Slow & steady

Slow & steady

Interviews – 05.01.23

Emirati chef and restaurateur Faisal Naser believes in taking his time to do things right and applies that ethos to every aspect of his burger concept, LENTO

Devina Divecha
Devina Divecha
Author

Strong beats and rhythmic vocals play in the background making me tap my feet to the beat, when chef and restaurateur Faisal Naser emerges from the kitchen and we start talking. We’re in LENTO Dubai, Faisal’s artisanal smashed burger and fried chicken concept.

The minimalist industrial look, with monochromes and tan leather, is hit with pops of colour from the KAWS-inspired sculpture behind the DJ booth and hip hop vinyl records on a statement wall.

Music has always been a passion for Faisal, he says, along with cooking and drawing. He says, “When I went to England for university, I didn’t want to live on takeaways. I decided to take cooking a bit more seriously and really got into it. Eventually I went to a restaurant to work part-time. While I was there, it felt like time was flying and it was something I quite enjoyed.”

Faisal adds, “I loved the idea of bringing my friends together to try my food, especially the Arab students who missed home.”

Everything on the menu is made from scratch
Everything on the menu is made from scratch

Cooking remained nothing more than a hobby until he moved back to the UAE and the hobby slowly started growing into something more. Wielding social media as a tool, he started to “show off” his skills and eventually started consulting with restaurants.

This turned out to be a boon in his journey towards opening LENTO. “With all the knowledge I had, I could have opened LENTO 10 years ago but I took my time. I was waiting for the right moment.”

That’s also why it’s called LENTO – which means slow in Spanish as well as in musical terms. “I like what time does to food. What does sourdough, a nice chicken stock and fermented pickles have in common? It’s time… they all take time.

“People think we are fast food but we’re not really. We take the time, we make everything from scratch. We bake our bread in-house, we mince the meat every day, we make our pickles, we ferment honey and salsas. For amazing flavours.”

The menu is simple and short, always a good sign. Standouts include the likes of honey butter fried chicken (local fresh fried chicken dipped in fermented honey and butter emulsion with ranch coleslaw, cheese) and the picante umami (double patties of grass-fed Wagyu, smashed American cheese, green salsa, spicy umami sauce, shallots and chopped jalapeños).

His approach to cooking is to be as natural as possible, he says. “One of my philosophies in cooking is that the food has to not just taste good but shouldn’t make anyone feel bad after eating it.”

Faisal says sustainability, to him, means using as much local produce as possible and using all ingredients in their entirety. From local tomatoes to locally-farmed chicken, his restaurant is a champion for the produce and items found in the UAE and the wider region.

“I try to use everything in the kitchen and minimise waste as much as possible and to use local ingredients when I can.” Expanding on how the ingredients are used, Faisal shares examples of how ingredients are used fresh and whole. “We make our own spices: we dehydrate mushrooms and make an umami spice powder out of it. For our triple-cooked fries, we get whole potatoes and peel them and make fresh fries every day.

“I’m not doing delivery as well. We do a lot of work to make our food of this quality, and I don’t want that quality to go down on a delivery bike.”

Faisal's passion for music is evident in the decor
Faisal's passion for music is evident in the decor

While (local) fish only makes an appearance on the menu as a weekly Thursday special, it’s a protein Faisal would like to explore further. He reveals, “I’m studying [the idea of] opening a fish concept in the future. I’m inspired by an amazing chef from Australia called Josh Niland. He is the biggest example of being super sustainable and he uses the fish from lips to tail, and I’m inspired by the way he does things.”

He takes the artisanal credentials of LENTO seriously and has no intention of opening multiple branches all over the country. What he would like to do, in addition to the fish concept brewing in his mind, is look at hosting specials and pop-up dinners. Keen on collaborating with other chefs across the country, Faisal wants to showcase the value of community and being dynamic.

“I want the restaurant to be more dynamic and not a place where it’s just a static menu,” he adds. We return to the topic of music and his love for hip hop. “Hip hop music is similar to cooking,” he muses, “where they take different songs, line it up and then they break it into a new beat and hit it with those strong bars.”

It’s like what Faisal does at LENTO, where ingredients come together to create a dish that packs a strong punch.