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Episode 3
All About Catering, With Elias Kandalaft

Chef & Partner at Pinch Gourmet 

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About The Episode

In this podcast, Elias Kandalaft, Partner at Pinch Gourmet, shares his journey from university to becoming a chef and eventually managing a successful catering business. His story begins with a love for food instilled by his parents, leading to culinary school and a realization of the demanding nature of kitchen work. Elias emphasizes the importance of adapting to customer preferences and ensuring high-quality, home-cooked meals in the catering industry.

He discusses the logistical challenges of catering, such as accommodating different venues and managing food safety on the go. Elias also touches on the financial aspects of running a catering business, from minimizing food waste to navigating food costs and inventory management. He advocates for a strong support network in the F&B industry, highlighting the benefits of community and collaboration among competitors. Marketing strategies for Pinch Gourmet focus on word-of-mouth, social media, SEO, and maintaining a reputation for quality. Elias’s passion for providing a personalized and high-quality culinary experience is evident throughout the podcast.

Watch Extracts

Catering Chef : How To Create A Menu For A Party

Managing Food Cost & Getting Better Products

Catering Business : Choosing A Cuisine To Specialize In

The Interview

[00:00:00.150] – Jean-Philippe

Hi and welcome to Supy Talks’s third episode in this podcast. We’re joined by an exciting guest, Elias Kandalaft, who is both a chef and the managing director at Pinch Gourmet. Pinch gourmet is a is an award winning catering business in the Middle East. They won the Outside Catering Team Award given by the Caterers Awards for 2020, 2021 and 2023. Caterers Middle East, uh said that the judges were impressed by your ability to adapt to the pandemic when that happened, but they were also impressed by the way that you treat your staff, which is very interesting and kind of heartwarming to hear. Um, and yes, wear two hats at a time, the hat of a chef, but also the hat of a businessman. And I think we’re going to have a very exciting episode, because it’s the first time that we have a chef on the podcast and a catering business. So welcome.

[00:00:52.530] – Elias Kandalaft

Thank you so much for having me. It’s it’s really great. Uh, what you guys are doing is really cool. And I’m a fan. Nice. So you’ll you’ll see me on your page. I am a follower.

[00:01:01.320] – Jean-Philippe

Nice. Amazing. So let me start with, uh, with this question. Tell us a little bit about your journey as a chef.

[00:01:08.670] – Elias Kandalaft

Uh, well, it started mostly like, I guess it started from when you’re when you’re young. I never really used to cook, but I used to watch my parents cook. Most of our activities were surrounded by food. Uh, my parents were are amazing hosts. So they always like to host people, bring them over. And I see whenever they have a big party there, you know, my mom’s preparing all the plates. My dad’s handling the food. And if it’s a bigger party, he’s dealing with the caterers, the barman, you know, and they always made sure that everyone was having a brilliant time. And they were like, you know, working hard and pushing, but they just wanted to make sure that everyone was having a fun, amazing time. So I think that’s where I was introduced to it. Uh, we were always foodies, eaters. We always like to go out and eat and appreciate food. And I think once I got to university, that’s where I, you know, I started to miss that element, you know, home cooked foods.

[00:02:02.880] – Elias Kandalaft

You know, I’d be going out all the time and I would just study at university. So I was, uh, marketing students, marketing and management. Um, and that was my career path. I love marketing, I love, I enjoy, you know, coming up with creative ads, um, you know, listening to stories. So for, for me, that’s how it started. That was my path. And then like, halfway along, uh, I was taking a class called, uh, Marketing Food, and our professor’s name was, uh, Doctor Jordan LaBelle, and he had a PhD in chocolate. So he was known as Doctor Chocolate. And I was so into this class. And for me, the path was, I need to go work at one of these FMC jobs or some anything to do with food, like these big chains that manage restaurants. And I spoke to him. I’m like, sir, I want to get into this business. He’s like, listen, you know, my advice to you learn how to cook.

[00:02:55.530] – Elias Kandalaft

And I’m like, yeah, but I’m not interested in, you know, cooking and learning how to be a chef. He’s like, listen, I did it. I have a PhD in chocolate and I have a masters in finance and marketing is like, this is the way to go. You’ll be ahead of everyone. And for me, I was like, okay, you know, let’s do that. And once I graduated, I went straight to culinary school. And that’s where the real journey started. And that’s where I realized that this is not a it’s not an easy business. It’s it’s, uh, it’s not that much fun in the beginning, especially because it’s very military structure. It’s, uh, you know, do as I say, kind of, uh, you you’re it’s kind of like you’re in the barracks and like, whatever the sergeant says or the head chef, you know, you do, and you just say, yes, chef, you know, which is humbling, you know, because, you know, I was I was a little bit of a smartass.

[00:03:51.510] – Elias Kandalaft

I, I like to talk I like to joke around. And that was very tough. You know, even if you don’t even if it’s not your mistake. And the chef says this is a mistake, you own it, you take it. So that was the beginning. That was the tough part. And then slowly, slowly, when you kind of fall into this camaraderie and you’re you kind of working together and you’re working for one goal, you know, is to make sure that the customer is having a good time have that’s where you kind of start. That’s where the passion falls in. And it took me a good year or two to follow this passion, and I didn’t want to quit. Uh, at first I wanted to, but my mom was like, listen, just kind of bite the bullet. She’s like, you started this.

[00:04:33.690] – Jean-Philippe

Just continue professionally speaking, right? You’re not talking about wanting to quit doing your studies in culinary school. That’s after that.

[00:04:41.250] – Elias Kandalaft

No. So the first week I wanted to quit.

[00:04:43.170] – Jean-Philippe

Oh, the first week of culinary school?

[00:04:44.910] – Elias Kandalaft

Yeah. Uh, we had. I think it was Chef Gil. He was a he’s an incredible human being. Like, I, I speak very highly of him. But at that moment, I hated him. I thought he was the worst person on earth. And then we met Chef Benoit, who was even worse. They’re just horrible. They were just mean, condescending, like they measure each fruit and vegetable that you cut. And if it’s, it’s if it’s a millimeter off, they throw it in the garbage. Then they put the garbage in your face. They say, this is what you throw away. That’s $5 in the garbage. What’s $5 times 365, you know, and they start to like you and, you know, yelling, screaming at you. And but they’re they were preparing me for what’s to come. And it’s true. And but once you realize that they’re doing it for your own benefit, that’s where you’re like, oh, okay. This is, you know, and it’s interesting because sometimes a lot of people can’t handle that.

