Leading Dubai chefs audition for a slot on the new lifestyle show Ask One.
Dubai One recruits new TV celebrity chef
Something's cooking at the entertainment channel Dubai One, which launched its new lifestyle programme, Ask One, last week. The weekly show features experts offering advice on subjects including fashion, health, family and legal matters. And, of course, cooking. "The cooking segment is going to be about eight minutes long and we really want to use it to encourage people to cook at home more," Mai el-Khalifa, the head of production, told me. "The show will provide new takes on quick and healthy dinners, suggest alternative ideas for your lunchbox and teach viewers how to take advantage of home-grown produce."
Before all that could happen, though, the show needed to find its very own resident cook. Which explains why a couple of weeks ago a few of Dubai's more prominent chefs could be found milling around a television studio and looking a little hot under the collars of their pristine whites, as they prepared to audition for the role. Far from the comfort of their own restaurant kitchens and with an expectant crew watching, the chefs had been asked to cook an omelette while chatting to the presenter Saba Wahid.
So as the lights dimmed, the sound-men called for silence and the cameras started to roll, what exactly was el-Khalifa looking for from these celebrity-chef hopefuls? "We want someone who is animated, charismatic and informative," she said. "Obviously, these guys can cook, but we need them to really engage with their audience, to explain clearly what they're doing so that viewers can follow them at home, and above all, to be entertaining."
Many of us will know from experience that it is surprisingly difficult to keep up a steady stream of conversation (peppered liberally with interesting anecdotes and witticisms) while chopping onions and trying to prevent a sauce from catching. Food for thought indeed, as Gordon Ramsay's executive chef Scott Price made his way on to the stage. Opting to cook a basic cheese omelette, he said he wanted to prove that it was possible to make something delicious with the most basic of ingredients, providing you follow a few important steps. A few minutes later he dished up his omelette, folded in the traditional French "cigar" style and oozing melted cheddar.
He did so while bestowing a few relevant facts on his audience: who knew that the idea for beating eggs with herbs and frying until firm originated in the ancient Near East, or that you should only season eggs just before you add them to the pan, otherwise the protein will begin to break down? Saba initially had to work a little harder to coax information from Max Grenard, the executive chef of the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club. Her cheery questioning paid off though, and with his tall chef's hat and rolling French accent, Grenard certainly looked and sounded the part of the old-school culinary master.
Paul de Visser's laid-back, conversational approach owed something to the early Jamie Oliver, back before he was burdened with the worry of American obesity and the state of school dinners. Although the affable executive chef at Ruth's Chris Steak House admitted that the protein he was most used to dealing with was meat and that he "hadn't made an omelette in years" he managed to keep up a cheerful and interesting patter, even when the non-stick element of his pan was clearly called into question. Despite this being de Visser's first time in front of the camera, he professed to have relished the experience, with any pre-performance nerves disappearing "in about five seconds".
Next up to take his place on the stage was Tom Egerton, the executive sous chef at Grosvenor House. Egerton assisted in the launch of the hugely popular Rhodes Mezzanine in 2007 and now divides his time between the various restaurants at the high-end hotel, pitching in where needed. He seemed pretty at home with his eggs, and as he casually remarked that the Grosvenor House kitchens dish up around 400 breakfast omelettes every morning, you couldn't help but think that he might well have had a quick practice.
While he whipped up a luxurious-sounding smoked salmon and caper creation, Egerton advised the viewers at home to use the freshest eggs that they could get their hands on. He had an easy, confident air about him and later attributed this to a stint spent working with the British cookery writer and chef Sophie Grigson in his early 20s. He used to "assist and help out in the background" while she was being filmed, he said.
John Sinjobi is the executive chef at the Indian restaurant Indego and took to the stage like a seasoned pro. Speaking with an approachable yet authoritative tone, he quickly sautéd some minced onions, peppers and chillies. His unflappability was tested when the ingredients start to stick to the bottom of the less-than-ideal pan, but with calm aplomb he teased the mixture out and transferred it to another without even breaking a sweat.
After a morning spent observing, I can vouch for the fact that the humble omelette is not an easy dish to conquer. Cracking a couple of eggs into a bowl, giving them a quick whisk and pouring into a frying pan is only the half of it, and it's for good reason that chefs are often subjected to "the omelette test" when they arrive in a new kitchen. From selecting the right pan (Delia Smith recommends using one with a 15cm base for a 2-3 egg omelette), to sussing out the seasoning and perfecting the flick of the wrist required to create the classic roll, the opportunities for ending up with egg on your face are endless.
If you think I exaggerate then let me ask, was your last offering lightly golden-brown on the outside and baveuse (moist and runny, without being undercooked) on the inside? As for the identity of Ask One's chosen chef? It seems that Tom Egerton's amiable charm most impressed the producers, and you can tune in tonight to see his first appearance. ŸAsk One is broadcast at 7.30pm on Tuesdays on Dubai One.