Some people love to cook; others don't but can still toss something chef-like together in a pinch. And then there is me. Despite my mother's best efforts, for years I've managed to avoid learning how to be creative in the kitchen beyond using a George Foreman grill, so why start now? I think I've found the reason, and it involves two Frenchmen who've come up with an easy way to learn some basic kitchen tips and have fun while you're at it. Brothers Nicolas and François Bergerault started L'Atelier des Chefs, a cooking school that holds quick courses in different cities around the world and then serves you what you've prepared on the spot. They were here last week to launch the UAE branch, a bright and shiny stainless-steel kitchen situated in Le Méridien, Dubai.
"We want people to learn a new way of cooking," François says. "You want to cook, but maybe your mother didn't teach you because she went back to the office." He sounds positively convincing when he says: "Cooking is pleasure, something you share. These are basic values." Their chef, Gregory Khellouf, ably ushers a group of us through the Cook, Eat and Run programme, in which we learn how to cook a meal in 30 minutes, then sit down to eat what we've prepared, with dessert provided at the end. All this for Dh120. Today we're learning how to cook vanilla-infused fillet of hammour with mashed sweet potatoes. The Atelier team take most of the pain out of preparation, providing us with potatoes already washed and ready to peel and sweeping away the mess when we're done. Along the way, we learn some general tips from Chef Gregory: how to heat up spice without burning it (start it out in the pan, don't drop it in once the oil has heated); how to recognise when fish is cooked (the white fat bleeds out the side); how to use salt to bring out flavour (use more than you think). To eat, we sit at the same stainless-steel counters we cooked on, which were set for us while we huddled around the stove. At the end, Chef Gregory brings out little pots of chocolate fondant fresh from the oven. It was all rather fast and painless, and I dare say I might have picked up some skills. Other courses include 60 Minutes Flat (a main course and dessert, Dh180), Le Menu (a three-course menu in 90 minutes, Dh250) and All About (a focused course of 120 minutes, Dh350). The school also offers group classes for corporations and private parties. If all goes well, the brothers will open other locations, including one in Abu Dhabi. For more information or to book a class, go to www.atelierdeschefsdubai.com or call Le Méridien at 04 217 0000. * Mo Gannon
Enviroserve, an environmental services company based in the UAE, has set up drop-off boxes for unwanted MOBILE phones at Etisalat Business Centres, Enoc and Adnoc petrol stations, Spinneys stores, post offices, Magrudy's book shops and other locations. Not only will you spare nature the toxic substances in your phone, you will also be entered in a contest to win Dh1,000 of phone credit from Etisalat, 500,000 Air Miles or discounted rates from Hertz rent-a-car. Go to www.enviroserve.ae for more information.
It's easy enough to spend a fortune in our favourite bookshop, Kinokuniya in Dubai Mall, and now it's even more of a temptation because the store has introduced a loyalty card. Spend Dh300 and you will get a card and an immediate 10 per cent discount. Show your card every time you shop and you will get 10 per cent off all future purchases. Unfortunately, the scheme only runs until the end of April. What happens after that? "We're waiting to find out," one of the assistants tells us. We love loyalty cards: you save money, and yet get to keep on spending. How brilliant is that?
www.topix.com Without getting too sentimental about the importance of hold-in-your-hands, ink-on-your-fingertips newspapers, we must admit that Topix is a great way to streamline online news. The website allows you to select your location (from Abu Dhabi to Chicago to the Seychelles) and then displays news stories about the area. It searches 50,000 news websites, giving quite a range of coverage. You can also check out the most popular stories worldwide.