[00:05:40.650] – Elias Kandalaft

And it’s rough. But. They do that to make sure that you’re you’re working hard, you’re not taking shortcuts, and you’re doing what’s best for the customer, and you’re working together as a team. Um, later on, you know, once the passion built and I started working in restaurants and I saw you meet very interesting people.

[00:06:00.900] – Jean-Philippe

You mean professionally in the kitchen? Yeah.

[00:06:03.360] – Elias Kandalaft

Yeah, I was in Canada when I first started, so I worked with ex-convicts. I worked with the people that never got an education. Uh, I worked with people that were, like, in their 50s, almost 60, and standing on their feet every single day. But this is this is their livelihood. This is what they do. They’ve been doing it forever, you know? And this is all they know. They never went to university or they never they didn’t finish high school, and they just took this path and they fell in love. Some people were just prep cooks their whole life. They come to work, they prep food, they leave. You know, it’s very interesting bunch tattoos from top to bottom. And then you have the ones that, you know, uh, that are always very, very quiet. And then the loud ones and then the, the Napoleon like chefs that just scream at you, uh, just it’s it’s a very interesting, uh, it’s a very interesting field.

[00:06:56.460] – Elias Kandalaft

And for me, what I loved about it was. This is the path I wanted to take, because I always felt like I was a little bit different from the rest of like, the people around me. I didn’t want to do the 9 to 5. I didn’t want to have to. I come to work at nine, sit on the desk type and then leave at five. I didn’t want to do that. Uh, I was always doing extra jobs. While in university, I was a promoter randomly, like some guy offered me a job. I was in nightclubs. Yeah, I was just going to a nightclub and bringing all my friends. He was like, listen, you can make money if you like. Uh, just bring more people and I’ll pay you $3 per person. I was like, oh, cool. And then I just became a promoter giving out tickets at university. I was I took bartending classes, but that never worked out like, uh, that’s something I never pursued.

[00:07:44.480] – Elias Kandalaft

And I was DJing, you know, for fun. Yeah, it’s just interesting. Just fun stuff. I don’t do it anymore, uh, because I focused on the F&B side of things. But that’s how I grew up. And it was fun. It’s a fun environment. It’s so tough. 16 hours, like on your feet and getting hammered every day. And you, it’s like a nonstop. You keep going, going, going. No breaks. Sometimes. Some days are beautiful. Other days are horrible. Like there’s no there’s no like fine. There’s no like gray area. It’s it’s either great or it sucks.

[00:08:18.920] – Jean-Philippe

So after culinary school you go you went into different restaurants. I suppose you started from the bottom of the ladder. Yeah. Uh, as a sous chef, that would be it.

[00:08:28.430] – Elias Kandalaft

No, the bottom would be like. I guess now you’d call it a call me a call me chef. Um, you’re just prepping. Oh, you’re just cutting veggies. Uh, in Montreal, it’s a bit different. In Canada, it’s. I was a garden manager, so I did the cold appetizers, uh, and some of the hot appetizers as well. I didn’t touch the grill. And one of the restaurants I worked in was incredible. It was one of the best in the city. But I had to leave because they wouldn’t put me on the grill. I wanted to learn more, but that’s how strict they are. That’s how, you know, if you don’t have at least 3 or 4 years experience, you’re you’re not you’re not touching the grill. Um, so I started as a calm me moved up and for me, I before I came back to Dubai, the highest position I was at, I was a sous chef. Okay. You know, so I’ve just been promoted to sous chef, worked for a little bit, and then I got homesick, and I’m like, I need to.

[00:09:21.770] – Elias Kandalaft

I need to come back here.

[00:09:22.760] – Jean-Philippe

That was after how many years of experience this position?

[00:09:26.600] – Elias Kandalaft

Not much like almost less than a year.

[00:09:29.210] – Jean-Philippe

Yeah, not that much. Is that, uh, traditional in terms of the timing that it takes to get into that kind of position.

[00:09:35.210] – Elias Kandalaft

So before I was working in kitchens for about three, four years till I got to a sous chef position. Yeah, okay. But it was a small restaurant, you know, like if you have a certain amount of skill. I think had I been in a much bigger place, I wouldn’t have been more than like a, like a demi su or something like that, like, not even at that level, but because you’re in a smaller restaurant, less people, you know, he saw like some potential to me. So he promoted me into that position. Got it. And then I that’s where I made the move here.

[00:10:08.000] – Jean-Philippe

So you started as a chef. You grew into the the different roles, and then you decided that your ambition was to start a restaurant that you was, um, was the path basically. Um, so once you arrive in Dubai, what was the next step for you?

[00:10:23.420] – Elias Kandalaft

So when I arrived here, you know, my family was also living here as well. So, you know, move back in with the parents. And, you know, my dad told me he’s like, if you want to do a restaurant or open anything, you have to take the necessary steps. So he’s like, you need to first come up with a business plan. So I was like, okay, so I’m like, and he would make me wake up early with him, take me with him to his office. And he’s like, okay, start working on the business plan. So I started working on the business plan and we started going to financials, and his partner helped me do the financials. Okay, fine. We create the financials. And I was in parallel meeting with different real estate agents to see locations, you know, and coming up with concepts, you know, and I’d go with real estate agents and we’d find these beautiful locations. But they were so expensive, you know.

[00:11:11.570] – Elias Kandalaft

And I tell my dad, dad, you know, I found this great space. It’s huge. They want, they need. It’s like rent is X million a year or something like that. And to build it, it would cost X million. And he was like, well, if you really want to do this, find some people to invest. I started talking to his friends, investors, and no one, no one was into it. They’re like, who’s this 26, 27 year old kid that is trying to open up a restaurant? You don’t have a track record. Um, so in parallel, I started. Also cooking at home for fun. You know, my parents have a party. I cook for them. Um, my sister’s, uh, husband had his birthday, so I. I cooked and did, like, really small little canapés. And then, you know, slowly, slowly, people started asking me for. Hey, um, can you can you send me a couple of dishes?

[00:12:02.600] – Elias Kandalaft

I’m throwing a gathering 20 people. So I make a couple of dishes, send it over, and then they’re like, hey, can you stay and start cooking for us? You know, I thought I’d bring a barbecue.

