Congratulations on the opening of Pampano – this is the fourth you have opened with Placido Domingo, the others being in New York, Mexico and Acapulco. How did the collaboration come about?
I knew Placido (inset) from Acapulco where I grew up, and he has a home there where he spends some of his vacations. Once in New York, Placido approached me about giving him some advice on an existing restaurant he had, and the rest is history. He liked my idea about doing a Mexican coastal seafood restaurant, and Pampano was born.
How involved is Placido on a day-to-day basis, and how often do you guys meet up? You both seem extremely busy people.
Placido is extremely busy and pretty much lets me run the restaurants, but whenever he is in town he tries to spend as much time as he can with us. We see each other at least once every couple of months to discuss the restaurants and maybe some ideas he has, or new things I want to do.
After New York etc, why pick Doha as the venue for the latest branch of Pampano?
Placido was asked to do a concert in Doha at the Pearl, and when he saw the project he was overwhelmed with excitement and asked the owners if it was possible to do a Pampano. I also like to be part of extraordinary projects, and the Pearl is one of the most exciting I have seen.
Are the menus similar, or does the Doha branch cater for the Middle East market? Are you using more produce sourced from the region?
Yes, the menus are similar with a few exceptions. And we try to use as many local products as we can.
Is it fair to say there are too many stereotypes surrounding Mexican food? People associate it more with fast food than with fine dining. How do you get around that with your restaurants?
Yes, there are too many stereotypes surrounding Mexican food, and the biggest one has always been that it is seen as fast food and too much like Tex-Mex, but I have slowly been changing that perception over the last 13 years. The way I try to explain it to people is that what we do is different in the sense that I ask them to compare us with white table cloth restaurants and not fast food restaurants, and the only difference between us and the other restaurants is we all use the same proteins, but I use crema fresca instead of crème fraiche; I use Mexican herbs like cilantro instead of thyme; I use huitlacoche instead of truffles. The hardest thing for people was paying high prices at my restaurants when they were used to spending half at other Mexican restaurants. With this comparison, people began to understand our Mexican restaurants.
When you visited Doha, did you try any other Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurants? Or did you eat anywhere else that you liked? Gordon Ramsay, of course, is your neighbour on the Pearl…
Yes, when I visited Doha I went to Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant. I always go out and try new things. I also visited the Lebanese restaurant at the Pearl, Burj Al Hamam, which was great.
We worked out from your website that you have, or are involved with, 15 restaurants now, with eight different brand names. How are they different, and is there that much variety with Mexican food?
Some of the brands are similar as far as the menus go, but they are different in design. For example, Pampano is 90 per cent seafood, and Maya, which I have a branch of in Dubai, is more traditional… Zengo is Latin-Asian and so on – so yes, each restaurant has its own uniqueness.
How do you divide your time between all of the venues, and do you still get into the kitchen as often as you would like?
I travel a lot – 150,000 miles per year to try and visit each restaurant at least every couple of months. Being in the kitchen made me who I am today, and unfortunately I am not able to spend as much time there
now as I would like, but I will tell you that every menu item in every one of my restaurants has gone through my palate.
Can you see yourself bringing more of your other restaurants to this region?
Absolutely. We are looking at bringing a couple more out here soon.
You’ve had Maya in Dubai for many years, can you see as much potential with Doha’s restaurant scene?
I can. I believe Doha will become a major player in the culinary world over the next few years.
Pampano, The Pearl-Qatar (495 3876 ext 1221). Open daily noon-3pm, 7pm-11pm.