How chef James Kim hopes to usher in a new era of fine dining for Abu Dhabi

With his latest restaurant Dangereux and experiential cafe Day and Nite opening in the coming weeks, the chef is bringing his Michelin credentials to the capital

Chef James Kim will bring several new restaurants to Abu Dhabi this year. Photo: supplied
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James Kim certainly knows his way around a Michelin-lauded kitchen. Having worked in some of New York City’s most famous restaurants — Balthazar, Le Cirque, Acme, Blanca, Caviar Russe — for the best part of a decade, the American-South Korean chef is ready to bring his own take on fine dining to Abu Dhabi.

Over the coming weeks and months, Kim will be opening several venues in the capital, starting with French restaurant Dangereux at Soul Beach in the Mamsha Al Saadiyat community this month.

For Kim, all roads have been leading to this moment. Before entering the culinary world, he worked as a designer, and since his arrival in the UAE seven years ago, he has been working as a consultant, using his experience to help other restaurants and cafes thrive here.

Kim's eye for design and his fine-dining experience will come together in Dangereux. He also hopes his track record for catching the eye of the Michelin judges continues — in November, his casual bistro in Abu Dhabi’s Boutik Mall, Cafe James, was selected as one of 30 establishments to be listed in the capital’s first Michelin Guide.

“Dangereux is our flagship project,” Kim tells The National. “It's that one where we're not really scared to be extremely experimental. We really want to pull away the different layers of fine dining and get rid of all the things that we feel like we don't need in 2023.”

That means no extensive 10-course tasting menus, over-the-top extravagance or constant course explanations from the chef. Kim wants the food to be the only thing doing the talking.

Dangereux will open at Soul Beach, Mamsha Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, this month

“We want to make sure we deliver a new type of high-end experience where it's not about us, it's not about me,” he says. “Our biggest obsession is taking away the kind of stalwarts and traditions of fine dining that we believe have absolutely no business being in there any more. It's not about what we think it should be, it's just purely about how we can pour on the enjoyment, comfort and satisfaction for the guests.”

Kim is also chief executive of White Farms Al Ain, a 52-greenhouse organic farm from which his restaurants source several fresh ingredients. “We aren’t farm to table,” he says. “Our goal with White Farms this year is to be able to use about 10 per cent of our requirements from the farm.”

However, what he does hope the farm will do is allow his kitchen to incorporate true local flavours into his French menu, to establish a regional take on the cuisine that will give Dangereux a unique identity, such as serving foie gras with an Al Ain date puree.

And Dangereux is just the beginning of Kim’s plans for Abu Dhabi. Opening next month will be Day and Nite in Al Seef Walk, an invite and reservation-only cafe that will have no menu. It also won’t serve alcohol.

“I am actually even more excited about Day and Nite than Dangereux,” he says. “I wanted to offer customers a true experience. When you come in, we’ll greet you with the flute of sparkling kombucha that we make in-house. Then we will ask if you want to go for one story or another story, and depending on what story you pick, we take you into that room and then off we go.”

Also coming soon are two Korean restaurants on Yas Island and Al Maryah Island — Miss Korea and Mr Kim — where the chef will go back to his roots.

“I never envisioned myself opening a Korean restaurant or doing anything in Korean cuisine, but it just got to a point where I felt like it was my responsibility to really represent what Korean food is supposed to be,” he says.

“I was actually really lucky enough to cook our Miss Korea menu for South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol during the state visit in January. I got to do the official state dinner. So that was a huge honour of my life to be able to do that.”

He hopes the casual dining spots, set to open later this year, will bring the energy of the hole-in-the-wall Korean barbecue spots found in Seoul, to Abu Dhabi.

“It's going to be something people have never experienced before, but it's going be something that they can immediately recognise,” he says. “It's going to feel like home.”

Updated: February 16, 2023, 7:19 AM