[00:12:12.380] – Jean-Philippe

Was that was all of this organic? Yeah. Were you, like, pushing it aggressively amongst your friends and family, or were people coming to you and just be like, oh, the food is good.

[00:12:21.050] – Elias Kandalaft

Yeah. So it kind of it was more organic because I didn’t mean to open a catering company. That wasn’t the plan. The plan was the restaurant, because I’m a restaurant chef, like I that’s all I know. But when I started doing it and, you know, my dad was the probably the biggest catalyst because, you know, he worked in corporates his whole life, but he didn’t have the opportunity, the opportunity to be an entrepreneur. He didn’t have that opportunity. He, you know, come here, work corporate. And so he pushed me and my sister to like really invest in ourselves in our business. And then one day some lady came up to me, she was like, hey, it’s my daughter’s wedding. I’m going to throw it in my backyard. It’s 100 people. Can you do it? And I was like, and my dad always told me, never say no. So I’m like, yes, I can do it. And then I realized what I did, uh, and I told my dad that I accepted this 100 person event.

[00:13:11.840] – Elias Kandalaft

It’s in two weeks. He was like, listen, let’s let’s buy some equipment. He’s like, just let’s do it. Let’s have some fun. You know, we buy some glassware, plates, we’ll get some chefs, some equipment. And we started doing that. And from that one event and that was the birth of Pinch Gourmet because like, we came up with that name just before, um, more people started ordering because there’s 100 people there. If 1 or 2 people order and then the next event, there’s like 20 or 31 person order. And that’s kind of how it organically grew. And that’s where investors started saying, hey, we’re we’re interested. Let’s, let’s get in on this. Let’s build a kitchen. Um, so that’s kind of the the path of how Pinche Gourmet was born. Yeah.

[00:13:53.390] – Jean-Philippe

So how do you decide what kind of cuisine you want to you want to start cooking? Um, or what kind of niche you want to start serving when you’re starting out a catering business?

[00:14:04.340] – Elias Kandalaft

Uh, when I first started, I noticed there was a and this was 2014, 2015. So I noticed a lot of caterers were just kind of doing the substandard, you know, whatever. You had a couple of really good boutique ones, you know, and shout out to them, they’re great, you know. And they’ve been they started from like 2008 or something like that. And I, I, I looked at them and I’m like, oh, these guys are doing different, but everyone else is not. Uh, how I decided I wanted to do it is I wanted to showcase foods that really speak true to me, who I am. You know, I like cooking low and slow. I like taking time. I liked everything from scratch, literally. Like from the bread to the meat. Like I grind my own meat for making burgers. I, uh, you know, I braise it, I ferment it, I pickle it like it was. It was a bit excessive, but this is who I was.

[00:14:55.970] – Elias Kandalaft

I wanted to show, uh, and when you’re a young chef, you want to showcase your skill. You want to show who you are, what you can do. So that that was me. I like the casual but fine dining, which at the time wasn’t really a thing. Now everyone’s doing casual fine dining. You know, where you go to a restaurant and you have like a number of plates. They’re like, we’ll serve you what’s ready. You know, it’s a sharing concept. Like, I’m sure you’ve seen that everywhere. It’s a sharing content, but it’s a it’s amazing plates, you know, and they’re showcasing who they are. And I think if I’m going to mention a chef, uh, chef Muhammad Ali, he, they asked him what’s your, what’s your cuisine at Bros. And he’s like, it’s this is what I like to cook. This is like, these are the things I like to show. And, you know, and he cooks with passion, you know, and that that was how I started.

[00:15:44.060] – Elias Kandalaft

And that’s how most chefs, they want to showcase who they are, what they are, what they can do. Yeah.

[00:15:49.670] – Jean-Philippe

So basically you went with whatever you liked and whatever you wanted to showcase. And then people started picking up on that and started asking you for more of that for their own private events. Yeah. And then you started developing your own menu in a way that you saw fit. Is that how you developed your identity, your cuisine? Yeah.

[00:16:08.960] – Elias Kandalaft

So that’s how it started. But as the popularity, the popularity of the company grew, uh, people were asking me, hey, can you do these kind of dishes? Like, so do you do Mexican cuisine at the time? Not really. Uh, I knew how to cook. And then I said, yes, we can do it. And I’d sit, research, go on YouTube, YouTube, some incredible, you know, like culinary school. You can throw it out the window. Just go on YouTube. Really, uh, for recipes, culinary school, I guess. Discipline. They teach you what it’s really like to work in a kitchen. Um, you know, some, uh, some of the best chefs have never went to culinary school. And I guess it’s a little hypocritical for me to say that. No, you shouldn’t go to culinary school. Because I learned a lot. Because I went from zero to to hero, like you learn quite a bit. It’s an investment, you know.

[00:16:57.510] – Elias Kandalaft

And if in the beginning you don’t have those resources to invest in that, you can start on YouTube. Really, you can start and you can slowly build it up. And if you want to, you can go to culinary school or at least work in restaurants, experiences, everything. So I think once I started working in restaurants, that’s where my experience really built up. And I started because you learn, you learn the tricks of the trade. Um, there’s some cool guys, like there’s one chef, his name is Joshua Weissman. He, he just released a video, The Hundred Tips on How to become a Better Chef. I urge everyone to watch this video. It’s. And these are all I knew, all of them. Because these are things that you learn on the job, you know? And I think that’s the case with most jobs.

[00:17:42.330] – Jean-Philippe

Um, so once you’ve developed your dishes, uh, and you’ve identified your best sellers, how do you go on about to create a menu? How do you balance that menu from both? Sorry, from both, um, a diversity perspective, but also from a financial perspective. How do you make sure the menu is profitable all the time and also pleases your customers? Yeah.

[00:18:05.850] – Elias Kandalaft

So let’s assume that it’s a it’s an event. You know, someone throwing a party, it’s, you know, someone’s husband or wife’s 40th birthday and you want to make sure that there’s a diverse menu that most people can enjoy. So how I start making a menu for the customer is I choose the different. I start off with what are the different proteins, you know, so chicken, fish, uh, beef, vegetarian, vegan, you know, so I try to do kind of like a, a collaboration of, of all of these different types of proteins. So make sure that at least something is being hit because customers come from all different types of backgrounds, uh, different types of dietary restrictions. Some people don’t eat beef, some people prefer not to eat chicken. There’s pescatarian. So I try to hit all the the protein groups first. So that’s how we start. And then when you’re doing an event, you kind of need to understand, okay, what are the events that are happening alongside the catering?

