Visionaries of Innovation

Crafting the Future with Elmir Arnautovic and Chef Izu Ani

In an exclusive joint interview, Elmir Arnautovic of Audi Middle East and celebrated Chef Izu Ani discuss the intersection of luxury, innovation, and the art of inspiring through excellence.

In the world of luxury and high performance, the paths of automotive innovation and culinary artistry intriguingly converge. Elmir Arnautovic, Marketing and Communications Director at Audi Middle East, and renowned Chef Izu Ani, newly minted regional brand ambassador for Audi, share a common vision of pushing boundaries and setting new standards. As leaders in their respective fields, they exemplify how passion and progress can create not just products and services, but experiences that resonate deeply with contemporary aspirations and lifestyles. Here, they discuss their collaborative journey, individual philosophies, and the future of luxury and innovation.

Elmir, can you share how Audi’s philosophy of “Vorsprung Durch Technik” aligns with the brand’s evolving direction in the Middle East?

“Vorsprung Durch Technik” is more than just a catchy phrase for us at Audi Middle East—it’s a mindset that drives everything we do. This philosophy represents the brand’s commitment to innovation, sustainability, and pushing boundaries in design and technology. In the Middle East, where the market is growing rapidly and there’s a strong appetite for the latest advancements, we see an incredible opportunity to lead the way in the premium automotive segment.

For instance, we’re investing heavily in electric mobility. We’re actively reducing our carbon footprint while still focusing on the high performance and premium driving experience our fans expect from Audi.

So, when we say “Vorsprung Durch Technik,” we’re talking about embracing change, driving innovation, and imagining a future where luxury and sustainability go hand in hand. We want to exceed our customers’ expectations and make a real difference in the communities we serve.

Chef Izu, as a culinary innovator, how do you integrate the concept of ‘progress’ in your kitchens and restaurants?

When we work with passion, we can enjoy the art of dedication and practice. By focusing on improving every single day, we can see how much there is to achieve and really embrace the process. I believe that milestones are often found in the small moments. I find the most pride and pleasure when I am consistent and striving towards my goals every day.

The beautiful thing about progress is that it is never complete. It is the ongoing process of discovery and achievement. Every step is progress. We have to take risks and put ourselves in the uncomfortable zone, because this is where we grow. Our efforts and actions teach us about ourselves, who we truly are and what we really want. When we have the courage to take great strides towards our dreams, that is where real progress lies.

Both of you emphasize the importance of customer experience. Could you discuss how this focus influences your respective strategies in automotive and culinary sectors?

Elmir: At Audi, customer experience is truly at the core of everything we do. Every interaction with our brand should be seamless, enjoyable, and most importantly, memorable. This commitment drives us to innovate continuously in areas such as personalised digital services, engaging events, and exceptional aftersales support. By closely listening to our customers’ needs in each market, we create special editions tailored to their preferences, like the Kingdom edition, which celebrated Saudi heritage with exclusive features only available in that market, and the 40 years of Audi Sport edition, a product you may see Chef Izu in these days, commemorating four decades of our performance legacy with some very unique customisations. This approach helps us build strong, lasting relationships with our customers, further building up on our premium brand attributes.

Our partnership with the Museum of the Future is particularly significant, as it allows us to showcase Audi’s vision of the future of mobility through some unique exhibits . This collaboration enables the region to experience the future of mobility now, offering a glimpse into how Audi is shaping the future with cutting-edge technology and innovative design. By presenting our latest advancements in such a prestigious setting, we aim to inspire and engage our audience, highlighting our commitment to progress and excellence. These initiatives, along with our dedication to creating memorable customer experiences through various touchpoints, help us build strong relationships and help to enhance overall satisfaction with the Audi brand.

By listening to our customers and understanding their needs, we deliver tailored solutions that elevate their journey with Audi. We aim to make the entire experience special, creating moments that matter and fostering a lifelong connection to the Audi brand.

Chef Izu: Nothing makes me happier than seeing people eat at my restaurants with genuine joy. Seeing their smiles and hearing their laughter makes all the effort worthwhile. When I’m developing new dishes and creating menus, I always begin with inspiration – we must ask ourselves who this dish is for, why we are creating it, and how and when it will be enjoyed.

I aim to ensure there is something for everybody at our restaurants. Whether a single ingredient or an entire dish, the taste or smell evokes a moment of nostalgia or creates a new and beautiful memory, the idea of bringing a sense of joy and happiness on to a plate to diners gives me great pleasure.

Elmir, how is Audi incorporating sustainable practices within its brand strategy, especially in the luxury market?

