Leading the celebrity contingent in Gourmet Abu Dhabi is the Irish television chef and cookbook author Rachel Allen who, with her affable, approachable style and practical, family-focused recipes, is a welcome addition to the cast.
While watching a plethora of Michelin-starred chefs cooking complicated dishes - prepared using expensive, difficult-to-source ingredients - is certainly entertaining, it's not always particularly useful. Here Allen comes into her own. She studied at the famous Ballymaloe Cooking School, where she is now a teacher, appears regularly on television and has several books to her name (including most recently Cake) and says that while she likes to experiment with her cooking, it's also important that her recipes are achievable.
"I'm definitely adventurous as a cook, I always want to try new things and learn different ideas about food," she says. "My style of cooking is influenced by Irish and European food of course, as well as the Asian flavours that I love. I always try to write recipes that are easy to follow and reproduce."
When she touches down in Abu Dhabi, it will be the first time Allen travels to the UAE and it's fair to say she is excited about doing so, both in terms of exploring the emirate and expanding her own culinary repertoire.
"There is a great synergy between Abu Dhabi as a rising global gourmet destination and Ireland - which is known as the land of a thousand welcomes. Both have shared cultures of warm hospitality and this is an incredible opportunity for me to experience the smells, flavours and tastes of Arabia. It is very new and exciting territory for me to explore," she explains.
"One of my main goals during my visit will be to learn how I can incorporate the use of unusual spices such as sumac and saffron into my cooking, which I can bring back to Ireland to share. Who knows, you may see a definite Arabic influence in my next cookbook."
Allen will make her first appearance at the festival this Saturday at the Culinary Creation Stage at the Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa, where she'll be cooking some comfort food classics with a nod to her homeland - think pea and mint soup with Irish soda scones and shepherd's pie with colcannon (Irish mash with cabbage).
Allen is also hosting a celebrity dinner on Sunday at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, where she'll be putting some of her favourite ingredients - smoked salmon, roast lamb and rhubarb - to good use. On Monday, she is cooking an intimate lunch at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, where 20 guests will watch her prepare and chat about Irish ingredients, before siting down to eat.
The Emirati chef
Monday is set to be one of the busiest days of the festival. That evening, the Emirati chef Khulood Atiq - the author of last year's Sarareed cookbook - will be overseeing proceedings at an Emirati fusion dinner, held at the Monte-Carlo Beach Resort on Saadiyat Island.
Atiq says that when designing the menu for the dinner, she veered away from traditional, family-style presentation and opted for less time-consuming à la carte and canapé options, while still maintaining the "flavours, colours and textures of Emirati cuisine".
With that in mind, items on the menu include an Emirati tabbouleh starter followed by beef tenderloin cooked with Emirati spices and served with braised chickpeas and then batheetha cheesecake.
Recipe for Rachel Allen's Hazelnut meringue cake
Half meringue and half cake, this is an elegant dish that uses a few ingredients to impressive effect. It contains no flour but uses ground hazelnuts and egg yolks to give structure and wonderful flavour to a meringue base. Topped, Pavlova-style, with soft whipped cream and strawberries or raspberries, this would make a super end to a summer meal
Prep time 20 mins
Baking time 45 mins
Ready in 1 hour and 15 mins
Serves 6 to 10
Butter, for greasing
225g hazelnuts (skin still on) toasted
6 eggs, separated
200g caster sugar
For the topping
350ml double or regular cream, softly whipped
250g fresh raspberries or sliced hulled strawberries or a mix of the two
A few fresh mint leaves (optional)
Icing sugar, for dusting
23cm diameter cake springform or loose bottomed tin with 6cm sides
Preheat the oven to 170ºC, gas mark 3, then butter the sides of the cake tin and line the base with a disk of baking parchment. If you're using a springform tin, make sure the base is upside down, so there's no lip and the cake can side off easily when cooked.
Place the toasted hazelnuts in a food processor and whizz for a minute or so until they form a coarse powder with a few larger chunks for texture.
Using a hand-held electric beater or an electric food mixer, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together for five to seven minutes or until pale, thick and mousse-like, then fold in the hazelnuts.
In a separate, spotlessly clean bowl (and having cleaned the electric beater, if using), whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then gently fold them into the yolk mixture until incorporated.
Tip the batter into the prepared tin and bake for about 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean and the cake begins to come away slightly from the edges of the tin. Don't worry if it dips slightly in the middle.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides using a small, sharp knife then carefully remove the sides of the tin and leave the cake to cool completely before transferring to a serving plate.
Spoon the whipped cream all over the top of the cake, leaving a gap about 1cm wide around the edge, and scatter the raspberries or strawberries over the cream. Decorate with a few mint leaves, if using, then dust with icing sugar.
Khulood Atiq's Thareed Recipe
This light meal consists of rgaag and meat or chicken stew. It is an ancient dish that is served in every Emirati home and considered to be a main dish during the month of Ramadan
Break the rgaag in a legan (deep bowl) and pour the stock in first without pouring the meat or vegetables.
Mix the bread and stock.
Spread the meat/chicken and vegetables on top of the thareed and serve hot.
Break the bread in a deep bowl and pour in the cold yogurt.
Part 3 (Stew)
1kg of chopped meat, 80 per cent boiled
1 big chopped potato
2 chopped courgettes
1 chopped carrot
1 chopped sweet green pepper
3 chopped tomatoes
2 to 3 finely chopped onions
3 crushed garlic cloves
2 to 3 tablespoons of tomato paste
2 loumi (dried lime)
salt (as desired)
teaspoon each of cumin, coriander, cinnamon, black pepper and cardamom powder
1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 teaspoon of Emirati fish spices (to enhance the flavour)
cup of chopped coriander
2 tablespoons of chopped parsley
1 to 2 green chilli peppers (optional)
3 tablespoons of ghee
1 to 1 litres of hot water
Fry the onions in a pot and add in the crushed garlic and loumi.
Add the boiled meat to the pot, mix well and then add the spices and salt.
Keep adding in ingredients, such as the tomato paste and some water.
Cover the pot for two minutes until you can smell the aroma of the spices and meat.
Add the chopped vegetables to the meat and spices and mix well.
Add the remaining amount of water to the pot, cover it and leave it to boil until the meat and vegetables are cooked.
Chef's note: To prepare the chicken stew, follow the same method, but without boiling the chicken, as it does not need too much time to cook.
The traditional preparation method
Put the chopped onions and meat or chicken into a pot and then cover the pot until the meat/chicken dries out, and then cook over low heat.
Add the ghee to the mixture and roast the ingredients, then add the rest of the ingredients by following the same steps mentioned above.
Tickets for the Emirati fusion dinner, which begins at 7pm on Monday, cost Dh350 per person. For reservations, call 02 656 3500
Tickets are still available for both the Culinary Creation Stage and celebrity dinner. Visit www.gourmetabudhabi.ae for more information