[00:19:05.820] – Elias Kandalaft

Uh, is there a cocktail party in the beginning? Like are you planning on passing around, uh, some drinks. Are you planning on passing out small bites? So these are questions like, yeah, you know, the guests are going to arrive a little bit earlier. We want to pass around a few bites. So how long are you doing? Oh, like an hour or two. Okay. Two hours. We can serve maybe four different types of canapés. So you’ll do a a fish, um, vegetarian beef, you know, and you make sure to hit like, some of those, uh, groups then. Okay. What time is dinner going to be served? Oh, 8 p.m.. Okay. So by 8 p.m., um, and what type of do you want? Live stations. Do you want us to make a show? Do you want our chefs to cook something for you, or do you want just, you know, simple buffet people come and they there’s now this big thing with the grazing tables.

[00:19:55.800] – Elias Kandalaft

Do you want us just to set the food on the table? And you guys graze, so you find out that info and you then decide you know how much food.

[00:20:04.260] – Jean-Philippe

Now that’s the financial aspect that starts to kick in.

[00:20:07.170] – Elias Kandalaft

Yeah. So that’s where now the question becomes in terms of financial like for us, how do we avoid food waste or how do you stop your customer from either ordering too much or too little. So you kind of have to understand who the clientele are, like, what’s the age group? And you think, you know, why would you want to know the age group? Because a younger crowd will eat more. Really younger crowd will eat more. Uh, sometimes they’ll drink more. So and they’ll, they’ll and some, you know, will drink more. And we even ask like, are your is your group more drinkers or more eaters. And if they’re more drinkers then we’re like okay then don’t go too crazy on the food because everyone’s out to have a drink and have a good time and socialize. Whereas the eaters and people who just want to eat and enjoy, they’re probably going to eat more as if they’re younger. 35. Plus, you know, we’re all watching our health. We’re all trying to take care of ourselves.

[00:21:00.640] – Elias Kandalaft

So I wouldn’t recommend a pizza station, for example. I’m like, hey, are your friends, like super healthy or anything? Like, yeah, they are. Then I’m like, okay, well, maybe not a pizza, maybe risotto, like a nice risotto on a wheel. Like because rice is okay, but carbs are nine, you know, like so like when I say carbs, I mean like flour and things like that. So some people try to avoid that. So like, maybe not that maybe a nice tenderloin steak. Some fish. We have a beautiful fish station. We’ll salt bake it like so. And it’s a conversation which is why it’s a little bit different than restaurants because I’m having a conversation with my client. I’m like, hey, what do you like? What do you want? So catering is more personalized. The word catering I am catering to you. I am whatever your needs are. I am going to cater these needs to you. So that’s where the customer kind of has to be involved as well.

[00:21:51.610] – Elias Kandalaft

And that’s where. And that’s where we can showcase how the party is going to look. Where are we going to put the buffet tables? Hey are you are you getting a DJ? Is there going to be dancing? Because if there’s going to be dancing, then there’s only a set period of when people are going to eat. So like for an hour and a half between 8 and 930, everyone’s going to eat and then they’re going to continue the party. So then the food is done. You close the buffet and like people just go and enjoy the rest of the night. So it is it’s complicated and I wish this podcast was longer so I can sit down and really explain to you, uh, what it takes to create a menu for a party. Yeah.

[00:22:26.590] – Jean-Philippe

I think this is, um, this it’s quite interesting to see how a chef is someone who would decide on a menu, and then customers would come to this menu, but then you need a different set of skills. I would imagine, where you need to adapt yourself to the customer’s requests. Um, was it easy to sort of learn how to build relationships with customers and understand what questions to ask them to better serve them?

[00:22:52.180] – Elias Kandalaft

So to answer your question, like in a nutshell, it’s not easy at all. And for a couple of reasons. Reason number one is, uh, you know, a customer has an expectation in their head. So it’s just like, oh, I went to this party and I saw what you did, you know? And if you tell me, hey, I want a similar party to that, then it’s easy, you know. You know, it’s copy paste. Uh, but sometimes, you know, you’re working in different environments each and every single party. You know, you’re not in a restaurant. It’s your environment. You built it. It’s your kitchen. It’s your dining hall. It’s yours. So it’s easy, you know, where all the equipment are? Everything. And a catering aspect. It’s I’m in your house. I’m in your territory. And I don’t mean that in, like, a in a bad way. I mean, like, I’m in your home, so I need to make sure I’m taking care of your space.

[00:23:41.800] – Elias Kandalaft

I need to make sure everything’s clean at all times. I need to make sure that, you know, the expectation that you had in your head for a buffet setup or a life station setup is as per what you’re expecting. And that’s hard to meet someone’s expectation. You know, uh, everyone is a foodie nowadays, so there’s a bigger understanding on what food is, what it’s supposed to be. So you’re you’re hitting a clientele that are willing to spend this money to make sure that they have a big party, but also they have a pretty good understanding of what it means to throw a party. So I think it’s very difficult to first meet expectations and do it in a, in a territory area that you don’t know. That’s why we do site visits, like when we tell the customer like, hey, listen, if we’re going to throw your party, we want to see what the space looks like, how much electricity, like when you’re in a restaurant. No, you you figure out the electricity from day one.

[00:24:34.720] – Elias Kandalaft

But us every party. How much electricity do you have? I require lights, I require motors, I require it’s not.

[00:24:42.250] – Jean-Philippe

You don’t deliver this. You don’t bring this with you, I.

[00:24:44.560] – Elias Kandalaft

We bring it. But, um, if there is a heavier power requirement. I’m talking now. Mostly homes. But if you’re in, like in a festival area or in an area that doesn’t have power. Yeah, okay. I need a generator now and we need to rent one. So that’s an additional cost, you know, and these these things are quite costly. You know, we’ve done shoots in the desert like we’ve done like photo shoots in the desert. And we had to bring our own generator. And we serve food. We need fridges. We need ovens. You know, it’s easier in a home setting because I can ask, hey, do you mind if I use your oven? But if not, I have to bring my own oven or bring a barbecue grill or bring. And you have to make sure that all the items that is are discussed are brought. Or, you know, if the chefs are cooking, like, you can forget the salt. Something as small as simple as like a spoon or salt and or a colander.

