Monday, March 19, 2012

The Cooking Hands Behind the Scenes

Looking back on Taste of Dubai from the demo tent

"I'll tell you how I derived at this "fish of the day." London-based chef Atul Kochhar stands in front of a crowd at Taste of Dubai 2012. He shares a kitchen story of how he came to create a dish of green spiced John DoryOne day, his batch of filleted John Dory sat on the bottom shelf of the fridge, when somehow a bowl of prepared mint and koriander chutney toppled and soaked the fish fillets beyond denial. "What to do?" the chef smiles across his captivated audience, as he starts to prepare his now signature Panfried Green Spiced John Dory.

panfried green spiced john dory with roasted curried tomato salad

At the Ronda Locatelli stand, a goldilocks-wigged man agitatedly advertised the pizza. I had just seen Giorgio Locatelli prepare stuffed swordfish rolls with fennel and Sicilian orange salad. Pizza wasn't going to cut it. In turning around, my eye caught a dish on the menu, that became my favorite this festival: homemade chestnut ravioli topped with shaved black truffle and drizzled with melted butter, soaking up the addictive truffle aroma. Which I in turn unceremoniously lapped up to the last drop.

Giorgio Locatelli rolling up swordfish fillets for his Sicilian bruciulini di pesce spada. In his cooking demo, he pointed out that breadcrumbs are serious food business in Sicily. "If you drop the breadcrumbs, you will be condemned for your eternity... not your life, your ETERNITY to pick up breadcrumbs from the floor. With your Eye Lashes" (accented and in a resonant voice)

Many celebrity chefs at Taste of Dubai 2012 performed in a full-house theater for the cooking demos. And/or cooked in the Miele Cookery School with keen ones who had queued to sign up for these immensely popular master classes. Atul Kochhar, Gary Rhodes, Richard Sandoval, Giorgio Locatelli, Aldo Zilli, Aarti Sequeira, Suzanne Husseini, to name just a few. Be it on the demo stage or in the cookery school kitchen: things were prepared, kitchen utensils ready to use, stations cleaned up after each session. It was students from the International Centre for the Culinary Arts in Dubai (ICCA) who
provided the indispensable "cooking hands" behind the scene. They clocked 15-hour days prepping and cleaning up. They were all over the festival grounds in their cookery school uniform complete with professionally tied cravat. It was good to see so many of them, promoting their incredible school.

Gary Rhodes again was highly entertaining on the cooking stage - even if he cooked a fish dish suspiciously similar to the one he did last year. He had his audience crying with laughter sharing anecdotes. Describing how the effect of a roaring lamborghini on a man's anatomy is how he feels about cooking. Or how following a crystal-clear recipe can still cause issues: he caught someone splashing his hand around in a bowl of cream. It turned out he had taken the "whisk by hand" instruction to the letter. 

Located in Al Hana shopping center in Satwa, ICCA in Dubai has an outstanding reputation. Many of its alumni have found employ in this city's upmarket restaurants. The school offers a variety of culinary programs. In addition to the full-on professional culinary arts program, there are amateur
courses as well as specialty classes. I took one of these latter ones: The Art of Chocolate Making. It teaches you everything about chocolate, from the very cacao bean beginnings to ultimately making elaborate chocolates that would not look bad in a professional chocolatier's shop.

I thoroughly enjoyed the 4-hour sessions working with chocolate on many levels. Tempering chocolate to achieve this glossy chocolate that audibly snaps when you break it. Moulding chocolate shells to be filled. Playing around creating all sorts of fillings. From a personal favorite of ginger and dark chocolate ganache to a "try fondant with bubblegum essence" pink filling.

Back to the festival, of course I ate in between cooking demos. Make that before, during, and after! There was plenty to sample. From Sonamu's Korean BBQ beef ribs to Nobu's famed yuzu miso glazed black cod. Beautiful grilled beef from several restaurants, including Seafire, Toro Toro, and last but not least, Gaucho. Fragrant spices permeating the air from the grill at Mahec (Modern Authentic Hindustani Evolved Cuisine), whereas spicy chilled prawns and tender curried lamb shanks were to be had at Zafran. Table 9 deserves a special mention. They only learned the previous day a spot had opened up for them. It must have been a whirlwind 24 hours of getting stand and staff organised, as well as preparing the fork-tender and gently spiced braised lamb and the famed cauliflower mousse, served in the restaurant as amuse bouche in a tiny little flower pot complete with micro-green "seedling".

Keep a culinary eye on the ICCA students you saw around the festival. One day soon they may very well be cooking up their own food storm at Taste of Dubai.

audience digging into Aldo Zilli's seafood stew after the demo

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Taste of Dubai: a prelude

I've seen two most extreme opposite cooking demos at Dubai's Literary Festival. Last year it was Pierre Gagnaire's culinary demo. With an almost intimidating atmosphere of serious cooking, he left his audience baffled at the high paced culinary mastery. Quietly focused, the chef tossed, sliced, cut, conferred with his kitchen staff, stirred, added, took away, changed his mind, and over again to create six beautiful dishes that had his audience in awe.

