Bahrain Confidential interviews Marco Den Ouden, General Manager, Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort and Spa
Marco Den Ouden has been in the hospitality industry since the age of 12. From kitchen, room management, and revenue management, to becoming General Manager at the age of 23 in Rotterdam, Netherlands, he has seen it all. He has launched 50 restaurants over the years and worked at leading resorts in various destinations before moving to this island where he heads the Jumeirah Gulf of Bahrain Resort and Spa.
Food plays an important role in his life. A proud owner of over 1500 cookbooks, his passion for food is evident in the restaurants that now decorate the gorgeous grounds of the resort.
We sat down with him to uncover some of his experiences heading the luxury five-star resort, his love for food, and more.
In your opinion, what makes a restaurant special?
There are a lot of factors that make restaurants special. The most important ones are that they offer something unique with a personal touch. A passionate chef who believes in cooking with love and values his ingredients creates something of a masterpiece which only after tasting, does he put on the table.
What are your thoughts on Bahrain’s F&B sector?
We’re very fortunate to have great products and a world of ingredients available to us in Bahrain which creates an opportunity to produce great food here. Culturally speaking, the people in Bahrain are equally passionate and interested in food and beverages – whether it’s cooking at home or dining out. From a business perspective, it’s an advantage because when people care about the food, it’s easier to explain our food to them, no matter where they’ve originated.
Bahrain, on the one side, has a strong history of food and hospitality. On the other hand, there are a lot of new cultures and cuisines creating a diversity of flavours.
In the context of operating a resort, it’s all about creating little booklets of experiences by introducing these varieties of flavours and cuisines to our offerings. It’s important that when people visit the resort, they go to different restaurants that provide unique experiences to them.
What are your favourite dishes served at the resort’s many restaurants?
Since I’ve been very involved in the restaurant concepts and in the tastings, it’s difficult to pick my favourites from the lot. For instance, if you love Italian food, the diversity of the cuisine itself is massive and so we like Sicily as an example which inspires our restaurant, Due Mari. Sicily has had four periods of dominance. What’s unique about Sicilians is that they hold onto their traditional recipes. If you drive to different villages, you will find completely different menus. However, their relationship with food is what inspires Due Mari. It is interesting to note that authentic Sicilian food has an Arabic influence to it. It’s perhaps the only restaurant in Bahrain serving the cuisine and it seems to be suiting the people here very well too.
How do you ensure your restaurants always meet the highest standards of quality and guest experiences?
I take myself out of the equation, look at the space, and try to understand what our guests are experiencing at different spots of the resort. If it’s a transitional area, are people feeling too rushed out of there? If so, how can the space be rendered more comfortable? We have also used colour schemes in line with the ocean and the landscape.
We apply the same principles to the restaurants. For instance, Zahrat Al Fayrouz has a slightly darker setting, making it an ideal dinner spot. On the other Due Mari which is closer to the sea and has a lot more light coming into the restaurant, the vibe is brighter and starkly different from Zahrat. Ultimately, it’s about creating good concepts that allow guests to want to spend more time eating and enjoying themselves at each of the restaurants.
What are your favourite places to eat in Bahrain?
Clay is one of my favourite spots to eat. They have a great playlist, a good team, and an energy that makes you enjoy your time at the restaurant. They serve authentic food prepared by talented chefs. I also quite enjoy Chong Chan Ting in Adliya which serves delicious Chinese food. You would find items that are typically served only in China which makes it a unique concept here from authenticity to freshness of food.