[00:25:39.040] – Elias Kandalaft

You’re doing pasta and you need to strain your pasta. I don’t have a colander or a sieve. So what do you do? You get foil, poke some holes in it. Pass it through the like. You have to figure it out. It’s. And that’s it’s logistics. Catering is logistics.

[00:25:55.660] – Jean-Philippe

And it’s. I’ve heard you say in several interviews that this was the hardest part of catering. Don’t you get used to it as how difficult it is you don’t. You get more organized and learn to be less. I mean, more efficient. Yeah.

[00:26:08.800] – Elias Kandalaft

Everything is checklists, sheets, you know, um, whoever the chef that’s going to an event. We’ve trained them to kind of make their own checklists and sheets. So we have the standard, you know, bring gloves bring Maxie roll, bring extra towels. Uh, bring your chopping board, your knife, all the stuff. But then, you know, they’re like, oh, and they’ll ask the event coordinator, hey, send us pictures. What does it look like? Oh, it’s next to a pool. Like, do I have enough space to put my cords? Do I have enough space to do this? Do I need to get the small tables or the big tables? Like, fill me in? I need to know, you know, how big is the space? And like you said, the more you do something, the more you understand. And and you hire people that have experience or are willing to learn, you know, these are the best. Like the ones who are the chefs that are willing to learn, like one of our chefs, actually a couple of ourselves.

[00:26:59.500] – Elias Kandalaft

They’ve been with us since day one. And they they. One of them was washing dishes. Now he’s one of my top chefs on a on a catering event. And barely spoke English. And he’s like, the Smiley’s talking to everyone, you know. Yes, of course I can do this for you. Like perfect English from zero English to perfect English. And because of eagerness to learn like they’re hungry, they want more. And these are the people I like working with.

[00:27:26.060] – Jean-Philippe

And what’s the best way to train these kinds of people?

[00:27:29.240] – Elias Kandalaft

To be by their side from the beginning, because when they when they don’t have the skill set, you have to show them the right way. It’s kind of like a blank canvas, which is pretty cool because they don’t have the bad habits they know and you hold them accountable. Um, you know, this this person that I’m speaking of specifically, he was we were just teaching him how to do the lamp station. And I would stand there next to him at every event. And I tell him every time he makes a batch, I’m like, let me taste it, I taste it, okay, add more lemon and he’ll do it. And then he’ll and I tell him, taste it. And he’s like, yeah, I’m like, this is what’s supposed to taste like, okay, it’ll make another batch. Okay. Add more cumin. Okay. And I thought, hey. And that’s how that’s how you develop your palate. And our chefs did that in culinary school. So to go back, maybe everyone should go to culinary school because they train your palate.

[00:28:19.280] – Elias Kandalaft

Yeah. They teach you this is what it’s supposed to taste like. Taste like it’s too salty. It’s too sweet. How do you fix that? You need more acidity. Okay. What’s acidic? Okay, lemon vinegar. Like what else? You know, how can you enhance the flavor? Something’s missing. They teach you what’s what. That something is. Something’s not right. Like it doesn’t come together. There’s no texture. It’s not crunchy, it’s too soft. It’s squishy, it’s gooey. You learn these things on the job. Yeah.

[00:28:48.680] – Jean-Philippe

Uh, do you think that your taste is your own? Or have you built a taste based on what works with the with the majority of people?

[00:28:57.530] – Elias Kandalaft

This is going to sound weird, but I both so. And I’ll tell you why. There are certain things that I like, I like I love a good sour taste. Like I love pickles, lemon like I it’s.

[00:29:09.590] – Jean-Philippe

I think lemon and butter is like the secret of life. I feel like I.

[00:29:12.590] – Elias Kandalaft

Think it’s 11. It’s 11. 13. Think so? The Lebanese, the Jordanians passed in all of us. Like we like the lemon sour taste, but not everyone does. So you have to kind of adapt it in a way where. And. And they teach you this. They’re like, this is what it’s supposed to taste like. But, you know, I like I like sour, I like, you know, some salad dressings. You know, I’m more of a sometimes I like things on a bit on the sweeter side. Whereas for example, my mom, I, we have a maple balsamic vinaigrette. My mom hates it. It’s it’s too sweet. There needs to be more lemon. I’m like, mom, but like, it’s the maple, you know, but you adapt to to your customer. Yeah. And it’s good to explain to a customer. Like maple balsamic vinaigrette. What is that? It’s a sweet with a little acidity, am I? And they’ll ask, is it too sweet?

[00:30:00.960] – Elias Kandalaft

I’m, like a bit. Okay. I don’t want it. Give me something else. You know. So that’s why I say there’s two. There’s the stuff I love. Like I love, you know, the fatty tastes in your in your mouth. And I love that. I love the sour. Uh, but majority don’t you know, as Arabs. Yes. You know, our lamb station, we doused it with lemon, you know. And if you have Lebanese, they’ll tell you put more lemon I want more, I want more summer. Summer is very citrusy. Yeah, it’s a very strong flavor. Uh, but you either adapt or you go with kind of like the what most people, uh, you know, you develop your palate as per what most people, uh, like. Yeah, but you can. And if you see that, talk to your customer. I think that’s important. Understand what they like and like, you know, when you’re in a restaurant, for example, that’s the waiter.

[00:30:53.490] – Elias Kandalaft

What’s good here. And I’ll tell you what do you like, you ask a bartender this, uh, what’s what what drink do you recommend is like what? What do you like? Do you like sweet? Do you like sour? You know, these are important questions.

[00:31:06.480] – Jean-Philippe

Got it. I think everybody knows or at least have has a good idea of how a restaurant is managed. You have an inventory. You start to understand how much of each item you need to have in your inventory. You see how fast it gets depleted, and then based on how your menu performs, you start understanding what to order when, um, how does it work in a catering business? Can you take me from. Okay, I have an event that is booked 100 people. They want these kinds of of cuisines. How do you go on from this order to then organizing the entire supply chain, ordering the ingredients, where do you store them? How do you transport them? How do you ensure food safety whilst all of this is happening? Um, give me a little bit of a of an idea.

