I want to be him too

From finance to food, this guy is my role model.

Ahmass Fakahany, previously co-president of Merrill Lynch, has always been a foodie. He established a niche for himself by building a wine collection for the company.  The wines were mostly bought for himself, but it greatly reduced costs for Merrill whenever Mr. Fakahany brought wine to board dinners.

Unfortunately, his wine collection was sold off when Merrill Lynch got bought out by Bank of America because it was deemed “excessive.”

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Even in the dining room, Mr. Fakahany was the go-to guy for food-related issues. People would ask him to help spice up a plain salad or entrée.

So how and why did Mr. Fakahany switch into the restaurant business?

When Stanley O’neal, the former CEO of Merrill resigned, Mr. Fakahany knew it was over. His resignation making his 21 years at the company officially went into effect as of February 1st, 2008.

Though he obviously received other offers, he decided to exit the banking business once and for all.

His first restaurant investment took place in 2006, when he rode in the same elevator with chef Michael White. They were already acquaintances, but Mr. White wanted to open a restaurant of his own, and mentioned to Mr. Fakahany during the elevator ride that he had found 10 to 15 supporters.

Mr. Fakahany offered to fully support him without any other partners.

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Now, after a series of events, both men work together at Altamarea, one of the fastest growing restaurants in New York.

What’s most interesting to me is how Mr. Fakahany operates the business. Many of his implementations are akin to those of a businessman.

For instance, he offers deferred cash bonuses to some managers to instill loyalty and retain the good staff. Recently, he exchanged a $4,500 dinner bill by several British Airway executives for nine air tickets to give to his staff.

Mr. Fakahany also knows how to cut costs. He is involved in every process of the way, from hiring his former driver for transporting clients and ingredients to negotiating laundry rates based on his physical observations that the machines could be running faster.

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One of my biggest dreams is also to be a restaurant financier, where I can have stakes in different restaurants that I like or deem potential.

But I know as well as the next businessman that running restaurants is not an easy feat. It requires a sharp mind, good sense of humor, and patience all at the same time.

A former trader and now co-owner of restaurants puts it best: “Running restaurants is harder than trading high-yield bonds.”

Eating Ox in Denmark

Be bold and daring. Or just opt for the best.

For the third consecutive year, Noma has been crowned first according to the annual San Pellegrino World’s Best 50 Restaurant awards.

The restaurant, located in Copenhagen, Denmark, is traditional and avant-garde at the same time.  It doesn’t rely on customary ingredients such as foie gras, truffles, and olives typically associated with internationally renowned, upscale restaurants, but instead seek to break through the clutter by utilizing edible materials from the Nordic region, notably Icelandic skyr curd, berries and water, and Greenland musk ox.

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In fact, Noma is a combination of two Danish words: “nordisk” meaning Nordic and “mad” meaning food. Together, the first two letters of each word spell out “Noma.”

The restaurant prides itself on its unique courses that symbolize cultural heritage and health. It is involved in every step of the process from start to finish: cutting, smoking, drying, you name it. And in place of wine as a major component in creating sauces, Noma uses light alcohol like ales and fresh blends like fruit vinegars. The additional mixes of seasonal herbs and spices are not too dissimilar to dishes created in Asia’s high-end vegetarian restaurants.

Their 20-course menu comes at a price of 1500 DKK, or 265.95 USD (based on the most current exchange rate: USD/DKK = 0.1773).

Here’s a preview of some delicacies that are on the menu: celeriac and unripe sloe berry, limfjords oyster and air onion, and brown cheese.

(I specifically picked the ones I either haven’t heard of or can’t pronounce).

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And the current head chef? Rene Redzepi.

It’s no easy feat, but he’s done it—starting his own restaurant in 2003 when he was only 25 years of age.

As of right now, the restaurant is so overbooked that the next available reservation is in August. Evidently the waiting list is in the hundreds. Considering its fame, the length of the waiting list shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise.

More Rolls of Bills AND Fat

Contrary to popular belief, the rich is not necessarily healthier than the poor. Indeed, the rich may have access to higher quality healthcare and medical assistance, but they also have the privilege of enjoying fine dining rich in fat and cholesterol.

Unlike most other countries where the wealthy strive to maintain a fit and even thin figure, the opposite is true for those in China. A survey performed by a professor at the Chinese Medical Doctor Association shows that China’s obesity rate in the last 30 years has skyrocketed 158%. This is extremely alarming, and especially so in large urban cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, where fast food joints like McDonalds and KFC were fighting to set up shop, instead of appearing in stages like it did for the U.S or Europe.

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As long as China continues progressing into the next stages of globalization and opening up a larger portion of its market to foreign manufacturers, there will only be more openings of not only fast food chains, but high-end eateries as well. On the other end of the scale, the wealthy also tend to indulge in expensive food that naturally has higher contents of oil, sugar, and sodium. Particularly around popular holidays like Chinese New Year’s or Moon Festival, food becomes the focal point to represent one’s wealth and status. Thus, meat of the best quality and of various kinds and cuts are sure to be consumed.

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There is one thing I have to add, however—having lived for some period in Taiwan and China myself, I can speak for the Chinese when I say that exercise is not as common a hobby as it is in the U.S. The concept of exercise has traditionally been thought of as a form of art and discipline, such as martial arts, table tennis (ping pong), and chess. In comparison, running and yoga are both really big in the U.S., while in China the shared attitude toward exercising for the purposes of losing weight or becoming toned is not as widespread.

It will definitely be interesting to observe how China responds to its rising cases of heart disease, diabetes, and the likes. Aside from perhaps promoting diet products and weight loss camps, I see a large untapped market for health foods, particularly organic food. As is known in the U.S., retailers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are all a little more costly than Target or Kroger’s. But if the wealthy care about preserving and enjoying their wealth, then they should also care enough to protect their health in order to do so. In the long run, the costs of eating healthy on a daily basis should provide enough incentive to be able to splurge on occasions without incurring serious health repercussions.

Wine’s It Girl

She was the youngest woman (29 years old) to be named a Master Sommelier, a globally known credential in the beverage industry that takes four stages to complete and more years of preparation. As of December 21, 2011, there are only 178 master sommeliers in the world, 18 of whom are women. She’s also the owner of Corkbuzz, a wine bar in New York opened just four months ago.

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Meet Laura Maniec, who knows pretty much everything there is to know about wine. She attributes much of her success to building great relationships with her peers in the industry, and of course, commitment to running her place. Prior to opening Corkbuzz, she had been the wine director of BR Guest restaurant group for 10 years. While at BR Guest, she oversaw 20 New York restaurants’ wine lists while simultaneously preparing for the Master Sommelier examinations.

Ms. Maniec’s presence at Corkbuzz 12 hours a day, seven days a week, is dedicated to not only overseeing the service of the wine bar, but also offering various classes ranging from “Pairing Wine with Takeout Food” to “How to Choose a Wine for a Date.”

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With so many kinds of wines to choose from, Ms. Maniec makes it easier for customers by making at least 40% of the brands recognizable, such as Muscadet and Chardonnay. Many people presumably frequent a wine bar for gatherings or causes of celebrations, so Ms. Maniec is careful in that respect to not have customers spend too much time inquiring the staff about the wine selection.

A smart girl operating a well thought out dining strategy in a niche market certainly makes for a successful business. As Ms. Maniec quote when starting Corkbuzz, “I didn’t want a wine school where I ran a tasting and said goodbye. I wanted to teach without being preachy.”