The Kurator chats exclusively to Amazónico group executive chef Chef Diego Sanchez Vargas about South American cuisine and fine dining in Dubai
You’ve been named group executive chef at Amazónico - can you tell us how this chapter of your story began?
I began my culinary career when I was just 18 years old, but I’ve always been passionate about food, cooking, and Latin American cuisine since I was young… After a few years in the industry, I met Virgilio Martinez and Gaston Acurio, both leading visionaries and trailblazing advocates of Peruvian cuisine. I then worked in multiple restaurants and venues in Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Hong Kong and Dubai. In 2019 I met Sandro Silva, who proposed that I should oversee and lead the charge in opening Amazónico in Dubai, so I gladly accepted because I knew this would be an amazing brand, especially in the burgeoning and diverse dining scene in Dubai.
What makes Amazónico’s concept unique?
Amazónico's concept stands out for its distinctive and multifaceted approach to dining and hospitality. Since opening its doors in Dubai in 2019, Amazónico has taken its guests on an immersive journey through the Amazon as it carries authentic elements of rich Latin American heritage and traditions. Beyond the culinary experience, Amazónico places a strong emphasis on sustainability. We are dedicated to responsible sourcing and eco-friendly practices, aligning with the growing global focus on environmental consciousness.
How do you capture Latin American cuisine, and how does your work represent you as a chef?
With every plate that we create, we try to capture the diversity that we have in Latin America and combine it with different influences and cultures from Europe and Asia. Expect every dish to be bursting with vibrant colours and flavours from South America and the Amazon, as these represent me as a chef and play a major role in everything that I do and create.
What do you aim to achieve in your new role as Group Executive Chef for the Amazónico brand?
This new role is part of our exciting new strategy to open more Amazónico outposts, and it began with the opportunity to be part of the Amazónico Riyadh project and to help with the other two openings in the future. As Group Executive Chef, it is important for me to bring and deliver the same quality of products that we have in Dubai to Riyadh. This is built upon my belief that consistency is key, and we can only achieve this by working together with our suppliers, especially now that we are running a bigger venture, and our suppliers play an integral part of our daily operations. The other important element is to build a strong team, just like we did in Amazónico Dubai, which has been very instrumental to our success over the last four years.
What are some of the big challenges in terms of the expansion?
Amazónico is always driven by the quality of the products and is the first thing we always put into consideration for new openings and in creating the menu. We need to understand the current market and what customers are interested in. Is this cuisine something they will like? What products are really worth it? These are just some of the questions we ask ourselves before creating the menu. Authenticity and staying true to Latin American flavours are also challenges that we face, especially with these new expansions being far from South America and bringing this produce and products to the Middle East is difficult.
How do you tackle these challenges of sourcing materials for your menu and ensuring authenticity?
We forecast our consumption of the more important products, especially the ones that have been a staple on our menu. Most of them are coming from South America, such as our meat offerings, which are always highly in demand. We’ve developed a system in which we go into detail with our database, which has records about portion sales, and we take this as a reference with data from last year's consumption, or at times we base it on a monthly basis. After reviewing this data, we then communicate it to our suppliers and systematically source our materials and products.
We also consider other aspects such as taxes, price increases, and market prices. Seasonality also plays a huge role, or any new factor that can affect the price of the product. From this, we take decisions together with our suppliers to make sure that this doesn’t affect the final price for our guests.
How is fine dining cuisine appreciated in the Middle East, and is there a unique aspect to working here in the region?
I think the Middle East is going through a positive movement of appreciating new fine dining concepts. I am happy to see that small concepts are gaining steam and support. Good restaurants with limited seating can offer elevated products and services and are very important to reach the culinary level we only see in established markets such as Europe. Personally, the unique aspect of working in the Middle East is having access to diverse and quality ingredients from all over the world, and this is only possible with the region being a melting pot of cultures, influences, and flavours that you will not see in other parts of the world.
How do you flourish and succeed in this highly competitive dining market in the region?
With Amazónico, one important factor and reason why we’ve flourished and succeeded over the past few years is our human talent and our amazing team. Our team is full of passion for what we are doing, and we know that success is something that we build day by day. We don’t try to imitate other concepts, and we always stay true to our core. Even after four years, Amazónico has been building its own energy and vibrance, and we have always been consistent in what we deliver. We always push to go above and beyond and surpass the expectations of our guests.