Interested in learning more about the range of international and local food products available in the region and the people who supply them? Fancy picking up some cooking tips, while watching professional chefs embroiled in a cooking competition? Eager to enjoy a three-course meal at a pop-up fine dining restaurant and then pick up a few choice ingredients for dinner afterwards? You can do all this and more at the International Fine Food Festival, where a visit over the next few days is a great way to show support for the developing UAE food scene.
• The festival doors are open from 10am to 8pm throughout the week. Entry to the event is free, but it is advisable to register online at www.ifffestival.com
Our top picks of things to do at the festival
• Unleash your inner food critic. Sample some of the bite-sized items on offer at the Amuse Bouche theatre and vote for your favourites.
• Purchase a host of unusual products and ingredients from the Posh Picnic and cook up a really special midweek meal.
• Register for the UAE's first Cookbook Club. This is a great opportunity for those who devour cookbooks to meet and exchange books, ideas and recipes.
• Even if you don't get to dine in The Chef's Table restaurants, you can still peek through the window into the kitchen and observe the teams toiling away under pressure. The final gets under way at 12pm on Friday.
• Attend a cooking demonstration performed by chefs from the recently opened School of Culinary and Finishing Arts in Jumeirah Lake Towers. These events happen at 12pm and 4pm, today and tomorrow, at the Teka kitchen. Bookings can be made on the day or via email@example.com
Market: Posh Picnic
Billed as an opportunity for visitors to meet and mingle with exhibitors, chat to farmers, producers and suppliers first-hand and, of course, taste and buy their products, the Posh Picnic is designed to have a relaxed, European-style market feel.
We suggest you buy a locally produced palm frond basket at the start of your shopping trip and then wander among the stalls and leafy greenery (supplied by Greenworks), sampling and purchasing ingredients as you go.
Exhibitors range from large international companies such as Nespresso and S Pellegrino to smaller, local businesses such as Down to Earth Organic and Gourmet Point, giving visitors the opportunity to discover new regional products, as well as learning more about old favourites.
Shopping list: What to look out for at Posh Picnic
• Salmontini salmon - Scottish salmon that has been processed, cured and smoked using traditional methods at a smokehouse in Dubai.
• Locally made fresh mozzarella, scamorza and ricotta from Italian Dairy Products.
• Free-range poultry (chickens and ducks), eggs, butter and cream from Proma.
• A selection of seafood such as fresh and breaded butterflied shrimps, king crab claws, tuna burgers and salmon steaks from Royal Culimer - perfect for a barbecue.
• A jar or two of Balqees honey - for an indulgent breakfast, try the honey and cinnamon fusion or wasabi honey.
• A jar of Organic Highbank Orchard Syrup - made from apples and apparently Ireland's answer to maple syrup - from the Éireann stall.
Event: Amuse Bouche
A chance for some of the UAE's younger chefs to shine. Twice a day, junior chefs between the ages of 18 and 21 will be serving platters of small dishes ready for the public to taste. They will then vote on their favourites. Listen out for the morning and afternoon announcement ("The amuse bouche is open for tasting!") and head over to the Amuse Bouche theatre to cast your vote.
Contest: The Golden Toque Middle East
An all-important part of the festival that sees professional chefs competing against each other in various categories and classes, showcasing ingredients sourced from the Posh Picnic and supplied by sponsors of the event.
Just to add to their nerves, a live feed showing the chefs cooking away in the kitchens on the lower ground floor will be streamed on to several large plasma screens dotted about the festival floor.
Examples of the various competitions include: during the Tropicaii Healthy Menu Challenge, the chefs will be asked to cook and present a main course for four people; not only must it have a healthy eating focus, they also need to incorporate a Tropicaii coconut product into the recipe. Meanwhile, entrants in the Barilla Pasta Challenge must rustle up four portions of traditional pasta in 40 minutes and make their accompanying sauces from scratch.
Prizes will be awarded for the individual competitions, with the overall Golden Toque Middle East winner - selected by a panel of local and international judges - winning business class flights to Switzerland, a stay at the Les Trois Rois hotel and dinner at the two Michelin-starred restaurant Cheval Blanc.
Meanwhile, home cooks with a competitive streak can enter the Teka Keen Amateur Challenge; they'll have 60 minutes to prepare a dish of their choice, with the winner receiving kitchen equipment from Teka.
Dining: The Chef's Table
As soon as you step into the International Fine Food Festival you'll spot The Chef's Table - two pop-up restaurants with attached kitchens, separated by the Amuse Bouche stage.
Every morning and afternoon, two teams made up of five chefs from various restaurants and hotels in the region will cook off against each other. The Farm is entering a team and members of the brigade from Rhodes Mezzanine and Rhodes Twenty10 are combining forces to do so.
The chefs will be given two-and-a-half hours to cook a three-course meal for the 30 guests seated in the adjoining fine-dining restaurants. Crucially, they won't know what the main ingredient is until they start; one member of each team will then be charged with heading into the Posh Picnic area to shop for it.
Tickets for The Chef's Table restaurant cost Dh250 per person, which includes the meal with coffee and tea. To reserve your seat, visit www.ifffestival.com/the-chefs-table.
The International Fine Food Festival has declared itself a plastic bag-free event and is suggesting that visitors purchase hand woven, biodegradable palm frond baskets instead. The bags are supplied courtesy of Sougha, a UAE-based company established by the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, in a bid to preserve and promote Emirati handicrafts.
In addition, the UAE-based Ecoclean is the official cleaning company for the International Fine Food Festival and is providing environmentally friendly cleaning products for The Golden Toque and Chef's Table. It is also employing its eco-friendly dry-cleaning service - energy efficient machines, environmentally sound detergents, recyclable cardboard hangers, clothes bags made from tapioca starch rather than plastic - to launder the chefs' aprons and jackets. Visit www.ecoclean-uae.com for more information about the company.