think that we have helped create that.”
It is no secret how cut-throat the UAE’s restaurant scene is, and for the two Gordon Ramsay-trained chefs ensuring high standards persist in their venues is crucial to their success.
We sat down with Alvis and Price as part of Esquire’s 10 for the next 10 issue. You can read the whole interview below.
Who are you and what do you do?
I am Scott Price, I am a chef and co-founder of the ‘Nick & Scott’ restaurant group. We currently operate three venues in the city, the main one being ‘Folly by Nick & Scott’ at Madinat Jumeirah.
What do you consider your biggest achievement during your time in the Middle East?
Having a family I would say if in case my wife is watching, having a child and bringing a family up in this city while still having a wife over 10 years.
I think that still be relevant, I think that Nick [Alvis] and I took a big risk in 2015 when we thought to set up our own business. It was quite a scary thing to do to set up your own company – we found a business partner that believed in what we wanted to do and then we went for it. Folly was our dream really, a culmination of 15-20 years each in the restaurants through London and working round, developing something there.
Every night – we’ve been open two and half years - when I stand in ‘Folly’ when it’s busy at night, it gives you an enormous sense of achievement and happiness that I don’t think you can get by running somebody else’s business for them. When you’ve created something and you’ve had it in your mind’s eye and you’ve brought it to life, it’s very satisfying. When people come back and say it’s great and they love what you do it’s a very nice feeling and makes all the hard work worthwhile.
It’s not all about cooking, it’s about management, it’s about skill, how I treat staff and get the best out of them
What do you feel is one of the most pressing issues in the industry within the UAE?
We find it hard to find people with the right mind set, sometimes in the city there’s a little bit of a quick fix: you can have a good CV and you can skip jobs pretty quickly and people will always keep trying to poach you.
Sometimes people aren’t willing to listen to you: “you need to stay here a couple years and work with us, we’ll show you what to do, learn our ways and trust us with your career.”
Most people don’t believe it, they think in two years they can do this, be this, get promoted and get job offers with more money. That scares me and worries me for the long term because this year we’ve promoted two of our chefs - that’ve been with us for seven years and five years - up to our head chef position at two of our venues.
That’s taken a long time and they’ve put their beliefs into us and we’ve shown now that if you come and work with us, give us your trust, we’ll bring you through the right way.
The lack of people willing to give enough time in the longevity, understanding how hard it is in this business and how you have to stick to your guns and learn your trade until you get to the top.
It’s not a snap, otherwise when you’re 30 years old, you might be a head chef but what’ve you learnt in the last few years?
How important is that training and trust which you require and how is it important to give to the industry that way? If the quality improves, the industry improves, is that important to you guys?
Yeah I think so, I think Nick and I come from London where everything is very above board and honest. You don’t poach chefs and if you know somebody you give them a call and say: “What’s this guy like?”
Ideally in a perfect world the chefs work for us for a couple years and say: “Look chef, I want to move on”, I respect that 100% and we always try to help people move to the right career progression for where they are in their lives.
We’ve been brought up the right way, if we have any kind of legacy… I mean it’s how people talk about us in the next few years. I worked for Gordon [Ramsey] and he worked for Marco Pierre White and these things.
I have a lot of friends in London who’ve done really well for themselves and come out of the same stables, the same work ethic, the same ways of practicing, and we want to implement that in our restaurants to run exactly the same way. The guys working for us – they have that level, whether they see it or not, two or three years with us and they leave with our standards.
I think we would like to leave some sort of legacy, some sort of stamp. People that come to work with us for two or three years, they go out and realise what they’ve really learnt when you go work for someone else or go work on your own. You start to put things into practice, you see like: “Oh they’re not doing this”, “I can’t believe they’re working this way” and then you think: “wow, that’s what I’ve learnt in the past three years.”
It’s not all about cooking, it’s about management, it’s about skill, how I treat staff and get the best out of them, how to man-manage, how to make money, how to pay the bills. A lot of the guys take it for granted until they get to the senior levels and we try and teach people when they’re ready for it not because they want. They’ve got to earn it really.
We’re very proud now of the team we’ve got at Folly and the other two venues because a lot of the staff have been with us for five to seven years while being in Dubai.
It means a lot that they can see the progression in their careers and we can see it and they’re going in the right direction. The more people that work like that in this city, it’s only going to be beneficial for everybody because the skill-level will increase. It needs to happen I think.
Dubai is really starting to develop as its own food scene and culture
What excites you about the future of the industry in the region?
It’s ever-changing, always. You never know where it’s going to go. I think Dubai is finally starting to embrace taking risks on unknown brands, or unknown chefs with ideas. When we first started 10 years ago it was a safe bet to get a big brand in from L.A, New York, or London, instead of looking at what you actually have.
I think we’ve kind of helped to change that a little bit and it’s [Dubai] really starting to develop as its own food scene and culture. There’s a lot of people staying here – families have grown up here, teenagers have turned into adults which live here and they’re starting to create their own vibe, their own needs, their own styles and brands. It’s really exciting, it’s hard to keep on top of it sometimes… all the Instagrams and social media, it’s a lot.
It’s an exciting time for Dubai as it’s starting to develop its own real style of what Dubai is in the food scene and not importing it from somewhere else.