Long after the last dessert has been eaten at the closing Awards Gala Dinner on Thursday evening, the effects of Gourmet Abu Dhabi will be felt across the region. Particularly among the host chefs who shared their kitchens as part of the Epicurean Promotions, with the guests who attended the special tasting dinners (which were unique, multi-coursed affairs) and for those who were introduced to new techniques and ingredients at one of the many culinary masterclasses that were held as part of the event.
These were a particular highlight. They provided a fantastic opportunity to watch established chefs working at close quarters, sharing their ideas, tips and recipes and plating up ambitious-looking dishes, which were later condensed (sometimes painstakingly) into canapé-sized form, for the audience to taste.
From modern Japanese-style cooking to French fusion and classic Italian peppered with Asian influences, the stage at the Armed Forces Officers Club and Hotel has seen it all over the past two weeks. Many of the dishes produced required a level of dexterity and skill (not to mention fancy equipment) beyond the scope of the home cook, but there were also plenty of insider tips for audience members to hastily scribble down.
Marike van Beurden is the head pastry chef at Caprice, a three Michelin-starred restaurant in Hong Kong and, as you can imagine, her creations were highly technical. Yet, there was also much to take away from this class. As part of one of her dishes, Van Beurden prepared a ganache, a simple, versatile sauce made from melted chocolate and warm cream which can be used as a glaze, whipped with more cream to create a filling for cakes or chilled and rolled into truffles. When melting the chocolate, she advised stirring it with a spoon rather than whisk (to stop the mixture from becoming aerated), and said that to prevent the chocolate from seizing (hardening and becoming grainy) it was important that the cream was almost boiling when it was added. She also suggested doing this gradually, stirring well between each addition, to give the ganache a smooth, glossy finish.
If you prefer a lighter style of dessert, then earlier on in the week the Italian two Michelin-starred chef Claudio Sadler made watermelon water-ice. This is easier to prepare than it sounds and doesn't require an ice cream machine. Simply chop and deseed a kilo of watermelon and place in a blender, add caster sugar to taste and blitz to a liquid. Pour into a cold bowl or dish and freeze for an hour, until ice crystals start to form. Remove the bowl from the freezer and scrape the frozen pieces back into the mixture, return to the freezer and repeat every hour, until the mixture is frozen with a fluffy, crystalline texture. Serve the watermelon ice on its own as a refreshing dessert or palate cleanser, or spoon over fruit.
Ryan Clift is an ambitious, experimental chef and his recipes included ingredients such as xanthan gum, malic acid and ultra tex 4 (a thickening agent. Having said that, he made a delicious and simple eight-spice powder which filled the room with a powerful, warm, sweet aroma.
The recipe requires: 50g each of star anise, cinnamon, juniper berries and cardamom, 10g each of cloves and salt, 5g of freshly ground pepper and saffron is added to taste. Pour the spices into a hot, dry pan and toast for 4-6 minutes, shaking the pan every so often, until they smell very aromatic. Allow to cool slightly, transfer to a blender and blitz to a powder. Pass through a fine sieve and store in an airtight container. Clift suggested using the eight-spice to season chicken or duck or, if you're feeling decadent, you could follow his example and sprinkle it over foie gras.
Speaking of luxury foodstuffs, when you splash out on expensive ingredients it is important to make the most of them. So, if you find yourself preparing a lobster dish from scratch, then Tetsuya Wakuda advises quickly and humanely killing the crustacean, before removing the tail and claws and blanching them in rapidly boiling water for 30 seconds. This, he says, will make it much easier to remove the meat from the shell in one piece. When you do come to cook the lobster, Alain Solivérès - a chef renowned for his flawlessly presented food - suggests tying two lobster tails together with kitchen string (flat sides facing each other, with a butter knife between them) in order to keep them perfectly straight.
Another useful tip from Solivérès involved blanching tomatoes. To remove the skin quickly and easily, he advises making a small cross in the base of the fruit with a sharp knife before adding them to a pan of rapidly boiling water (for no longer than 20 seconds). The tomatoes should then be plunged into iced water, to stop the cooking process. The skin can now be peeled away easily.
Anthony Genovese likes to mix Asian and Italian flavours and when preparing his risotto dish he coated slices of ginger and baby aubergine in a tempura batter. He said that the secret to a really airy batter is to lightly combine rice flour with a splash of ice-cold sparkling water and mix sparingly. The result was golden, airy and crisp and is a tip to try at home. He also informed the audience that if a recipe requires buffalo mozzarella and it isn't available, then taleggio makes a good substitute.
As you can see, these classes provided a wealth of culinary information. They were free to attend, but required registration and unsurprisingly, places filled up fast. If you are interested in food and cooking, then I strongly advise securing yourself a spot next year.
The Awards Gala dinner takes place tomorrow night at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr and will see various restaurants and individuals in the Food and Beverage sector recognised with "Abu Dhabi Gourmet Stars". Tickets are still available, Dh1,950 per person.