Annually, Gourmet Abu Dhabi's biggest draws are the free masterclasses, held in the mornings and hosted by a different chef each time. They provide a fantastic opportunity to see some extremely well-established chefs at work, ask them questions and taste a mouthful or two of the dishes they prepare.
That said, one of the disappointments of the event and something that perhaps Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority will address in the future, is that these classes are held in a relatively small room and can therefore only accommodate 80 or so audience members. Seats are booked well in advance, leaving a fair few disappointed and as with previous years, at each class The National attended, the same faces lining the first couple of rows. Might we suggest some sort of ballot system be put into place in the future?
For those who weren't able to attend, we have rounded up a few of the highlights and our pick of the top tips that were divulged over the past two weeks.
Of all those who took to the stage over the course of the event, Bruno Ménard was one of the most comfortable: he gesticulated enthusiastically, dispensed advice and seemed to genuinely enjoy himself. The three Michelin-starred chef appeared flummoxed only once, when an audience member asked what else she could do with leftover egg whites, apart from make meringue. Freeze them or make more meringue, the Frenchman answered.
Ménard recently moved from Japan to Singapore, where he's making an effort to acquaint himself with all it has to offer. "I think that wherever you are, you have a duty to use local produce, to understand local flavours. My background will always be French, but it is also heavily influenced by Japan and now hopefully Singapore. It is important to keep learning, to be inspired by your travels."
True to his word, during his masterclass Ménard prepared an interesting take on siew mai, using Singaporean crab. But it was his "fail-safe, secret recipe" for making notoriously tricky mayonnaise that got the crowd really talking. To find out how a couple of spoonfuls of mashed potato will ensure that your mayonnaise never splits again, see the full recipe online.
Justin Quek, the chef behind Singapore's acclaimed Sky on 57 restaurant, is a household name in Asia. His masterclass was full of anecdotes and advice, starting with the assertion that of all the different pans he had ever cooked with, copper ones are his absolute favourite.
Having spent what he describes as "a very tough year" in Paris as a young apprentice, Quek says that his food has French foundations, but is, of course, influenced by his Asian background. "I'm not from a wealthy family, so when I was growing up, I thought of cooking as my way of seeing the world," he explained.
Perhaps because of this, he follows a specific culinary route whenever he visits a country for the first time. "I head to the markets to look around straight away. After that, I'll talk to the locals and try to eat some traditional food. Only later will I visit a high-end restaurant - I like to think of this as my way of learning about a place."
Rather than defining his cooking by cuisine, he says that his food is all about good foundations. "It is important to me to use high-quality ingredients and put time, effort and care into preparing even the very simple things, like stock." His recipe for slow-cooked eggs with sautéed mushrooms, which includes notes on how to make an intensely flavoured poultry jus from reduced chicken stock, is also online and exemplifies this point.
The Emirati chef Khulood Atiq's masterclass was the very first of the festival, but it was also one of the most memorable. She shared two recipes tahta maleh and balaleet, offered an insight into Emirati cooking: "Three of the most significant flavours in Emirati cooking are dried lime, cardamom and saffron." She also admitted to the audience that when she prepared balaleet, a traditional Emirati breakfast dish, for the first time, she treated the vermicelli as if it were pasta and cooked it for far too long. Having now made the dish countless times, she says that these days she prefers to use noodles made from rice flour rather than the more traditional semolina vermicelli, for a lighter finish.
Roy Brett is the head chef at Ondine, a luxury seafood restaurant in Edinburgh, and is completely committed to using sustainable produce. As well as presenting a Scottish-themed dinner at the Yas Viceroy hotel, he met the organisers of the UAE's Choose Wisely sustainable fish campaign and visited the fish market in Abu Dhabi.
"I loved it down there; if I lived here, I'd be there every day," he said. "I was really taken by the traders; they are very passionate about what they are doing and I think this needs to be encouraged." Brett says it is important for chefs and consumers in the UAE to become increasingly aware that supplies of several species of local fish are dwindling. "We all need to think about what we are eating and how much of it. It's also important to look for alternatives."
Having only tried it for the first time a few days earlier, he says that he is so taken with faskar (two bar sea bream), he decided to serve a soup featuring it at his gala dinner. For the home cook, he advised splitting the fish open, taking out the pin bones, drizzling all over with olive oil and roasting the fish whole.