People 2 minutes 03 May 2024

One Chef/One Producer: Putting Local Produce On The Menu In Dubai

What happens when two innovatives in produce and cooking come together? Sheer delight in taste and efficacy, that’s what.

In a country that relies heavily on international imports, the embracing of local produce is shared by many in the UAE, causing a trickle of considered initiatives and partnerships to blossom.

One such blossoming collaboration is between chef Ruben Guerrero of MICHELIN-selected restaurant, 99 Sushi Bar, and founder of Middle East gourmet oyster farm Dibba Bay Oysters, Ramie Murray. Sharing a mutual goal towards the best quality produce and economic responsibility, chef Ruben insists their partnership, which started in 2019, was crucial in reducing the carbon footprint (and complimenting his menu). However, this meeting of minds wasn’t always a common occurrence for Ramie.

“When I introduced the oysters to the UAE's F&B industry in 2017,” Ramie begins, “I had to have a number of face-to-face tastings and explanations to convince chefs to take a locally grown oyster seriously.” The norm at the time was for restaurants to import oysters from abroad and as such, it was difficult for Ramie to alter people’s perceptions and business models, but thankfully, the quality of his product spoke for itself. “It was just a matter of putting in the hard yards and visiting as many restaurants as possible!” he recalls.

Local shipments from Dibba Bay can go from farm to table in just a few hours, compared with lengthy international refrigerated imports that contribute to the world’s growing carbon emissions crisis.


According to chef Ruben, by 2019, everyone was talking about the exciting oyster farm that was beginning to shift the UAE’s importation of oysters. “No one could ever imagine oysters being farmed in the UAE, despite the long-lasting pearl diving heritage the country is famed for,” he says. “So upon joining 99 Sushi Bar, I was curious to discover a local company, harvesting such a delicate product, right here in the UAE ー back in the day, it really seemed like a crazy intriguing idea. I remember being literally blown away by the richness of Ramie Murray’s oysters, with their delicate fresh and subtle iodine.”

It’s this shared curiosity for exploring new horizons and a daringness for change that built the foundation of chef Ruben and Ramie’s long working relationship. Dibba Bay Oysters now supply over 150 restaurants in the UAE, including 99 Sushi Bar, and are considered by these restaurateurs as suppliers of a world-class product, even compared to European producers. But what makes Dibba Bay Oysters taste so good?

Ramie explains that the east coast of the UAE has ideal growing conditions for oysters thanks to its warm temperatures in the waters and the rich density of plankton that's available throughout most of the year. “Our oysters have an incredibly fast growth rate, needing only 7-9 months to reach adult size,” he says. “European oysters, in comparison, can take up to 2-3 years to grow to market size.”

This premium quality is an inherent value of both brands. “It is ingredients like these that guarantee the highest expression of our cuisine,” chef Ruben expresses.

“I like to accommodate these oysters simply, with just the right amount of acidity, to let the purity of their taste come through.”

While both parties continue to face challenges in reaching ultimate sustainability, they innovate to find new ways in becoming increasingly eco-conscious. Dibba Bay Oyster Reef Creation Project is the incentive started by Dibba Bay which involves collecting empty oyster shells from their partner restaurants and using them to create natural reef structures returned to the ocean. 99 Sushi Bar have increased their local purchasing by 20% in the last few years, and continue to do so.

Carbon-neutral is not something one can achieve without alliance, says chef Ruben. “As long as we can collaborate with innovative producers who embrace the same philosophy, we go hand in hand.”


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