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Recipe for Success with 99 Sushi Bar's Chef Thinus

99 Sushi Bar & Restaurant, a bespoke Japanese restaurant for eclectic foodies offering an array of classic Japanese dishes to the most avant-garde, innovative creations, was recently awarded with a prestigious Michelin Star.

We spoke to Head Chef Thinus van der Westhuizen.

What inspired you to become a chef and how did you get started in the industry?

From a very young age, I had the desire to work in a kitchen. The Hustle and bustle of a busy service attracted a specific crew and I wanted to be part of that crew. The ability to express yourself creatively, and challenge yourself to become better, looked very appealing to me. My father was a great cook and I got placed to work in restaurants from the age of 16, where over the years I had the opportunity to work with immensely talented chefs and work my way through the brigade. Some have become mentors and great friends.

99 Sushi Open Plan Kitchen

What makes the concept of the restaurant unique?

Within the ultra-competitive dining scene of the UAE, and amongst the many Japanese restaurants out there, over the 5 past year, 99 has become a go-to restaurant for people of taste, who truly appreciate authentic haute cuisine from the Land of the Rising Sun. The many awards received, and the 1 MICHELIN Star to top it all off this year, must show that we are consistent and devoted to offering the finest quality and service. What is special about 99 is its human size, the extensive beverage list, the use of star ingredient Atlantic bluefin tuna, farmed responsibly, according to the requirements of the UN and FAO. Our team's skill, savviness and Old Continent hospitality. We serve all the expected (and not so expected) traditional Japanese delicacies, made with only the finest premium ingredients, and secret recipes made only in 99, such as our very own and unique soy sauce, for one!

Dining Setting at 99 Sushi Bar & Restaurant

What is your signature dish and what makes it so special?

I don’t have a specific dish that stands out in particular. I believe my personal signature is more the ability to bring out the best in produce, make them shine if you will. I love incorporating natural elements into dishes, by using fire, smoke, air and flame, as we were taught as kids in South Africa. At 99, the techniques we use do exactly that. We bring out the best in the products we use, with specific and intricate techniques. Such dishes as our Umami crystal toast, 99 jewel or our newly added robata grills showcase a level of haute cuisine and that we are very proud of.

What can we expect in 2023 and beyond for the restaurant?

We will work hard to maintain our standards of excellence and live up to the Michelin expectations, of course. We will also source more and more local produce to support the efforts of the UAE in that perspective. Sustainability is one of our top priorities in our choice of suppliers and we aim at reinforcing this even more. We will continue to research and get inspired, in order to keep 99's signature dishes, but also bring new items to the table, constantly pushing back our creative boundaries.

99 Sushi Bar & Restaurant

Abu Dhabi is emerging as a leading dining destination. What do you think the future holds for the dining scene in Abu Dhabi?

Indeed, Abu Dhabi is fast becoming a culinary destination, with Al Maryah Island as a flagship for the dining scene. We are lucky to be here, in the middle of the beating heart of the capital city's gastronomy. In the future, I think we will see many home-grown concepts popping up, which will help us to create a unique identity. We have a few projects of our own up our sleeve... to be disclosed later in time!

Open Plan Kitchen at 99 Sushi Bar & Restaurant