Celebrity chef Jason Atherton ready to launch brand-new Doha restaurant Pearl Social

We chat fitness, Filipino food and a five-star restaurants with famed cook

Celebrity chef Jason Atherton ready to launch brand-new Doha restaurant Pearl Social
Celebrity chef Jason Atherton ready to launch brand-new Doha restaurant Pearl Social Image #2
Celebrity chef Jason Atherton ready to launch brand-new Doha restaurant Pearl Social Image #3
Celebrity chef Jason Atherton ready to launch brand-new Doha restaurant Pearl Social Image #4
Celebrity chef Jason Atherton ready to launch brand-new Doha restaurant Pearl Social Image #5

Sitting opposite Jason Atherton is not an easy task, his charm will disarm you in a matter of seconds. And it’s not just because he is a celebrity chef with a culinary empire of more than 15 international restaurants. He is quite charming, makes great conversation and his passion for food is uncompromising.

We all know Atherton is a good chef, but from the looks of Pearl Social’s thoughtful interiors and classic menu with Mediterranean touches, his very first Doha venture is on the brink of success. He prides himself in his fare that’s not just technically impressive but also has a lot of heart. We’re 100 percent in agreement, especially after we’ve sampled his 40-day aged beef cheek. We dig a little deeper…

How has Pearl Social been doing so far?
It’s been great. I prefer not to launch from day one itself because, in a foreign country, I like to give myself a grace period to hone the product and make sure we’re happy with it. We look out for guest feedback, tweak the menu as required, take some dishes off and add some new ones.

Do you always do a dry run? Have you perfected your menu here?
In London, I know the clientele, where they like to eat, their behavioural patterns, their timing of consumption and much more. However, in Doha, I lack this information and it was hence important for me to first write an initial menu that I thought the guests would like. Over the last few weeks, we’ve repeatedly gone through the format and assessed guest feedback simultaneously. I think we finally have the perfect menu now.

What’s the story behind Pearl Social and how did it come to be?
Our brand is social. The reason why we created the word “social” to be alongside our company is because we just wanted these spots to be fun. Of course, we want our food to be serious and really great but ultimately the place has got to be social. People should be able to come have drinks or just meet for coffee if they like. I like my restaurants to be so relaxed that you can just have a starter and then leave or you can celebrate your family member’s wedding or a birthday. That’s what restaurants should be for, right? Some people take restaurants too seriously and then it loses the essence of what it should be. They are designed to feed us and help us relax. The word social was about that and also because it was located in The Pearl.

Why Doha?
Mr Alfardan was a regular guest of ours in London, he loves Berners Tavern. He approached me and said, “Look, we’re looking to refurbish this restaurant, would you be interested in coming on board with us as a partner?” So, I flew over, looked at the project and decided that we could do something cool. And, that was it.

Your passion for food is no secret. How do you manage to stay so fit?
I work out a lot and this afternoon, I’ll go for an hour and half to the gym. Working out is very important to me. I’m no spring chicken, I’m nearly 50 and I like to try and keep fit. It’s good for the heart, and it’s good for my stamina because of the long hours in the kitchen. I’ll wake up again and go to the gym for an hour and a half again tomorrow, and then catch a flight to London. If you’re lethargic and tired, you can never maintain this lifestyle, and I want to be around for a long time. I want to be able to spend time with my children and grandchildren.

Your wife is from the Philippines. Have you been?
I go thrice a year – twice for work and once for pleasure. I love relaxing and for me, there’s no better place than Cebu to do that.

What do you hate and love about the Filipino cuisine?
I hate that it has a bad reputation across the world of being grey or brown and boring. I disagree, I think it’s vibrant and exciting with lots of flavours, layers and history. Its been ransacked by so many cultures such as the British, the Portuguese and more. It is the undiscovered cuisine of South Asia and in the next ten years, it’s going to boom.

What is your favourite Filipino food?
Every country has a soup which they enjoy. I was out one evening with my wife in the Philippines and we enjoyed some bulalo later. My kids love adobo, and when it’s done well, it’s a classic.

Your top guilty food pleasure?
It’s no secret, but every now and then I enjoy English sliced bread, butter, cheese, ham, crisps and HP brown sauce with a cup of tea while watching football.

Your favourite foodie destination and why?
I’ve got two: San Francisco, because it has been booming and I’ve been going there for 20 years now. I got inspired by a restaurant there called Rose Pistola. And the second is Vietnam, I am always awestruck by their casual cuisine.

Any dish of yours that your family loves?
Well, we’ve consulted 25 restaurants in our time and we own 15. My kids have always been brought up around restaurants and when we opened up our gourmet pizza restaurant in Victoria, they were so happy. To go in there and make pizza with the chefs is what gets them really excited. They keep saying, “Finally, daddy’s got a pizza restaurant.”

Who cooks at home?
Both my wife and I. Sometimes our nanny cooks, but my wife makes amazing food.

What were your biggest challenges in opening Pearl Social?
Making sure that we executed properly. Additionally, we have to make sure we please the Qataris, expats and our general clientele in Qatar. I had to make sure that my vision from London was executed properly and not just when I’m in town. Our team on the ground has to follow the vision correctly. So far, they are doing an amazing job.

You recently launched a cookbook at Pollen Street Social. Any similar plans for Doha?
Never say never. I’m not under that kind of contract at the moment. I was under a three-book deal with Bloomsbury. I’ve just come out of a TV show on Primetime for BBC Two, the biggest food channel in the UK, which is a big deal. To write a cookbook is a massive task and it took me two years to write my first. If we do, we won’t make another one for a few years. The most important thing right now is to get this restaurant successful.
Open Sat-Wed 7pm-11pm (Mondays closed); Thu-Fri 7pm-midnight. Pearl Social, Marsa Malaz Kempinski, The Pearl-Qatar (4477 4164).

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