Sustainability is a core pillar of Audi’s brand strategy. I believe that environmental responsibility is crucial, especially in the luxury market, where our customers expect the highest standards of innovation and ethics. At Audi, we’re dedicated to developing a wide range of mobility products and investing not only in infrastructure to support their growth, but behind the scenes too, redesigning our factory operations and material usage, as after all, responsibility starts at home.

One of the initiatives worth mentioning is our partnership with Siemens and the UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure. Together, we are advancing electric vehicle infrastructure across the UAE, aiming to create a robust EV charging network that promotes the adoption of electric mobility.

We’re also committed to making our production processes more sustainable. By focusing on greener manufacturing practices, we’re working hard to reduce our carbon footprint across the entire supply chain and improve the recyclability of our vehicles. Our goal is to ensure that luxury and sustainability go hand in hand, demonstrating our unwavering commitment to a greener future for future generations.

What role does technology play in your strategy for maintaining relevance and competitiveness in your industries?

Elmir: Personally, I am really passionate about how technology can transform the driving experience. At Audi, we’re at the forefront of integrating cutting-edge technologies such as autonomous driving, AI-powered driver assistance systems, and advanced infotainment platforms into everyday life. These innovations not only enhance safety and convenience but also provide our customers with a more connected and enjoyable driving experience.

We’re also using digital tools to streamline our operations and improve customer interactions, from virtual previews where customers can explore our new models from the comfort of their homes to online service bookings that make maintenance scheduling a breeze. By staying ahead of technological trends, we ensure that Audi remains a leader in the segment, continually aiming to offer our customers the best in innovation and performance.

For Chef Izu , could you share a challenge you’ve faced in your journey and how you turned it into an opportunity?

Chef Izu: If we look at our circumstances as opportunities instead of obstacles, we can positively impact our mindsets. Experience cannot just be about ‘what went right’ – success is what we celebrate, and mistakes are what we learn from in all aspects of life. There is a lesson in every situation, and challenges give us valuable knowledge that we may not have been aware of otherwise. The trick is to pay attention. It is all information, and information is everything. The more we know, the greater our spectrum of understanding, which leads us to better opportunities and experiences.

Elmir, Audi is known for its iconic designs. How does design thinking influence your marketing strategies?

Design thinking is integral to our marketing strategies at Audi. It starts with understanding our customers’ needs and desires long before they appear and then translating those insights into compelling narratives and experiences. Our campaigns focus on the power of a strong narrative, always confident, creatively interesting with an extremely high level of finish, as one would expect from the products we sell too. We collaborate closely with colleagues across the globe to ensure that our visual and experiential marketing elements reflect our brand’s essence. Whether it’s through visual quality, immersive storytelling through experiences, or interactive digital content, we aim to communicate the sophisticated elegance and innovation that define Audi.

Chef Izu, in your role as Audi’s brand ambassador, how do you plan to merge your culinary art with Audi’s vision to craft unique experiences for your fans?

Audi holds a very special place in my heart. I have admired their approach and commitment to excellence for years now, and I feel humbled and honoured to be able to embark on this journey. Together, we aim to reach new heights and I can’t wait to explore how far we can go. In my mind, there are no limits, and I am really excited to create beautiful, memorable moments for our guests.

Looking forward, what exciting developments can your followers expect from Audi and from your culinary ventures in the next few years?

Elmir: Audi’s future is incredibly exciting, and I am thrilled to be part of this journey. We have several key developments on the horizon that I can’t wait to share with our fans. We’re expanding our vehicle lineup with products which will set new benchmarks in performance, sustainability, and digital connectivity, even reflecting our deep commitment to shaping the mobility of the future.

Of course, right on the back of conquering the mighty Dakar Rally, we’re also on the cusp of the most exciting period in the brand’s motorsport history. From 2026, Audi will line up on the Formula 1 grid, welcoming that challenge the only way it knows how: by finishing first and, as such, writing an exciting new chapter in our history. With four races in our region, that is one upcoming development I am very much looking forward to.

Chef Izu: We have some really exciting plans for the rest of the year and next year, and I feel so grateful to be able to bring new creative culinary experiences and concepts to the region while working on the expansion of our homegrown brands into new markets across Europe, The Middle East and the US. Whilst expansion is a key focus, it is also vital to maintain our values and the quality of our cuisine and experience, and cooking is about creating harmony on a plate and enhancing each ingredient. It takes a lot of care to ensure excellence and consistency in every country.

As far as goals go – I just want to keep growing while maintaining a strong ethos, continue challenging myself, and make people happy with beautiful experiences. It’s what I love and will always love doing.