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Marta's Kitchen, Dubai

1 October 2014

With a passion for simple but high-quality fresh food, chef Marta Yanci is bringing the boutique charm of family-style European dining to Dubai’s Jumeirah Lakes Towers – a hub for independent businesses

In a short time, Marta Yanci has turned a passion for natural, home-cooked food into a thriving catering business, Marta’s Kitchen, and appeared on television in both Dubai and her native Spain. Her latest venture, Marta’s Workshop, has wowed Dubai foodies with its natural ingredients, simple cooking and fuss-free eating. 

The European-style restaurant, located in the south of the city in Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT), opposite Dubai Marina, has brought the charm of Europe’s modest, family-owned restaurants to a food scene better-known for its big name international culinary players. “The idea is to offer something very different to what we usually find in Dubai,” Marta says. “We serve simple, natural ingredients in a very casual setting. We believe that you can have a five-star meal without having to serve lobster or caviar. You don’t need to have super expensive ingredients to have a nice meal. It can be affordable.” 

Intimate, family-run and market fresh, Marta’s Workshop aims for a pared back experience, akin to the meals the chef enjoyed during her childhood in San Sebastian, Spain, where the focus is primarily on the food. Seating 18 to 20 people, diners at Marta’s Workshop can opt for relaxed bar stool seating indoors, nab one of the three indoor tables or dine alfresco in the courtyard, with views across JLT, before being served by Marta and the restaurant’s chefs.

“We don’t have waiters,” Marta explains. “You are served by the same people who cooked your dish.” “For Dubai’s residents, especially Europeans, they’d longed for something like this, something like they were used to at home – a small, family-owned restaurant with good ingredients.” 

However, despite its immediate success in its first year of operation, Marta’s Workshop almost never existed at all. With a successful career practising European Union law, Marta had never considered cooking professionally. While food, cooking and eating were passions, she says that when embarking on her university studies, things were very different to how they are today, and being a chef wasn’t considered a ‘professional’ career. 

But, with a shared love of food, Marta and her husband travelled Europe to discover the continent’s best restaurants and amassed a treasure-trove of homegrown recipes along the way. Marta says that many of the couple’s friends considered their travels a waste of time and money, but for them, their adventures fuelled a shared dream to one day start a food business.

It was in Dubai that everything changed and the lawyer gained the confidence to turn her love of food into a new career. After a number of years of hosting dinner parties and gaining compliments on her home cooking, Marta decided to launch a catering business, based on the family’s recipes, food they had enjoyed while travelling and favourite meals. 

Marta’s Kitchen was born almost five years ago, a collaborative catering company that tailors each event to clients’ individual needs – no set menus. Marta’s skills in the kitchen saw the catering firm fast gain a reputation as many Dubai residents’ go-to caterer. “We adapt a lot, clients have different tastes and needs, and some require specialised diets, such as dairy- or gluten-free,” Marta says. 

“We decided to start in catering first, before we considered opening a restaurant. It’s about taking one step at a time. I prefer to go slowly but surely. Marta’s Workshop was a natural step, it wasn’t planned. We took on more space to expand our catering kitchen but we had such a nice room and courtyard, we decided to open a restaurant.”

With repeat business from residents and very positive reviews on TripAdvisor encouraging tourists to visit when passing through Dubai, reservations at Marta’s Workshop are now highly sought after during the cooler months. If you want to ensure that you don’t walk away with an empty stomach, you should arrive early. Marta’s Workshop only operates between noon and 2.30pm on weekdays. 

“In using fresh ingredients, we have limited amounts of food every day and close when we run out,” explains Marta. “We use what is in season and we don’t want to be throwing food away.” The set menu, which changes each day, is anything but the usual lunch fare, and Marta’s Kitchen also operates as a showpiece for the in-demand catering business, so, despite her Spanish roots, the menu at the culinary atelier is not restrained to European cooking. 

“The menu is varied, as I try to profit from the fact that we are in a city that has a lot of different foods from many different countries available,” says Marta. “I’ll also test new recipes for the catering business to see how people respond to them. The advantage of not being classically trained as a chef is that I’m not constrained by what is right or wrong in a culinary sense, I just go with my gut instinct.”

Innovative plates include a tempting ‘false pumpkin’ and goat’s cheese Lasagne, a baby spinach, mushroom and strawberry salad, sea bream with ajoblanco and grapes, and fruit tartar with mango sorbet and strawberry soup for dessert. Thanks to the wide array of ingredients on offer in Dubai and her bank of food travel experiences, Marta explains that Vietnamese cooking is a major influence in her kitchen at present. 

“I love Vietnamese food. It’s very fresh, very simple and they respect the product so much.” Marta spent the summer in Spain filming the second season of her show on Spanish cooking channel Canal Cocina, which she was invited to produce after she posted appearances on local TV channel Dubai One on YouTube, but she promises that she has returned to the start of Dubai’s busy season brimming with fresh ideas and new recipes for Marta’s Workshop. W

hat’s more, international fans who have discovered Marta’s cooking while visiting Dubai will soon be able to have a taste of her food abroad, she says. “We have new and exciting plans to expand with a new concept in Europe by the first quarter of 2015. But we can’t reveal more for now.” 

martasworkshop.com

Words and images: Sandra Tinari

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