This year: Bobby Chinn. He performed on the Terra Firma terrace last weekend, standing with a cappuccino in Dubai's warm spring sun, wearing sunglasses and boldly scanning his audience with a naughty grin on his face. Apparently the kitchen had not yet completed the mise-en-place. After a good 30 minutes of hanging around  - literally - and cracking jokes, finally the first culinary action was a fact: water was brought to a boil to which some sugar was added.

The cooking pace never picked up. Mockery carried the show. Sneers-with-a-smile to F&B management and kitchen staff, Bobby Chinn particularly enjoyed making fun of the "anal French", randomly throwing in chiffonade whenever he wanted to pinpoint French precision in the kitchen. Amusingly accurate as Bobby Chinn's portrayal of zee French chef was, ironically it also emphasized that what we were watching, was a far cry from the culinary brilliance brought to the festival the year before. I missed Giorgio Locatelli's demonstration, which I hear was fabulous. Not to dispair: he is one of the chefs performing at this year's Taste of Dubai.

The entertainment value of a cooking demonstration by a chef of name. Watching a chef cook, you do get a little insight into how his or her cooking mind works. How culinary creations come about, how a chef choses ingredients, decides on how to cook something, cut something, combine flavors. Some chefs are incredibly informative, others cook more quietly. Last year at Dubai's annual food festival Taste of Dubai, Gary Rhodes worked the audience like a pro entertainer, whereas Scott Price charmed us with his almost shy cooking performance. You always take something from a cooking demo. A little inspiration, a fun memory, a cooking tip or two. To this day, my son refers to grabbing hot stuff from a pan without cooking utensils as doing a "Jun Tanaka", impressed as he was with the chef's seemingly iron-clad fingers. One demo is never the same as the next. And with some 30 cooking demos over the course of a three-day food festival, the upcoming Taste of Dubai is the place par excellence to see for yourself.

Taste of Dubai takes off tomorrow in Media City. Highlights of the festival are the 28 or so restaurants that give you an opportunity to dine around Dubai on the festival grounds, the cooking demos mentioned before, and the chance to cook with a celebrity chef in the Miele cookery school. You have to be fast for the latter though, spots fill up in no timeTo go to the festival's website, click here.

And last but not least: a must-read interview with Giorgio Locatelli by Foodiva.

Enjoy Taste of Dubai!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lafayette Gourmet

Lafayette Gourmet in the Dubai Mall. The stuff food-lovers' dreams are made of. Lock me in with the charcuterie. Let me loose on the cheese. Feed me at any of the food counters. Surround me with your sweet temptations. Leave me to indulge. From seafood laksa to lamb tagine, wagyu steak to vegetable quiche, fresh pasta to dim sum, Gourmet Lafayette boasts 7 cuisines from one location. Eat in or take out, it is also a good place to shop for gourmet groceries. You're looking at some 3,000 square meters of deli-delights. There is a fabulous array of luxury food items. A butcher. A fishmonger. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Specialty coffees and teas. An amazing selection of fine cheeses. A separate pork section filled with salami, saucisses, pates, and hams - including on the leg dangling at tantalising close range. International deli-counters. And let's not forget the gorgeous pastries and desserts.

elegant dessert canapes
The 38 chefs working in the Lafayette kitchens come from all food corners of the world to bring their culinary skills and authentic flavors to the table. Beyond the fine food floor, the kitchens prepare for a whole range of catering events. From private dinners to full-blown buffets, canapes for cocktail parties to corporate lunches. 

foie gras bonbons with pistachio crumble
Recently I enjoyed a sampling of canapes. Each and every one presented in a gorgeous way, flavors took me all over the globe. Delicate foie gras bonbons with a pistachio and brioche crust. Salmon ceviche with mango salsa, edible flower and all. Mini noodle boxes with Pad Thai and Yaki Soba. Lemon grass chicken with fresh herbs, bean sprouts and peanut vinaigrette. Little hot goat cheese "money bags" drizzled with honey. Crispy foie gras croquettes perfectly counterbalanced by a tangy sweet cranberry sauce. Wagyu beef wellington with a creamy truffle hollandaise, in good meat company with sweet braised lamb over fluffy couscous. From the soon available Spanish menu, I enjoyed tasting a meat and vegetable paella (with fresh artichokes), and a seafood paella with calamari, hammour and prawns. I went to have a look at the cheese section and onwards to the pork room when they started bringing out desserts. In a futile attempt to limit the caloric damage. Still there when I came back, I could not resist the chocolate fondant. Nor the chocolate (ice) lollipops stunningly presented in a droplet ice dome. Let alone the piping hot crisp churros, sprinkled with sugar and a sensational touch of salt.
goat cheese purses
Sure, the vastness of the Dubai Mall does require a little thinking ahead with regard to food shopping. You don't want to be lugging your purchase of perishables with you along the miles of the mall. Nor do you want to find yourself on the other end, hooves worn and yet still no gourmet groceries. A simple solution is to park on the Lafayette side of the mall, so you can always pick up a deli-thing or two on your way out.

In fact, even simpler (but no where near as much fun as roaming the food halls): Lafayette Gourmet has a home delivery menu available. Alternatively, you can have a chef come to your home to cook. And then there is the extensive event-catering menu. With all these fine food options, even the most absolute non-cook can invite people over for a gourmet dinner party. Hint, hint, munch, munch...

lamb tagine

beef wellington

foie gras croquettes with cranberry sauce

The evening was courtesy of Lafayette Gourmet.