[00:31:56.100] – Elias Kandalaft

So when we first started and we first opened our kitchen, it was more of there’s an event. Uh, they ordered a lamb station. They ordered pizza. They ordered, uh, smoked salmon, like. So. We have the menu in front of us. Next step would be okay. We need to order the ingredients. And unfortunately, this is how we started. It was okay. Uh, pizza station, what do you need? I need flour, water. And that’s kind of how we started off. So you write down all the ingredients and then, like, a couple of days before the party, you order these ingredients, it arrives in your kitchen, and then you follow municipality protocol. From the moment the truck comes in, you check the temperature of the truck. Temperature of the food items. Anything above five degrees Celsius reject. I’m talking for chilled items, which is what we mostly use.

[00:32:50.180] – Jean-Philippe

And so what I understand, sorry to interrupt, is that you have a central kitchen or a kitchen, a central kitchen where you prep everything, and then you put everything that needs to be prepped in advance in the truck to then send it, and whatever needs to be cooked on the spot is just prepared on the spot. Yeah, exactly.

[00:33:06.020] – Elias Kandalaft

Good for the truck thing I was mentioning. It’s the trucks of our suppliers. So when a supplier comes in, you check the temperature. If the temperature of the truck is a good temperature, then you can accept the product. The temperature of the product has to be below five degrees Celsius. Anything above we have to reject it. Unfortunately, you know, and it sucks because then you say, no, I don’t want it, but then you but I need this product. But it’s not. It’s not safe. You take that. If it’s vegetables, you you sanitize the vegetables. If it’s meat, you take it to the meat prep area and then you start prepping it for the event. So if we have a brisket, take the brisket, cut it up, slice it up, get it ready, put it in the fridge, uh, and have it ready for your event. Once the event is ready, you put all the food in your chilled vehicle, send it over, and then you send another vehicle with your equipment, tables, uh, stands, uh, barbecues.

[00:34:02.660] – Elias Kandalaft

And then you set up at a customer’s house. Now, this was.

[00:34:06.740] – Jean-Philippe

You use their fridge or you have also a fridge and all of this.

[00:34:09.230] – Elias Kandalaft

We, we try as hard as possible to use our own. So we do have rolling fridges. We do have these camera boxes that are like these styrofoam type boxes that are municipality grid where you can that can hold the temperature food whether hot or cold. But we like to cook on sites. So that’s kind of how it works in terms of inventory now. Like what we’ve obviously enhanced our game. And it’s been we’ve been in the market for more than eight years now. What we what we do now is whenever a customer orders something, our system basically picks up. Hey listen you we see you have a pizza station. You need more flour, you need more yeast, you need more of these things. So we’re slowly like enhancing our inventory system where that the chefs don’t even need to go check if there’s flour. No, the system tells us, hey, there’s flour, uh, or there isn’t enough flour. Order it. You need to order a bag of 50 kilos. So I think as we grow and as you know, we have corporates, we have cafes that we manage, we have, uh, our clients, um, and, you know, so it’s a mix of the two.

[00:35:17.780] – Elias Kandalaft

It’s like you anticipate for the cafes. Okay. We’re going to probably sell ten granolas, so we’ll have ten enough for ten. And we check the inventory. Do we have enough. So. Let me. Um, sorry, I’m just going to backtrack a little bit. So with. We check our inventory now through our system. You know, obviously there’s human error.

[00:35:38.010] – Jean-Philippe

However, the back of house system, like an inventory based system, that’s what you.

[00:35:41.580] – Elias Kandalaft

Have because our operations grew, uh, before you can manage, just order and check. Do we have enough money manually? Uh, but at a certain stage, it doesn’t. It’s not manageable anymore because you either have 2 or 3 people that just manage inventory, which we do, but they also order they they’re also in charge of purchasing. They’re also in charge of putting everything onto the system, like if we receive 50 kilos of flour. Inputted and whatever is already in stock. Should be like is already in the system. So if we order 50 kilo and we already have ten, so 60 kilos. So right now in the pinch gourmet central kitchen, there are 60 kilos of flowers. And it holds us. It holds everyone accountable. Uh, it helps with food waste because if you’re going through X amount of chicken or beef or something and your sales are not showing, are showing that you’re at a loss or your food cost is high, there’s a number of scenarios. Someone stealing is one.

[00:36:45.560] – Elias Kandalaft

But it’s rare that that happens, you know. But that could be a thing. You’re trimming too much of the beef. So let’s say if you’re trimming brisket or something and that happens. But my question is always okay chef you are trimming the beef. What are you doing with the trimmings. That the fat trimmings. Now, what we do with that is we use that for our burger blend. Okay. Uh, there’s too much of it. Okay, now we are rendering that fat. So we’re, like, cooking it slowly, and we’re using the beef fat to cook certain items, which gives a burst of flavor. But you’re used to you’re using the product. The product is being used. So a good chef is someone that can manage and see what are the things being thrown away. Literally yesterday someone was, uh, we we make a brioche in-house for our pamper do and he was slicing it and I asked him, I’m like, what do you do with these things? He’s like, um, I don’t know, just throw them.

[00:37:40.700] – Elias Kandalaft

I don’t I’m like, but we make breadcrumbs. No. He’s like, yeah, but we have a lot. I’m like, listen, like, don’t throw it, use it. I’m like, don’t throw the food away. It’s a cost. And and I’m like, even if you’re not going to use it for the customer uses for the team. And I’d like to add, like.

[00:37:58.290] – Jean-Philippe

I think the team is in, uh, like.

[00:38:00.690] – Elias Kandalaft

The employees. And I think it’s important for all places to have a well fed team. Because I see this a lot in restaurants and companies where the customers are very well fed, but the team isn’t. So sometimes the team lacks the understanding of what good food is supposed to be. And I think that’s something that we pushed really hard with our employees, is to teach them what good food is supposed to taste like. I think that’s super important because if you’re not eating well, but you’re feeding customers like good food and everything, you don’t understand the product. Like, why? Why do we render fat to get beef fat and cook vegetables? And also with that extra flavor, it it enhances the experience for the customer. And sometimes you have to explain like, hey, listen, this customer is paying X amount for this. And I’m like, whoa, like that? Much like yeah, because it is love and passion put into this product. It’s we’re putting extra care. We’re using expensive ingredients, you know, like truffle and you know, and uh, saffron and these these things aren’t cheap.

[00:39:08.700] – Elias Kandalaft

No. You know.

