Located in the Opus Tower designed by Zaha Hadid, Sfumato Gastro Atelier draws a conceptual parallel from the architectural wonder it is nestled in.
The food and the interiors are minimalistic at the first glance, but the subtle detailing and nuanced layering in both these elements will leave a lasting impression. Chef Alena Solodovichenko dares to experiment confidently in a male-dominated world, challenging stereotypes and pioneering her own unique style to produce an unforgettable experience in an internationally-renowned setting.
The guiding concept of the Sfumato Gastro Atelier is affordable luxury with a forthright but delicate vision of all-day dining for the new wave. Chef reinterprets her family recipes with produce from local farms featuring delicate and intimate flavors, showing that vegetables and roots can evolve into sophisticated ingredients ready to play the main role in any dish.
In a detailed conversation with Emirates Woman, chef talks about being at the helm of change, breaking stereotypes and testing the culinary waters in Dubai.
The restaurant is located in the iconic Opus Tower designed by Zaha Hadid. Did the architecture play a role when it came to drawing inspiration for the menu?
The architecture played an important role in the process of creating Sfumato menu. Zaha Hadid’s architectural style is characterized by smooth, flowing lines and curves, and is typically free of sharp or angular features. That’s why the menu in Sfumato is delicate and feminine as well. I also took part in creating design for the dishes, and made sure it reflects the forms of the Opus Tower.
Culinary is still a male-dominated industry. As a Michelin-recognized chef, how do you constantly revolutionize urban dining?
This is true – statistics show that there are more men in the industry than women. Being in the kitchen since I was 19 years old, I have always considered this fact as motivation to improve my techniques. I want to create things that will inspire other women, coerce them to revolutionize their approach, and help them get rid of the fears.
Female chefs are still rare, especially in the MENA region. I receive tons of messages with women sharing their personal stories – some of them are truly inspired by my career track. Some of my subscribers on Instagram have left their jobs and gone to the kitchen to pursue their dreams. Such stories make me really proud, and willing to show that everything’s possible.
You’ve reproduced your family recipes with produce from local farms featuring delicate and intimate flavors – tell us a little about that?
There’re a lot of dishes in Sfumato inspired by my childhood memories. Yet I understand that people have different backgrounds, and the culture in Dubai is different from the one I grew up in, so what I did wasn’t just reproducing family recipes. I find joy in taking something familiar and making a twist to find new flavors. For example, we have a dish in Sfumato that was inspired by the traditional Ukrainian dish golubtsy. What I did was replacing all original ingredients with the local ones, leaving just the concept of cabbage roll. In the original recipe they use meat, but I took hamour, which is a well-known product for people in UAE. For me it is still a dish that reminds me of my childhood, but now it’s also familiar and appealing to those who have never tastes golubtsy.
The cuisine is tailored to excite the senses of sight and taste without compromising the natural goodness of the ingredients – how do you manage to execute this?
Honesty and authenticity is what my cuisine is about. I want people to know the real taste of the ingredients. We use delicate techniques, and our sauces are designed to highlight the natural flavor without overshadowing it. A good example is our Beetroot Stracciatella, where we use beets and sauce made from rosemary and black currant (by the way, it’s a fascinating discovery that same-color ingredients tend to match perfectly with each other). We bake beetroot first, and then dehydrate it. Thus, we manage not only to preserve the taste of beets, but also to make it even brighter and sweeter.
Another important aspect of my vision is feminine touch. When in Sfumato, one should feel that there’s a woman at the helm of the kitchen. We show huge respect in our job – for the guests, and for the ingredients as well. When a person comes to me and says: “I’ve never enjoyed beetroot, celeriac, or cauliflower, but after visiting Sfumato I’ve changed my mind”. This is the greatest compliment. We take care of our guests, our dishes are healthy. If people in Dubai start to eat more veggies, and there’s at least a tiny fraction of my contribution, it’ll feel right to me.
The menu features ample variety for meat lovers but the vegetarian dishes particularly stand-out because of the choice of ingredients and the preparation behind it – can you take us through the process?
We use various techniques, of course, – fire, sous vide, dehydration, molecular techniques, – but fas a chef, fire is still one of my favorites. We’ve got josper – and I’m a 100% fan of this smoky taste it gives the products. I personally eat lots of vegetables and roots, although I’m not a vegetarian and enjoy good meat, fish, eggs, cheese etc. But when you can cook veggies right, you (and your guests) just fall in love with them.
While Dubai is known for its opulent gastronomical scene, SFUMATO Gastro Atelier is particularly minimal in principle and virtue – how do you think it will be perceived?
I hope that Dubai is ready to try something new. We hear our guests say that there’s nothing like Sfumato in Dubai. Our minimalistic approach is truly unique. Tons of truffle and oysters, opulent sophisticated dishes, – this is not about us, and I truly believe that our philosophy will be well received.