Day in the life: Iftar preparation starts early for Ritz-Carlton DIFC chef

The executive banquet chef at The Ritz Carlton DIFC works 14 hours a day or more managing iftar events, weddings, corporate launches and gala dinners.

Manuel Caceido, an executive banquet chef at the The Ritz-Carlton DIFC, is the culinary mastermind behind the hotel’s high-profile events, including iftars, weddings for up to 1,000 guests, and corporate parties and banquets. Antonie Robertson / The National
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Manuel Caceido is an executive banquet chef at The Ritz- Carlton DIFC, which he joined in 2013. With more than 10 years of experience across Latin America, Europe and the Middle East, the Colombian chef, 35, is the culinary mastermind behind the hotel’s high-profile events, including iftars, weddings for up to 1,000 guests, and corporate parties and banquets.


I wake up from 7 to 7.30am, depending on how busy we were the night before. I have breakfast – double shots of espresso with hot milk – while checking emails, messages and voicemails. I get ready and then leave my home in Motor City for the 20-minute journey to the hotel.


I go for my morning walk-through and greet the team, talking to them about anything and everything, from a recap of past night’s events to reviewing events for the day, and even personal stuff. A typical day for a chef can be up to 14 hours long. We spend more time at work than home, so my team is really an extension of my family.


It’s my responsibility to ensure the team is briefed and prepared. This involves checking the set-ups for breakfast, coffee breaks and lunch for each event and inspecting the quality of the produce. Midmorning, we start cooking dishes that take longer or can be prepared ahead of time, such as soups and desserts. Since we do high-volume cooking, it’s important to manage the time.


Even though it’s Ramadan, it doesn’t mean we have no meetings in the hotel. For in-house guests, Café Belge and Cake are also open for lunch. I go back to the kitchen to ensure we are ready for lunch service, double-checking and tasting each dish.


During lunch operations, I interact with guests to see if there is anything more we could do to wow them. I like to hear feedback directly because it allows me to take action immediately. We cover a huge range of events. The most common during Ramadan are corporate iftars and suhoors. We work closely with clients to personalise each event, from table seating to special linens and props.


I don’t typically have lunch, but when I do it’s a quick and light. Sometimes we do menu tasting with clients, so that’s lunch. I also review the menu planning, check costing and meet the procurement team and suppliers to make sure inventory orders are delivered and that the produce is high quality. For events that require a lot of preparation, usually weddings and gala dinners, I visit the suppliers and vendors and select the produce myself. Back in the kitchen, the iftar team should be finishing up the preparation work by now.


I meet the events and banquet team. Banquet events – no matter the size – take a lot of coordination between the departments and all concerned have to be briefed on their roles.


We have an afternoon line- up of the culinary department (a team of 35 chefs) where we discuss our daily commitment to quality and wow stories – a collection of memorable stories crafted by The Ritz-Carlton team all over the world.


I call this our happy hour; it’s the time we brainstorm, share feedback, experiment with different ways of plating a dish, and infuse new flavours to an existing dish. We challenge ourselves to come up with new ideas and innovate to create new experiences without compromising on the quality of the ingredients we use. For example, this Ramadan we created “Savoury Booza”, served as unique condiments to our felafel waffle. As we brainstorm, a chef makes my favourite chai.


It’s almost showtime. The iftar crowd arrives any time from half an hour to five minutes before breaking the fast. We transport all the food from the kitchen to the Samaya ballroom, where we host the DIFC Ramadan Majlis. Each chef has their assigned station, but on busy nights it’s not uncommon to see me behind the hotline.


As service slows down, I go over the closing duties with the sous chef. Before leaving, I spend another 20 to 30 minutes preparing for the next day, checking orders are placed in the system. It’s always better to be prepared.


I head home and go for a six-kilometre run. I love to do that at night with my headphones and loud music; this helps me relax and think outside the box. If I’m not running, I meet friends and try new restaurants in the city.


After a cold shower, I hit the bed.

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