[00:39:11.470] – Jean-Philippe

Can you tell me a little bit more about how you manage your costs as a business, notably food costs? How did you. Can you tell me of a time where you became aware that you had high food costs? The impact that it has on your financials? What did you do to try to fix that?

[00:39:30.940] – Elias Kandalaft

Um, we’ve experienced it a couple of times. Usually when we start a new project, our food costs shoots up. Uh, because we’re we’re experimenting, we’re trying new things. We’re trying. Like, for example, if we’re opening a new cafe and buy cafe, it’s like a corporate cafe. We’re trying to understand the customer, you know, and we ask them, like, who? Who are the people that are coming? Where are they from? What kind of food do they like? So you’ll start sending products, you know, um, like, let’s say for breakfast items, granola, mayonnaise, uh, chia seed pudding, things like that. But then they’re not buying it. So your food cost goes up because you’re throwing it because it has a two day shelf life. So in that scenario, yes, our food cost some goes up. Another way is, like I said before, it’s you’re checking on the on on what’s being thrown in the garbage. It could be as simple as opening the trash every hour or so in the kitchen just to see, like what’s being thrown.

[00:40:27.220] – Elias Kandalaft

Why are these partially stocks being thrown in the garbage? Use them, use them. Put. Why are these carrot trimmings? Just make a vegetable stock. We use it. We use it for risotto. We use it to make soups. Each corporate has a daily soup. And we and we don’t magic cubes. And these powders and these natural these unnatural flavor. And we don’t like to use that. We don’t. And we like to make our own broths, our own stocks. And these are ways how you manage food costs but also get a better product. And you check your inventory. You have to keep checking and check the system. And like for example. We went through 60 kilos of beef today or something like that. Like really? Why? But we only sold like about 40 or something. What’s. What’s going on? So you investigate. Why? What’s going on? Oh, um, you know, the this went bad and we threw it. We threw it away. Okay.

[00:41:20.660] – Elias Kandalaft

Why did it go bad? Yeah, we over ordered. Why? Why did you over order? You know so. And then that’s where you tighten you. It’s a business at the end of the day. Like the the the move as a chef from being a chef to more of a businessman. It was a very painful transition because I was first like managing the business with passion. And I was the main reason why our food cost was so high. I’d be like, this is not a good product. Throw it. They’d be like, no, but we need no throw it. This is not the brand that I wanted. I want this brand, you know? And I like the ego, the passion. Like, no, we have to do this. And our food costs were through the roof. But then when you become a businessman, it’s like, listen, let’s stick to these brands. Don’t change it. If you want to change it, let’s, you know, let’s have a vote in the team.

[00:42:09.380] – Elias Kandalaft

Let’s make sure that the the product is good, you know, or you’re going to get the same end result. Yes okay. This product is cheaper, but is it good. And we had that like uh, they switched our ketchup one time from Heinz to another brand. I don’t want to hate on another brand, but they switched it to another brand and our classic burger sauce tasted horrible. I was like, wait a second, what happens? Like. And I told them, I asked one side and like, can you make it in front of me? I want to see what you’re doing. And he just grabs this Mickey Mouse brand and he puts the ketchup inside. I’m like, what is this? And I went to purchase them. Like, guys, they’re like, it’s four times cheaper. I’m like, yeah, but it’s four times worse. It’s not a good tasting ketchup and it’s things like that. But. I think the transition, the passion, it’s still alive, but there are days where it just it dies and it and it hurts.

[00:43:03.360] – Elias Kandalaft

You know, like sometimes you’re like, ah, business.

[00:43:05.220] – Jean-Philippe

Comes first in these kinds of.

[00:43:06.900] – Elias Kandalaft

It is. But you never change who you are like we are pinch. We are a high quality brand. Try not in change, you know, and try and keep that culture alive within everyone you know, like don’t, don’t allow shortcuts, don’t allow a cheaper brand. Oh, they raise the price of Heinz for example. That’s fine. We still use it. Doesn’t matter unless another great brand comes along. Don’t change it, you know, and keep that alive. And it’s hard because some people just want to cut corners and you have to hold people accountable for that.

[00:43:40.920] – Jean-Philippe

So I see that you’re very focused on wanting to create recipes from scratch, avoiding the magic cubes. Is this something that you’re doing to differentiate pinch? Is it a strategy for you and how you differentiate yourself from the competition? Or is this something that you’re I mean, of course you’re doing this with a lot of, uh, you’re being very genuine with this, but has it become a strategy of differentiation for you?

[00:44:06.810] – Elias Kandalaft

I guess. Yes, but also the same time, I don’t think it’s fair for someone to pay for food that’s not good. Or like the the food has been manipulated in a way that is not, uh, healthy or or good tasting or. Yeah, I think that, yes, it is a differentiating factor and I won’t like I won’t beat around the bush and say that, no, it isn’t, but it is. It is something that makes us and more and more people are doing it. Our competitors are doing it. And we’re not the only one in the market. There’s quite a few that do it. And so how do you stay different? We keep innovating, coming up with new ideas. Uh, we have a, uh, executive chef that’s been with us for a year and a half now, and I allow him to showcase his abilities. He has 20 plus years experience. So more experience on me. Um, and I allow him to, like, be creative, come up with new things, even things that we see online.

[00:45:06.640] – Elias Kandalaft

Or we do trials, we do fun stuff, like we’ve. The last year or so, we’ve been fermenting our own pickles and we make kimchi. And, you know, we add that to the menus and we have a sourdough starter for the pizza. You know this, not everyone does sourdough pizza. I’m talking catering wise. It’s hard to maintain because it’s a central kitchen. You know, it’s it’s not like there’s a line and there’s a dining hall outside and we’re, you know, serving plates. No, it’s a central kitchen. And we try and innovate, do new things, and we do some crazy experiments. One of them is I’m like, I wonder what it would taste like if we can feed lamb and duck fat. And this is serious like, and we did like 15 variations and I’m like, okay, alone doesn’t taste so good. Let’s add it with pasta. It wasn’t that great. Tomato sauce. No, it’s not good. Let’s make like kind of like a cream sauce.

[00:46:00.010] – Elias Kandalaft

No, it’s not good. Let’s stuff it in a ravioli with a demi glaze. We try that. Okay. This is good. This is nice. And we just kept experimenting. We leave time in the week to experiment and try new things and come up with different stations or dishes or something of that sort. I think that’s so important.

