The first dish that the two Michelin-starred chef Sang-Hoon Degeimbre prepared at a masterclass on Tuesday morning was, quite simply, beautiful. A kaleidoscope of colours and dainty, deftly arranged ingredients: cylinders of fermented carrot, rounds of vivid purple beetroot, blue potato crisps, slithers of translucent, pickled daikon and fresh green pea shoots. He poured the ingredients for hazelnut sponge into an espuma gun canister, charged it with gas, transferred the frothy mixture to a dish and proceeded to microwave it for one minute. The result? A wonderfully aerated cake that provided the finishing touch to a stunning dish. Not the type of thing you'd whip up at home, but a show-stopper nonetheless.
Now consider that Degeimbre isn't what a traditionalist would call a trained chef: "Before I opened my restaurant (L'Air Du Temps), I'd never worked as a chef - I cooked for the first time in the weeks leading up to the launch. I had all these ideas: about flavours, balance, taste and smell and I wanted to put them into practice". This alone gives an insight into the type of person Degeimbre is: not afraid of a challenge, imaginative, keen to experiment and absolutely unwilling to be restricted by convention. Having watched him in action, I think it's safe to say that this attitude sums up his intuitive cooking style rather well.
Degeimbre, meanwhile, says the dishes served at L'Air Du Temps are "contemporary, prepared using new techniques, with the focus on showcasing and developing the flavour of local ingredients". A modest description from the man who is regarded as Belgium's leading exponent of molecular gastronomy.
Degeimbre works closely with chemists and food designers to create dishes that delight and beguile his customers. He plays with textures and flavours and challenges perceptions of what a dish or ingredient should look and taste like. His "chimera: octopus egg", which is on the menu at L'Air Du Temps, is an excellent example of this. The method for preparing this dish is as difficult as the title suggests and I say that even after watching the chef himself make it.
The inspiration apparently came from a desire to "create a new type of egg, with the texture and appearance of a soft boiled hen's egg and a surprise in the centre".
The result (an entirely black-and-white dish) is ambitious and rather striking. Egg whites are essentially made of protein and water, so to create the pseudo version, we watched him blend lightly sautéed squid (high in protein) with water and konjac (a thickening agent). He poured this mixture into small moulds and dropped a spoonful of liquid squid-ink risotto into the centre of each one, to mimic the yolk. The octopus egg was served with liquorice mayonnaise, a soufflé of black rice and a wafer-thin black rice chip. It would probably be less time-consuming to fly to his restaurant in Belgium than attempt to prepare these accompaniments at home, so I won't go into the details here.
What I can say is that watching this chef at work was a real treat; he is a master of complex, multifaceted cooking and such an experience is surely what Gourmet Abu Dhabi is all about.
Speaking of complicated cooking, how does chocolate macae, foie gras and pumpkin kumquat sound? Or what about a slither of parsnip and chocolate tart? A spoonful of freeze-dried banana with toasted sesame crisp? Handful of candied cocoa nibs?
These are just a few of the intriguing desserts that will be on offer at the Chocolate and Pastry brunch at Yas Island Rotana on Saturday. The dishes will be prepared by six of the world's most prominent female pastry chefs, all of whom will be in attendance. Sweet tooth or not, there promises to be much to enjoy and indulge in here.
Chocolate and Pastry brunch, Yas Island Rotana, Saturday 12pm-4pm Dh550