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The Inter Milan fan who's bringing plant-based cuisine to Dubai

Words by Rob Chilton

Stefano Percassi is the founder of Soulgreen, a Milan restaurant that has arrived in Dubai at the Vida Creek Harbour hotel

Soulgreen founder Stefano Percassi

Stefano Percassi has just arrived in Dubai from Milan and didn’t sleep well, but looks as fit as a fiddle. That’s because he’s coming off a 19-day cleanse of green vegetable juice and chamomile tea. “I feel incredible, everything is better and completely different,” he smiles.

Aged 44, he looks like he could still be a player for his beloved Inter Milan football team. “I want to live to 100 at least,” he laughs. “To get to 100, I must have balance. Before turning 40 we can get away with things but after 40,” he pats his stomach, “everything we become is because of what we do to ourselves.”

The Milan-born businessman is the founder of Soulgreen, a hipster plant-based restaurant in Milan that has opened its first international outpost in Dubai on the waterfront at Vida Creek Harbour hotel.

Usually, Percassi is vegan for two days a week and then on Monday, he fasts, drinking only water. “Fasting relaxes my body,” he says. Once a month, Percassi and his girlfriend enjoy a T-bone steak with cocktails. “You don’t have to be too strict with yourself,” he grins. “Come on, let’s enjoy life.”

It was back in 2015 that Percassi decided to reassess his eating patterns. Stuck on chicken, steak and pasta, he looked around for different ideas and went full vegan. He rolls his eyes, “It was a disaster for me. I love food and it takes a while to change habits.”

He gently altered his food intake and noticed the difference. “I went skiing in the Dolomites last year with a group of friends and felt heavy. I changed what I ate and then went skiing with the same people again this year – I finished 50 metres ahead of them, I felt fast and strong.”

Asian bowl

The likes of Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Lewis Hamilton, Tiger Woods and Tom Brady have spoken of the change in their performance after going vegan. “It’s about cleaning your body and giving it a different energy,” adds Percassi who suggests eating 20 per cent animal products and 80 per cent plants.

Percassi opened the original Soulgreen in Milan in 2017 in Porta Nuova, a cool neighbourhood that’s home to Google and Amazon. Housed in an old bank, the restaurant was packed from day one with a variety of customers. “Business people, models, old ladies,” he laughs.

He has big ambitions for Soulgreen Dubai and lists Nobu, Cipriani Nusr-Et, Zuma and Coya as his benchmark. “These chains are around the world, they are very expensive and they all deliver an experience but not one of them is healthy. Nobody is doing what we are doing. In Dubai, the standard is high, you need competition to learn, otherwise, you think you are the best.”

The view from Soulgreen

Competition comes naturally for Percassi, perhaps due to his links with football. “I was born in Milan and grew up there so I’m an Inter fan, but I’m a big supporter of Atalanta, too because my family owns the club.” He picks out Inter’s veteran goalkeeper Samir Handanovic as one of his heroes, while for Atalanta, he praises the Argentine playmaker Alejandro Darío Gómez. Percassi is clearly a man torn by a love for two teams but, he laughs, he has an easy explanation: “Both teams wear the same beautiful blue and black colours, so it’s fine!”

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