When I first discovered moonrise last year, I was immediately taken by the delicate intricacies of the food. The high level finesse and creativity had me smithin. A few more seconds of scrolling and I found the brainchild of the operation, immediately my curiosity was piqued. Since moving to Dubai, it has been a major struggle to discover other young people in the industry who are actively going out there and working to build something; to express the joys of youth via their own interpretations.
Cut to a few months later when I went into Moonrise, the intimacy of the venue allowed for a near personalized service, executed in a beautiful synchronized harmony of sizzling perfection. While largely self taught, Chef Soleman also attended culinary school in the U.K. and Tokyo but attributes love for food and techniques to his early days as a child growing up in Dubai, a true melting pot of cultures.
In a very exciting conversation, we discover his story. Where he started, where he is now and most importantly, what lies ahead for him. Discover the interview below.
- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, including where you are today, professionally, and what got you here?
I’m 26 years old. I was born and raised in Dubai. I’m the Chef and Co-Owner of Moonrise, an 8-seater Omakase restaurant located on the rooftop of Eden House in Dubai. I’m a self-taught chef, meaning that except for having gone to culinary school (in Tokyo and then London), I have had no prolonged training working under another chef. Being self-taught has been quite challenging – mainly because I lacked the mentorship and experience to run a business – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Difficult as it may have been learning my way into the industry, my imagination and creativity has never been limited by culinary dogma because no one ever told me what to do, and that really enabled me to explore cooking from a different approach.
- What inspired Moonrise?
Three things: Dubai, Curiosity, Ambition.
My career’s goal has always been the same: to show the world that we can strive to serve excellence, while being proud of our roots in this region. That we can proudly be from this region and showcase the best that it has to offer, while creating positive change and serving our guests an experience that aims to be perfect by any standards. Of course, there is a lot of work to do. The learning doesn’t stop – and it never will. But as long as we keep our heads down and work hard towards our goals, then I believe in us enough to know that we will one day realize our dreams.
- Tell me about the last year of Moonrise, how has it been for you? What is a typical “day in the life of Chef Soleman” like”?
The last year has been filled with a lot of work, and a lot of gratitude. At the restaurant, we all work towards the unachievable and endless pursuit of excellence. That of course, ensues a ton of work and learning, but seeing how the market has been accepting of us since our opening in September 2021 makes it all worth it. What we want most for our guests is to make sure they had a great experience at the restaurant, so seeing a smile on their faces or being told that we have done well by them is what matters most to us. Having someone pay a fair sum in exchange a dining experience entails so much responsibility. No matter what happens throughout the day or in your personal life, when service starts nothing else matters. We must make sure the restaurant is completely spotless, everything has to be prepared with the utmost sense of care and hygiene, and no compromises can be made when it comes to the quality of the service or products used.
This is what a typical day for me looks like:
1 PM: Wake up and check all missed calls, emails, DMs, POS updates on my phone. This literally happens in bed the second I wake up.
2 PM -3 PM: Show up to work. Work on all admin/ accounting/ bureaucratic tasks. I check on the team and make sure they’re A O.K on prep. Work on any new dishes. Taste everything and make sure we’re ready for service.
6 PM -7 PM Make sure that the restaurant is spotless, and the tables are set before dinner.
7 PM – 12 AM: The most important part of the day: service.
1 AM -4 AM: Go home, reply to my emails. Get any unfinished work out of the way. Read books and work on new ways to fine tune our experience. This is also when I work on conceptualizing new dishes. Then I sleep and get ready for the next day.
- If your mom ate at Moonrise, what would her feedback be?
My mother passed away about ten years ago from an unexcepted accident. I was 16 at the time, and it most definitely left its mark. From my experience, going through something like that at such a young age can make or break you. You either collapse under the weight of all that anxiety and anger, or you find a way to use all that extra energy as fuel to stay strong and push hard towards your goals. I like to think that if she did get to eat at Moonrise, that she would have been proud. She wasn’t the most adventurous person when it came to food, so I don’t think she would understand it, but she would be proud.
- As a young Chef, do you think your older peers accord you respect or do you think they diss you for not having followed the traditional route?
I’ve faced a fair amount of bullying and racism throughout my career. But I refuse to let any of that define me or my story. My goal has always been about impact and producing positive change, so I don’t want to give light to any such sorties.
I always try to focus on the positives, and on the people that have believe in me, and that have given me the opportunities that allowed me to grow and take on new challenges. I don’t think it would be fair to dismiss such people and to focus on the negatives. I’m so grateful to have had many people throughout my career believe in me, from my team and co-workers to many of my peers, and, of course, my family and friends. I am eternally grateful to all of them (they know themselves) for having always believed in me, even when I did not.
- What does the future look like for you & for Moonrise?
I can’t tell for sure, but what I do know is that I will continue to push myself and the team to becoming better every day. The goal with Moonrise has always been to become one of the best restaurants in the world, and to proudly do it here in my hometown of Dubai. Of course, we have a very long way to go and a lot of hours to clock in before getting there. But so long as we work on our goals every day, while putting a smile on our guests’ faces in the process, then we’re on the right track.
- What advice would you give every young Chef starting out today?
- Believe in yourself – a lot. Always go by your gut. You know what’s best for you. Take advice from everyone that you think is credible, but make sure that every decision you make is yours.
- Be ready to work 12 + hours per day. Fortunately, a typical restaurant’s work environment is much healthier than it was in the past – toxic masculinity and unnecessary pressure are not as common as they used to be. But when it comes to the actual work hours, there are no shortcuts in this industry. I’ve missed my own university graduation, multiple Eids, Christmases and birthdays. I barely see my family because all I do is work. This is, unfortunately, one of the biggest negatives of our industry to which I can’t think of a solution.
- Stay humble. Arrogance, ego and cockiness are very self-destructive. Confidence and arrogance are not the same thing. Be confident in yourself, but don’t think you’re better than others. I have never seen a trait cause more harm to oneself than having a big ego. It prohibits you from learning and acknowledging when you have made a mistake. It stalls growth. Never think that “you’re there”, there’s always a way to get better, people that know more than you, and lessons to be learnt.
- Be kind. Our industry is tough, and we all work super hard. Be kind to yourself and others around you – no matter the pressure you’re under. Kindness always wins. Again, everyone prefers working in a kind and healthy work environment that fosters care and compassion.
- Do I still have my “Moonrise hat” waiting for me? lol
Hahaha yes! Of course! Send me your details, and I’ll have it Careem-ed to you ASAP.