The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is now under way and, as usual, if you’re interested in food and cooking, there’s an abundance of things to do, see and, of course, eat.
During the next few days, Anissa Helou and Antonio Carluccio are both hosting themed lunches and giving cooking demonstrations as well as taking part in food panels and chatting about their life and work. Helou will also be joining Suzanne Husseini and Sarah Al Hamad to talk about the connection between food and culture. The television favourite Bobby Chinn, who specialises in Vietnamese food and flavours, will be preparing some of his signature dishes at an event on Saturday after joining the authors Philip Ardagh, Mark Billingham and Ben Miller on Friday evening to talk about the highs and lows of being a writer.
The three Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire is introducing his latest book 175 Home Recipes With a Twist over lunch out on the terrace at Reflets this afternoon and will be cooking in the restaurant until tomorrow, if you missed out and want to catch him in action.
The Irish cookery book author Rachel Allen has returned to the UAE again, after taking part in Gourmet Abu Dhabi last month and is giving a practical demonstration on Saturday titled “Easy Meals for Busy Cooks”. She will also be taking part in a discussion with Chinn, Willie Harcourt-Cooze and Ken Hom on Friday.
Harcourt-Cooze, meanwhile, is cooking with children and chocolate (what better recipe?) tomorrow afternoon and will, in his own words, be “taking people on a journey from bean to bar – an adventure in flavour – a roller-coaster of the historical importance of chocolate” during his “Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory” event on Friday.
For more information about the events mentioned, or to purchase tickets, visit www.emirateslitfest.com
While I’m willing to bet that the majority of us enjoy the odd bar of chocolate – or two, or three – and perhaps even consider ourselves connoisseurs of the stuff, Willie Harcourt-Cooze is a proper chocolate fiend. His passion began, almost 20 years ago, with a cup of hot chocolate in Venezuela. After falling in love with the land, he later returned and bought a cocoa hacienda in Choroni, where he planted thousands of cacao trees and later began producing small quantities of 100 per cent cacao bars.
In 2008, a television show called Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory brought him to public attention as it followed his bid to grow and harvest cacao beans from the farm and turn them into chocolate at his self-built factory in the grounds of his home in Devon, England.
Today, he has a number of artisan chocolate products and a couple of books to his name (Willie’s Chocolate Factory Cookbook and Willie’s Chocolate Bible), but says that the greatest bonus of the past five years has been getting people to think differently about chocolate. “I’ve had the most extraordinary journey opening people’s eyes to the uses of cacao in savoury and sweet and educating people about the incredible effects of hot chocolate, which is packed full of vitamins and minerals and all the unknown goodness yet to be understood,” he says.
He urges anyone who hasn’t tried 100 per cent cacao chocolate – made from cocoa beans, without any added fat or sugar – to do so and describes the product as “the ultimate chef’s weapon”, explaining that as well as using it in sweet dishes, it can just as easily be used to enrich casseroles and gravies.
“The simplest way to experience cacao is like a condiment or a building block of flavour in a jus. When using cacao/chocolate in this way, remember to taste your jus, add the cacao in small quantities and taste again, until you have the desired depth of flavour. Be careful not to add too much and overpower the dish,” he explains.
If that still sounds a bit out there for your tastes, then it could be worth beginning with a dessert recipe (see our Bites blog for Willie’s classic chocolate mousse recipe); just make sure you invest in some good-quality dark chocolate to do so.
“The most common misconception is that dark chocolate is bitter and people are amazed that mine is not. The reason for this is that standard beans, which are 85 per cent of the world’s production, are often over-roasted. Much like over-roasted coffee, it can become bitter, whereas the other 15 per cent of the world’s fine cacaos are gently roasted to capture the flavour profile of the bean, be it fruity, nutty or floral.”
For details on Willie’s appearance at the festival, visit tickets.emirateslitfest.com/v-380-willie-harcourt-cooze.aspx
The legendary Chinese chef Ken Hom was cooking on television and sharing his recipes and ideas with the world long before the term ‘celebrity chef’ became the ubiquitous one it is today. He looks back over many years spent in the kitchen.
On Ken Hom’s Chinese Cookery, the show which, in 1984, launched his television career:
“Chinese Cookery was in many ways a pioneer in exposing the British public to non-British cooking. Its success paved the way for what I am still doing today... teaching about one of the world’s greatest cuisines and showing that it is quick, easy and healthy – which is perfect for today’s lifestyle.”
Musing on Delia Smith’s recent decision to leave TV behind and move online:
“Food television in the days of Delia and myself was more about teaching and not entertaining. People go online for information and to learn, which is why Delia probably made that move.”
On his greatest achievement so far:
“Making Chinese cooking part of the fabric of British life. I am part of the family – no mean feat for someone who is not even British.”
On how he spends his time these days and what he enjoys eating:
“I spend my time between Paris, Bangkok and Rio de Janeiro as well as travelling throughout the world. I love Thai, Italian, French food as well as, of course, Chinese.”
On his food legacy:
“I like to be known as the man who brought the wok and Chinese cookery to the non-Chinese world.”
On encouraging people to cook at home:
“Cooking at home is so quick and easy, especially with a wok; it is crazy that more people are not cooking from scratch. The dish anyone can make is a simple stir-fried vegetable dish with garlic, salt and pepper. Nothing simpler nor more tasty and healthy.”
• For details on Ken Hom’s appearance at the festival see: tickets.emirateslitfest.com/v-385-ken-hom.aspx
Chengdu Leng Mian noodles
From Exploring China:
A Culinary Adventure
by Ken Hom and Ching He-Huang
(BBC Books, £25)
“Noodles are such a part of Chinese culinary culture that it is hard to imagine we could be defeated by the weather: despite the hot, humid summers of Sichuan, we still eat noodles there, but we eat them cold. They are actually quite refreshing and the spicy hot sauce has a cooling effect on the palate and body. Weather aside, what is more important is that the noodles are tasty and, indeed, these noodles are!”
450g (1lb) dried or fresh Chinese egg noodles
175g (6oz) fresh bean sprouts
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons oil, preferably groundnut
2 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon yellow bean sauce
2 teaspoons chilli bean sauce
2 tablespoons sesame paste (or peanut butter)
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon black rice vinegar (or balsamic vinegar)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon chilli oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
For the garnish: fresh coriander leaves
If you are using dried noodles, cook them according to the instructions on the packet, or boil them for four to five minutes. Then cool them in cold water until you are ready to use them. If you are using fresh noodles, boil them for three to five minutes, then immerse in cold water and drain.
Blanch the bean sprouts in boiling water for a few seconds – just in and out. Drain immediately and set aside. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan until it is hot. Add the spring onions, garlic, yellow bean and chilli sauces, sesame paste (or peanut butter) and ginger and stir-fry for two minutes. Add the rice vinegars ,soy sauce, sugar and the chilli and sesame oils and stir to mix. Allow the sauce to cool thoroughly.
Combine the noodles and bean sprouts in a large bowl and mix thoroughly with the sauce, then garnish with the coriander and serve at once.