It's suddenly that time of year again: Gourmet Abu Dhabi 2013 kicks off on February 5 and runs for two weeks. Restaurants across the capital are no doubt already readying their kitchens for the arrival of a slew of international chefs, as preparations for a whole host of special dinners, demonstrations and bespoke menus begin.
Now in its fifth year, the event has grown. With that in mind, we take a look at what's new for 2013 and how you can get the most out of this gastronomic experience, whatever your budget or food preference.
First up, the daily morning masterclasses have been done away with. While they were free, which was a boon, we think that this can only be a good thing, as spaces then were very limited, got booked up quickly (often by the same people) and felt slightly inaccessible, with the chefs cooking up all manner of technical dishes.
Instead, this year the Gourmet Abu Dhabi team bring us two jam-packed days of chef demonstrations, by way of the Culinary Creation Stage. Held at the Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa on February 8 and 9 (Friday and Saturday) the day-long events (9am to 5pm) are reasonably priced at Dh120 for one day and Dh200 for both. The demos feature chefs such as Dani Garcia, Michel Sarran, Rachel Allen and the patissiere Ernst Knam, who will be sharing their tips and secrets as well as cooking up a storm.
Continuing on with this interactive eating theme, over the two-week period there's going to be a number of cooking demonstrations by individual chefs, which are followed by lunch.
These four-hour-long events (10am-2pm) take place at different hotels, with the featured chef focusing on his or her particular area of expertise.
Highlights include: at the Beach Rotana on February 17, Michel Rostang will be looking back over his illustrious career, while Jason Black will be discussing his travels and how to cook the perfect steak at the Yas Island Rotana on February 13. Imtiaz Qureshi will be cooking and discussing the history of Indian cuisine at the Beach Rotana on February 18.
Again, tickets are reasonably priced at Dh200 (remember, it includes lunch) but are selling out fast. Book online at www.gourmetabudhabi.ae.
For choco lovers
An evening filled with chocolate and a side order of theatrics - that's the event titled Murder by Chocolate with Valrhona and Gianluca Fusto. On February 6 at the Yas Viceroy hotel, three food critics are due to meet a rather sickly end. Guests will witness the mystery unfold course by course, as a police inspector, his sidekick and a psychic family member battle to discover just who was responsible for the deaths - was it a bitter restaurant manager or even a rival food blogger?
Amid all that mystery, one thing is certain: there will be plenty of chocolate on offer. The patisserie Gianluca Fusto, who is hosting the event along with Yas Viceroy's executive chef Michel Jost, is an ambassador for Valrhona chocolate and is renowned for his creativity.
The event begins at 7pm and is priced at Dh600.
Valentine's in the desert
If you're looking for a Valentine's Day dinner with a difference, Gourmet Abu Dhabi's 1001 Nights might be just the ticket. Held out in the Abu Dhabi desert at Arabian Nights Village - a sustainable desert camp - the event promises an Emirati-inspired, Arabic fusion feast held under the stars and surrounded by candles.
The meal begins with seafood - lobster, oysters and salmon - before guests are invited to sample a banquet-style spread consisting of fish biryani, lamb ouzi, harees and thareed and ending with saffron and rosewater-infused desserts.
Guests can also opt to stay the night at the camp, if they wish. For more information or to make a booking, visit www.arabiannights.ae.
Emirati fusion dinner
After her successful contribution to last year's event, the Emirati chef Khulood Atiq returns with a fusion dinner held at the Monte-Carlo Beach Club on February 11. In collaboration with the executive chef Mathew Goodlet, chef Khulood, who is an Arabic and Emirati cuisine specialist for Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), has devised a meal that uses Emirati flavours and ingredients, but has given them a slightly modern twist.
Items on the fusion-style à la carte menu include mini camel burgers, local prawns with rocket sauce, salt fish madrouba and spiced mackerel with mohammar rice.
The event begins at 7pm and tickets are priced at Dh350 each. Call 02 656 3500 to make a reservation.
For caviar aficionados
The Australian celebrity chef Brent Savage and the Etihad Airways corporate executive chef Thomas Ulherr have come together to present a seven-course caviar tasting menu, featuring five different types of quality caviar.
Savage is known for his forward-thinking food and while the full menu is being kept under wraps until the night, the signature dish is thought to be a tom yum creamy spaghetti with Iranian Beluga caviar infused with lemon grass, ginger and chilli.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the abundant use of luxury ingredients, tickets are not cheap at Dh1,300 per person. For bookings, visit www.gourmetabudhabi.ae.
More in store
While these are our picks of the new events, there will be a huge amount going on in Gourmet Abu Dhabi. On February 10, the Irish television chef and cookery book author Rachel Allen will host a special dinner at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, where she'll be cooking some of her favourite dishes using ingredients from her homeland.
The three Michelin-starred chef Pascal Barbot will be serving a high-end, bespoke menu at Brasserie Angélique at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers on February 17.
There's also a gourmet brunch at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr on the 15th and a popular gourmet golf experience at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club on the 7th. With all the different culinary promotions and the special menus and dinners that the international chefs will put on at their host hotels, we will all be very well fed in February.