[00:46:20.200] – Jean-Philippe

What’s the the biggest, best surprise you’ve gotten out of those trials?

[00:46:25.660] – Elias Kandalaft

Um, that a lamb cooked in duck fat is actually not too bad.

[00:46:31.060] – Jean-Philippe

Pineapple on pizza. Go. No.

[00:46:32.530] – Elias Kandalaft

Go see which one.

[00:46:33.610] – Jean-Philippe

Pineapple on pizza. Go! No. Go!

[00:46:35.740] – Elias Kandalaft

Oh, my God, I got in so much trouble.

[00:46:38.020] – Jean-Philippe

Uh, don’t say anything. No, no.

[00:46:40.540] – Elias Kandalaft

I’ll say it. Uh, I used to when I was in university. I used to order it, and. But I dip it heavily in the garlic dipping sauce, and then you take a bite. Oh, but but again, this is like at 130 in the morning to two in the morning, like, that’s. I think that’s the only time that’s allowed. Yeah. I think that’s the only time it’s allowed to be eaten.

[00:47:02.260] – Jean-Philippe

Yeah. Fun.

[00:47:03.730] – Elias Kandalaft

And just to add one thing on that, do whatever you want. If you think pineapple on pizza is good, great. The people who like pineapple on pizza, they’ll come to your restaurant or to your thing. If and if you are passionate about that, do it. You know I’m not one to judge.

[00:47:20.020] – Jean-Philippe

What are the three tips you would give to yourself if you’re to start your catering business again?

[00:47:28.590] – Elias Kandalaft

Um, I would say not to beat myself up too much. I was pretty mentally abusive to myself because I always wanted to strive and be the best. Uh, so not really to take myself too seriously. Uh, whenever I hit a roadblock, which was very often. There’s always a way around it. You know, either you you smash through it, jump over it, walk around it. There’s always a way. And you know, it’s. You know. Any obstacle that comes, just find a way around it. And three is. Get help from the people around you. You know, majority of the people around you are there to support you. And I think in the first half of my career, I’m talking in terms of like my business. I thought that I was a lone wolf and I had to figure it out on my own, when in actual fact, you know, working with people, asking for help, even supporting them. I’m a I’m a big advocate for even my competitors and people that in the industry, when they do well, I will clap, I will applaud them, and I will cheer them on because I feel when you do that you they will do the same for you and you’ll feel better about yourself because it’s now it’s a community thing.

[00:48:52.310] – Elias Kandalaft

You’re not alone. Like FNB is very difficult and you need to stick with, uh, with everyone that’s around you doing the same thing because they’re going through the same problems that you are. And it can be either talking to them, they can be a soundboard. Uh, could be sharing ideas. Collaborating like our industry nowadays is very beautiful and.

[00:49:16.290] – Jean-Philippe

I think competitive. I mean, of course it is, but it is.

[00:49:20.160] – Elias Kandalaft

But we’re now supporting each other more, and I think we have become more successful. And I think the last award that we got now in 2023, I attribute it to a lot of the people that are around me, uh, because they push me to be a better version of myself. I’m accountable, yes, to myself and my family, but I’m also accountable to them. If we’re going to be running in the same circles and everything, you know, we have to kind of push each other to be better. And, you know, and when you love one another and like you care for one another, you’ll support, you know, they have if there’s a collaboration between two chefs, you go, you show up. You try the food. You. If there’s another catering company, do it. I’ve sat with other people that have considered opening catering companies, and I’ve walked them through it. Uh, just because I feel like no one, no one was there to walk me through it, no one was there to help me in the beginning, except for, you know, my family, my father.

[00:50:17.830] – Elias Kandalaft

He really pushed. He was the catalyst, you know, he pushed push, push. And he didn’t. He didn’t know either. But he’s like, go find out. Go to a municipality. How do you open a kitchen? Like ask these questions?

[00:50:28.720] – Jean-Philippe

Yeah. Part of the fun in life is to find out.

[00:50:30.850] – Speaker 3

Yeah, right.

[00:50:31.600] – Elias Kandalaft


[00:50:32.530] – Jean-Philippe

My coach tells me. Yeah. Um. I want to finish with the a couple of questions. The first is how do you market your business?

[00:50:41.670] – Elias Kandalaft

I think word of mouth is probably the strongest. Yeah. Uh, social media, uh.

[00:50:46.530] – Jean-Philippe

Videos of food or. How do you market.

[00:50:48.510] – Elias Kandalaft

Videos of food? They have pictures of the plates. Um, I have to admit, we’re not very good at it at marketing, but I think I think the awards and the reputation helped a lot. Yeah. Uh, SEO search engine optimization. Uh, we spend quite a bit on that Google AdWords. Uh.

[00:51:08.100] – Jean-Philippe

Because marketing.

[00:51:08.880] – Elias Kandalaft

Yeah. Because when you’re throwing a party, what do you do? You say catering companies in Dubai or Best Private Home Catering, and you have to anticipate what the customer is going to. Right. So I work with a company that I tell them like, hey guys, like what’s uh, like how do we get people to click on our website? They’re like, well, when they Google, let’s figure out like Best Catering Company, a catering company in Dubai, catering company in the UAE. So I this is how we’ve driven most of our business and word of mouth really.

[00:51:40.740] – Jean-Philippe

All right. The best thing to eat at pinch. That will be my last question.

[00:51:45.560] – Elias Kandalaft

Wow. Uh, my favorite is honestly, the lamb. We have a lamb station. No, no, not the duck fat. The duck fat was just a fun thing, but we we roast a full lamb on a spit, and we add spices to it. Um, lemon. Very sour. Uh, oils. Uh, spices. It’s it’s out of this world. Uh, it’s one of my absolute favorite things. And we’ve had this product forever, and it’s hard to change it. I don’t want to change it. I think it’s great. I think most people find it to be one of the best things ever.

[00:52:19.460] – Jean-Philippe

All right.

[00:52:19.820] – Jean-Philippe

Well, now people know what to order if they ever want to work with pinch. That’s the thing that you could, uh, you should get. All right. Thank you.

[00:52:26.990] – Elias Kandalaft

Elias, thank you so much. It’s really a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

Guest & Host

Jean-Philippe Serhal

Sr. Marketing Manager

Elias Kandelaft Supy Podcast

Elias Kandelaft

Chef & Managing Director
Pinch Gourmet

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