A Talk with Abdul Baaghil
The explosion of various international cuisines and unique concepts hitting the restaurant scene in Egypt in the past few years has helped put Cairo on the map when it comes to culinary delights. As the creator of some of the most renowned and distinctive restaurant concepts in town, Abdul Baaghil is helping move the culinary trend in the right direction. His impeccable taste and his years of experience working with some of the industry’s most notorious chefs and hoteliers all over the world is evident in his work. As the Chief Executive Officer and Co- Founder of OB Hotels & Restaurants, Baaghil is passionate about altering the Egyptian dining experience by introducing eccentric and innovative concepts with top-notch food quality, flawless service and an entertaining atmosphere.
Having worked all over the world with big hotel names, why did you decide to focus your career on the food and beverage field?
I started my career in the hotel industry, working in very corporate environments as a hotel manager at The Ritz Carlton back in North America and Asia, as well as the Park Hyatt and St. Regis. I was always deeply passionate about the food and beverage industry, and ultimately this is where I found my self later. I was in love with the independent and exquisite restaurants I saw in New York and everywhere in the world so I felt the need to create my own thing with my own signature.
Can you tell us the story behind the name Original Birth? What is the company’s main vision?
The name Original Birth came around when my partner and I were discussing original ideas and unique concepts. We decided to name the company Original Birth as our main vision is creating distinctive concepts when it comes to restaurants and hotels that are unlike anything anyone has seen before. Our goal is to get people thrilled and fascinated with their dining experience and feel like they have actually stepped into something new. I am not into following trends so I’m constantly trying to create something original.
What is your philosophy towards work?
I have always admired the German culture of strong leadership, discipline, consistency and precision. I strongly believe that those are the fundamental values of a business. This is very important in the hospitality field; I believe everything should be done right from the top to the very bottom, from the head of the organization to the doorman, in order to achieve the highest standard of quality.
You recently launched some of the most successful venues in town: Loft 21, Dos Canas and U Bistro. Can you tell us the core concept behind each one?
Loft 21: Earlier on in my career, I was working as a restaurant manager in New York and I fell in love with the city. During that time, the executive chef and everybody else in the culinary world was French; that’s how America was in the early 90s. They were doing all this French food and everyone hated it! A lot of butter! A lot of sauces! They then started adapting French cuisine with American comfort food. The concept gained momentum mainly in the Meatpacking District, where you get the New York architectural feel mixed with raw metal, wood and stone. When I saw the rooftop of the venue here at Loft 21 with the view of the city’s skyline, I knew it was right. By putting an American Brasserie on top, you have the best
of both worlds.
Dos Canas: For Dos Canas I wanted to create a universal Taparia, not just your average Spanish one. The concept of the food served on the menu is driven by a combination of cuisines from different cultures ranging from Indian spices to Pan Asian food to Mediterranean-inspired tapas.
U Bistro: As the consultants for U Bistro, we came up with the concept of an all-Mediterranean bistro; it’s the ultimate place for afternoon drinks or a quiet dinner with friends.
If you could choose one dish and one cocktail at Loft 21 and Dos Canas what would they be?
Loft21: Pims Fig Cocktail and The California Crab Cakes with the red bell peppers.
Dos Canas: The Batates Bravas and the Nasi Goreng (which is fried rice with fresh vegetables and pine nuts with a little bit of soya and egg yolk on top) and for the drink I have to say the Sangria of course!
What’s your secret to maintaining the standards of the venues you manage?
You have got to be on the floor, you have to lead it and be persistent about quality. You have to encourage people, motivate them and make them feel like they are part of the whole process and have equal ownership. I’m extremely engaged with my customers and employees; I’m heavily involved with the food, the table settings and even the architecture and interiors of the place. I’m really dedicated to the concept as a whole.
We know you have met quite a few famous culinary icons; who were you star struck by the most?
Thomas Keller, Dani Garcia, Pierre Gagnaire and Jose Andres.
We heard something cheesy is coming out of OB’s Kitchen. Can you tell us more or is it yet to be revealed?
It’s actually still in the works. The idea behind the Cheesy Room is inspired by classic French restaurants such as the Lasserre, Le Train Bleu and Le Grand Vefour. The whole vibe will take you back in time with every intricate detail thought out, like the staff dressed in black suits and bow ties, live performances of soothing Jazz and French classic food items on the menu. I believe this new concept will appeal to people of all ages in Egypt, not necessarily the older crowd because it’s really fresh.
Are you currently working on any new hotel concepts in Egypt?
Boutique hotels were trending for a while but are now quite outdated. What is really hot now is concept hotels, and that’s what we are currently working on in Ras Sudr with the Fade Concept Hotel. The idea behind it is small hotels combining the local culture of a communal space with the hotel experience. The whole architecture of the place is integrated with natural resources from the Sinai desert using stones, plants etc… It’s the perfect place for anyone to just fade out! We also have several hotel concepts in Zamalek, Alexandria and Ain Sokhna that are still in the works.
What do you do with your free time when you’re not the managing director of OB Hotels & Restaurants?
Travel! I feel the need to explore and travel to different places I haven’t been before and embrace different cultures, cities and nature.
Describe yourself in three words?
Passionate, determined and happy!