Duncan Fraser Smith is an author, hospitality veteran and founder of The Cutting Edge Hospitality Agency is on the cusp of returning to the Middle East.
You’ve created more than 200 hospitality concepts in the region. Which one is your most memorable?
The biggest and most memorable was Cle Dubai. It brought together Michelin chef Greg Malouf, Cirque De Soleil and a launch party that included guests with the surnames Hilton and Kardashian. MasterChef the TV Experience is certainly another as it was a passion project of mine for many years.
When did it get the toughest for you over the last three decades you have spent in the industry?
I would have to say that was the last three years due to the pandemic. I witnessed many of the incredible outlets created over the years having to shut down and retrench staff. I’m glad to see most are now back to their full complement. I returned to Australia in May 2020 and as Melbourne was coming out of its initial lockdown, we bought a restaurant. Suffice to say, weathering seven lockdowns over the next year was one of the toughest experiences in my hospitality career.
How much time do you spend travelling for work and do you have any travel coping mechanisms?
I would say 30 per cent of my time is spent travelling for work. Adapting to the new time zone is key for me. The minute I get to my destination, going for a swim seems to help calibrate the senses.
What’s your choice of in-flight entertainment?
Having been a loyal Emirates customer over the last 15 years, I would have to say it’s ICE. The depth of offerings available means that a 14-hour flight from Australia to the UAE goes by in a heartbeat. Aside from the visual offering, TV shows and movies, ICE has an incredible music selection.
What’s the one travel experience you’d rather forget?
Meeting for a family gathering in Bali, the only way my wife and I could get there was by flying a low-cost carrier out of Melbourne. My seat was directly next to the lavatory and so every time someone would open the door, it would bang into my shoulder. A memorable seven hours, only to be outdone by the accommodation at our destination which had gaps between the balcony door and the wall measured in inches allowing all of the 36-degree heat and humidity inside.
What are the three things that you always pack in your suitcase?
Music is key to surviving travel for me, so there will always be a portable speaker and noise-cancelling headphones. There is always swimwear, no matter what the destination. Finally, [I always pack] a good men’s fragrance that I associate with the destination I am going to.
How do you spend your air miles?
For me, since they have been earned on travel then I redeem them on travel. Previously they have been used to fly family members over for vacations, but most of the time they are used to assist in turning left on the plane instead of right.
Where’s the one location that’s still on your bucket list and why? San Sebastian in Spain. What an incredible melting pot of culture, cuisine and Michelin stars.
The one global culinary concept that you weren’t involved with, but wish you had been a part of.
I wish I had been part of the ‘Fusion’ movement. I am not just referring to Asian/Californian cuisine, but I am seeing concepts now that have pushed the boundaries of fusion whereby people are looking at a menu with a selection of dumplings, sushi, curries, Korean BBQ and wagyu beef. I have always said that one should never try to be everything to everyone because all you will succeed in doing is being nothing to no one, but this blend of flavour profiles just simply works.