Published On: Wed, Nov 4th, 2015

Project Canvas: Entrepreneurship on the menu

Marriott’s lab for incubating entrepreneurial food and drink ideas, Project Canvas has allowed Chef Darren Velvick to realise his dreams with the launch of his British ‘farm to table’ restaurant

Chef Darren Velvick

Chef Darren Velvick


Thanks to the Marriott group’s Project Canvas, the former Patron Chef of Table9, Darren Velvick is set to open his own restaurant, in the Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites, reflecting the wholesome British food culture he grew up with.


Set amidst the stunning surroundings of Dubai Marina, The Croft will open to Dubai’s urban restaurant scene with a soft launch on 16 August and an official grand opening on 15 September.


Being one of the winning ideas of Marriott International’s Project Canvas campaign, the venue, located on the fifth level of Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites in Dubai Marina, is closely inspired by Darren’s own childhood upbringing in the rural British village of Hampstead Norreys.


A Marcus Wareing protégé and Chef de Cuisine at The Croft,Darren stated: “We are thrilled to be launching our dream after months of conceptualising, planning and prepping. The theme behind the restaurant is very close to my heart and we are eagerly looking forward to receiving positive feedback from guests.”DSC_0107


Project Canvas was introduced with the purpose of nurturing local entrepreneurship as well as supporting the creation of home-grown concepts. The initiative, which builds on Marriott International’s entrepreneurial heritage, has made the dreams of food and beverage entrepreneurs a reality using Marriott International as a lab for incubating entrepreneurial food and drink ideas.


The history of the Marriott group dates back to May 20, 1927, when a pair of newlyweds, J. Willard and Alice Marriott, opened a small root beer stand in Washington, DC. These young entrepreneurs were the catalyst for what we know today as one of the most successful hospitality companies in the world.


The two launched their root beer stand with just nine seats and five-cent frosty mugs for hot summer days. When the weather cooled, they added hot tamales to the menu and renamed themselves Hot Shoppes. This eventually led them to starting the east coast’s first drive-in restaurant.DSC_0108


Entrepreneurship, experimentation and local community have always been a part of the Marriott DNA, and today Project Canvas celebrates collaboration on a global level, inviting passionate, local entrepreneurs to test their new food and drink business ideas in our hotel-based concept labs.


Applicants must demonstrate originality, creativity, passion and skill, and have a quality business plan demonstrating ROI potential.


Darren explains the concept: “Marriott take spaces that are not functioning very well for them and gets people in like me, who know the industry and work in restaurants, and say it’s your site, do as you want, and we will give you support in the form of $50,000.”


He adds: “$50,000 may sound like a lot, but it soon gets sucked up and we could spend it over again.Turning this space into an English-style restaurant was very challenging with the budget given.Luckily I’ve had so many charity contributions like Deepak Taylor, the construction project manager, who is working free of charge, and he is pulling on favours like the sanding of the wooden floors. If it wasn’t for those guys we couldn’t have done this. The initial quote we got was $150,000.”


DSC_0109Although settled at Table9, Darren says that the proposition from Marriott came at the perfect moment. He says: “Marriott representatives first visited us at Table9. Theyliked what we were doing and came up with an idea that suited me. I wasn’tgoingvery far with Table9 and needed to reassess what I wanted from Dubai.Table9 was a special occasion location;guests loved it, but it was just too far for people to travel to every day and we want The Croft to be somewhere you come to two or three times a week.


“When we did our business plan they asked us who we see as competitors and for us it is The Scene. That is the style we want – quite fun, classicBritish dishes, done with a twist.”


Darren says he will draw on the techniqueshe learnt from Gordon Ramsey and Marcus Wareing. “From them I learntgreat techniques in how to get the best out of products, but I will deformalise the way it’s presented – so it’s not so intricate on the plate. I only want three to four elements on a dish but all tasting right; today it’s a challenge to get a carrot tasting like a carrot.”


DSC_0111With several British restaurants recently opened in the UAE, and several more planned or in development, differentiation becomes imperative. But Darren believes he will be set apart from the majority by the fact he is hands on in the kitchen 24/7. “What sets us apart from celebrity kitchens is that I am here every day cooking. I don’t just have my name above the door. They are only as good as the guys they put in the kitchen.


“Plus, I know how challenging Dubai can be; it is veryprice driven, so our menu is very reasonable priced as we want to be good value.”


Darren says that the name of the restaurant perfectly surmises the food offering. He says: “A croft is a home where its occupants live off the land, so my ethos is natural ingredients. I support local farmers and will get behind the farmers market. I have also teamed up with Lootah as my distributor, so instead of going to each farm Lootah will go for me.


“I would like the whole menu organic but is not realistic so I will settle for 80% – especially when its cooler and stuff grows. As a father, we are organic at home,it’s where my heart is and as a chef it’s very easy to cook and has great flavour – and you don’t need to do much with it to get the best flavours out.


DSC_0117I am also challenging Lootah to bring things like stinging nettles fromUK woodlands – like the foraging in the UK. Ultimately I want farm to table food.”


Later on, Darren plans to add an additional menu, offering just healthyfood, with options that are gluten free, dairy free, and so on. “As a family, that is how we eat now and we find it very hard to eat out, so I want to simplify it for my diners.”


The Croft will seat up to 40 guests in the main dining area, plus 25 alongside the open plan kitchen, and the same DSC_0115number of seats will be available on the terrace once it opens. Initially the restaurant will only open in the evenings, from 5pm until 1am for drinks, with food served from 6pm until 11pm. The next stage,from mid-September, will be a traditional Friday brunch and a Saturday offering of authentic British roast dinners. In October, Darren hopes to open the terrace as a gin garden, hopefully branded by the likes of Hendricks, with an extensive gin menu, including cocktails and craft beers.

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