Taste of Abu Dhabi: the chefs from Etch put the cool into culinary

The rock star chefs are bringing their brand of immersive, personal fine-dining to the capital.

Steven Edwards, left, and Josh Stanzl of Etch. Courtesy Etch
Powered by automated translation

Anyone stumbling upon the Etch promotional photographs might assume that Steven Edwards and Josh Stanzl are budding rock stars; moody poses, slick hair, tattoos. True, the kitchen whites are a bit of a giveaway, but the duo behind Britain’s coolest new cooking company are more than happy with the comparison.

“I suppose we are like a rock band, yeah,” smiles Steven Edwards, the co-founder of Etch, a few days before their trip to Taste of Abu Dhabi. “We’re two young chefs who don’t want to have any barriers. We want to make it a bit theatrical. We call it ‘interactive dining’.”

Etch is a fresh approach to the restaurant business; not quite “punk”, perhaps, but definitely different. The ambitious duo, who are still in their late 20s, met in the kitchen of a five-star hotel in their native county, Sussex in the UK, and were clearly destined for joint success. “We’re both very driven chefs,” admits Stanzl (the tattooed one). “We push for perfection and make sure we get the best results out of each other.”

Stanzl went on to oversee the food at “glorious” Goodwood, the globally renowned racecourse and estate, but they reconvened after Edwards entered a major TV talent show – Masterchef: The Professionals, in 2013 – and won. That high-profile achievement led to so many invitations to guest-cook that the duo spotted an opportunity to bring something truly different to the table, a whole new approach to fine dining.

The name they chose for that company is more than just a meaningless buzzword. “Etch means to imprint, define and impress,” says Stanzl. “Our brand is about giving the guest a ‘wow!’ experience.” Edwards says. “Our main focus is on the food, but we want to create an experience that’s etched in people’s memories.”

The duo’s signature style involves them getting up close and personal with the clientele – not wildly dissimilar to their forthcoming demonstrations at Taste, in fact. “Interactive dining, it’s us bringing the food out to the customers, explaining the history behind the dish, where we sourced the ingredients from,” says Edwards. “We’ve got nothing to hide in how we prepare food. We’ve got this rapport with our guests where they can ask us anything. If they want to come and see what we do in the kitchen, we’re not one of these old-school chefs who are sort of ashamed about what they do.”

The Etch approach to venues is reminiscent of a touring rock band, too, as the duo load up a van and host pop-up restaurants in varying locations, from coffee shops to palaces. “The most high-profile one so far is at Blenheim Palace,” Edwards explains. “120 covers, we went into the [famously grand] Orangery Room and were playing a bit of house music – we basically shook it up a little bit.”

Have they encountered any snobbery from the more traditional cooking establishment? “Yeah, of course,” he continues. “And that’s what we love: people being snobs. We try to change their perception of how food should be. I think that’s why Blenheim worked so well; it’s a palace, but we stripped it back and showed how food can be enjoyed in a great location like that.”

Longer-term, the duo plan to launch permanent venues of their own and already have a deal in place at one of the UK’s most eagerly anticipated buildings. “I’d say a highlight for me so far is definitely securing our flagship restaurant in Brighton,” says Stanzl. That kitchen will be in the i360, which is set for completion next year.

“It’s the world’s largest moving viewing platform,” Edwards explains, of the landscape-changing construction. At the top will be a bar with 30-mile views, then at ground level is the Brasserie, with a menu designed by Etch. Well, eventually. “Over the winter it has to be fully built, as we have to launch it at the beginning of July,” says Edwards, unfazed by that evolving situation. “That’s the kind of environment that we love. We love challenging ourselves, pushing ourselves.”

Etch may be a cutting-edge concept, but the duo have a more down-to-earth mission too: showcasing the food of Sussex. “We love using humble ingredients from our region,” says Stanzl. “At Taste of Abu Dhabi we’ll be cooking grey mullet with pearl barley. Grey mullet is a fantastic-tasting fish, it’s a great substitute for sea bass. And it’s a lot cheaper.”

It could be a busy trip. Edwards admits that “we’re also looking at the UAE for restaurants, to work with a hotel and have an Etch restaurant over there,” and another strand of their brand will kick off. “There’s a new merchandise section of our website that’s going to be launched in Abu Dhabi,” he says. “Jackets, chopping-boards, knives.”

The range does look rather stylish. “My personal favourite is our wax cotton apron,” says Stanzl, “bespoke to us.”