BiCE plans culinary school in Dubai

The US chain, which has 45 Italian restaurants around the world, hopes to develop talented chefs.

The BiCE Group, which has 45 Italian restaurants around the world, plans to set up a cooking school in Dubai to help feed talented chefs to its growing global operation.

Raffaele Ruggeri, the global group director for BiCE International, said the company was in discussions with a local partner and expected the school, the company's first, to be ready in 2012.

"There are two purposes to this cooking school. One is to help us train our own chefs because, as we expand, we are running out of people to work with," Mr Ruggeri said during a recent visit to Dubai. "So we need to make sure that we prepare our special chefs."

The school will also offer casual Italian cooking classes for budding chefs in Dubai, he said.

"The purpose is for us to sustain our growth and to offer classes, to the women and to the guys, not so much those looking to grow in the business, but those who want to learn and appreciate the food."

BiCE, which has two restaurants in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi, has big expansion plans for the region. It has recently opened a restaurant in Beirut and has signed licensing agreements to open in Bahrain, Tehran, Amman and Muscat next year.

BiCE plans to bring a new concept, Beef Bar, to the Dubai International Financial Centre next year, said Mr Ruggeri. The company is discussing the possibility of BiCE restaurant openings in other countries including Egypt, Libya and China, he said.

BiCE chose Dubai as the site for its cooking school because of the city's central location and because the group's international operations outside of the US are based there.

"This is an incredible city, with great opportunity," Mr Ruggeri said. "It is the centre of the Middle East, and it connects Europe and Asia."

The group also plans to sell its own line of pasta, sauce and tableware globally, he said.

The company is making a big push after a tough year around the world for retailers of every kind.

Mr Ruggeri said that while sales at BiCE's restaurants in the Middle East were on par so far this year with last year's, its restaurants in western markets had not performed so well. In the US, BiCE sales dipped between 4 and 20 per cent in the difficult economic climate, he said.

The group has set its sights on opportunities in emerging cities, he said.

"In this part of the world, they are still investing, still building, there are still opportunities," Mr Ruggeri said. "Outside of Dubai, there are places like Muscat and Damascus, which are about to open up to this new lifestyle. So there are great opportunities for a restaurateur like me, because there is nothing there like it."