x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Behind the scenes at Gourmet Abu Dhabi

As preparations for the Gourmet Abu Dhabi awards gala dinner get underway, we get a behind-the-scenes peek.

"Hmm," he says, smiling appreciatively. "It's good, very good. But what cutlery should we serve with it? A fork ... no, I think a small spoon would be better. How are they going to carry it - by hand or on a tray?"

Four days before the event itself, I am behind the scenes - in the kitchen - at a practice plating session for the Gourmet Abu Dhabi awards gala dinner. Tonight, five chefs from all over the world will present a course each (or in the case of the home chef, two courses) to the 250-plus guests who will gather at the Rocco Forte hotel.

The dish that Peter Knipp - whose company Peter Knipp Holdings manages Gourmet Abu Dhabi for Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority - received so positively was prepared by Emirati chef Khulood Atiq.

Thrilled with the seal of approval, she says she's put a lot of thought into her fish dish. "First you have the beyah arabi and Emirati spices, which is quite traditional; then the grilled shari, with a green mango sauce that I really love, but isn't really traditional, so I added a few sour pickles to it and then the fish cakes, which combine two Emirati ingredients: salty fish and the cheese."

Knipp explains why exercises such as tasting are so important. "When you've got a number of different chefs each contributing a course or two to a menu, you need to take lots of things into consideration. First of all replication. Does the same ingredient feature prominently more than once? Is the same cooking technique being used? Have two of the chefs chosen the same plates; are they presenting the ingredients similarly?"

Knipp adds: "It's also very important to consider timing: is it actually possible to cook and serve these dishes in the time allocated and do we have all the necessary equipment? The whole thing needs to be feasible. After all, we're not just dealing with one or two dishes here."

It's not just about the chefs. To ensure the smooth running of the event, the front-of-house staff need to be well briefed, too. Ninety staff members will arrive at the Rocco Forte today at 10am for an intense few hours of briefing; they will be assessed according to their skills and responsibilities will be bestowed accordingly.

As Knipp rightly says: "We have to ensure that on the night, the evening flows as flawlessly as possible. If you don't do something like this, you could have a disaster on your hands."

eshardlow@thenational.ae