Gourmet Abu Dhabi begins today, with masterclasses from top chefs and special menus in the capital's top restaurants. Here's our guide to the highlights, from Japanese food with a twist, to fine Arabic cuisine
Gourmet Abu Dhabi 2011 begins
Their names may not be as instantly recognisable as the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Gary Rhodes and Jamie Oliver, but make no mistake: the chefs appearing at this year's Gourmet Abu Dhabi bring some serious culinary clout to the food festival in the capital.
These are truly talented cooks who have worked hard to reach the top of their game and have strived for Michelin stars and Chef's Hats (the Australian equivalent) for as long as they can remember. They have, in many cases, been justly rewarded, often with more than one.
This year, the event spans 16 days, will be hosted at a variety of different five-star hotels and promises to be an even greater culinary extravaganza than before. Beginning tonight with a red carpet gala opening dinner, over the coming days there is much in store for those who are passionate about food, cooking, speciality ingredients, the hospitality and restaurant business. Or all of the above.
The schedule is, as ever, tightly packed and finely orchestrated: there will be visits from internationally acclaimed chefs, restaurateurs, highly skilled patissiers, and other industry professionals, not to mention numerous cooking demonstrations and more speciality dinners than you can ever hope to attend. (For example, those who hold a candle for James Martin, of Saturday Kitchen fame, will surely not want to miss his celebrity dinner at the Crowne Plaza on Yas Island tomorrow night).
With so much to take in, it is important to have a plan for getting the most out of the festival. Go to page 5 for our guide to some of the highlights - whatever your taste buds may be craving.
For something altogether unusual
Sang-Hoon Degeimbre is a man who likes to do things a little bit differently. This self-taught chef was born in South Korea but moved to Belgium at a young age, where he remains today. He opened his restaurant L'Air du Temps in 1997 and soon after began to make forays into the world of molecular gastronomy (essentially the science of cooking).
Degeimbre is famed for his creativity, for his eclectic, experimental menu (which changes every few weeks) and for his 63°C egg (think egg white with the texture of jelly, liquid yolk and a truffle mousse).
The planned menu for his six-course tasting dinner on February 7 will kick off with cream of foie gras, ponzu gel, puffed quinoa, tangy beetroot sardine or steamed tomato and tarragon biscuit, anchovy mayonnaise, Parmesan wafer, dissociated oil.
Consider that a taster and rest assured that this will be a dinner like no other.
Sang-hoon Degeimbre dinner: February 7, 7pm-11pm Al Raha Beach Hotel. Tickets: Dh750
For innovative Indian cooking
Along with Vineet Bhatia, Atul Kochhar is regarded as one of the masters of modern Indian cooking. Kochhar is a London-based chef who has twice been awarded a Michelin star (first at Tamarind in 2001 and later, in 2007 at Benares). He is famed for his unique, traditionally influenced style of cooking, which is presented in an entirely contemporary fashion.
This will be in evidence from the February 3 to 6 when, as part of the Epicurean Promotions element of Gourmet Abu Dhabi, he will be cooking a specially designed menu at Ushna restaurant in Souk Qaryat Al Beri.
Atul Kolchhar Epicurean Promotions, February 3-6, Souk Qaryat Al Beri
For fine Arabic fare
Maroun Chedid is the head of culinary art education at Saint Joseph's University in Beirut and is the executive chef of the company Medio Resto.
After growing up in a part of Lebanon abundant in fresh produce, he now champions simplicity in his cooking. He is a firm believer in letting natural ingredients speak for themselves, allowing himself to make tweaks only to enhance the end flavour and presentation.
With signature dishes such as red snapper kibbeh with a twist (saffron jelly and lemon foam), the menu he debuts at Barouk restaurant from February 8 is sure to be an interesting one.
For those with a love of fine Arabic food, who want to celebrate the local as well as the international, the Emirati Royal dinner (held at Mezlai, the first Emirati restaurant in the UAE) and the Feast of Middle Eastern Cuisine will both certainly be worth buying tickets for.
Maroun Chedid, Epicurean Promotions, February 8-11, Barouk, Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi, Yas Island. Emirati Royal dinner February 9, 8pm-10pm, Mezlai, Emirates Palace. Tickets Dh650. Feast of Middle Eastern Cuisine: February 15, 7pm-11pm, Shangri-La Hotel. Tickets: Dh500.
For unique food with a sense of fun
Ryan Clift has had what can only be described as a glittering career. Having worked with a number of great chefs (Marco Pierre White, Peter Gordon, Emmanuel Renaut, Raymond Capaldi), he went on to run Shannon Bennett's Vu du Monde. While he was at the helm, the restaurant won a clutch of awards and accolades (including being ranked in the world's top 50 restaurants by Restaurant Magazine).
Hotly tipped as one of one of gastronomy's rising stars, Clift ventured to Singapore and co-founded Tippling Club, an ultra-modern restaurant, famed for its spectacular food. Clift is known for his elegant, slightly avant garde dishes and his use of modern techniques, but also (and importantly) for injecting a sense of fun into his food.
All that seems reason enough to check out his Epicurean Promotions menu at Sayad in the Emirates Palace between February 8 and 11, or to attend the special dinner that he will host on February 9.
Ryan Clift, Epicurean Promotions, February 8-11, Sayad, Emirates Palace. Ryan Clift dinner, February 9, 7pm-11pm, Sayad, Emirates Palace. Tickets: Dh650.
For French cooking of the highest order
Régis Marcon is one of the most well respected chefs cooking in France today. He won the coveted Bocuse d'Or prize in 1995 (regarded as one of the world's most prestigious culinary awards) and in the same year was given his third Michelin star.
Restaurant Régis et Jacques Marcon (which he runs with his son Jacques) retains that title today and is praised for presenting a menu that turns simple ingredients (lentils, mushrooms, locally grown herbs) into exquisite gastronomic treats.
A masterclass on February 15 will be devoted to showing the audience how to extract unique flavours from these so-called ordinary ingredients, and this idea will be showcased further at a tasting dinner on the 12th. His food will also be showcased as part of Epicurean Promotions at Nautilus restaurant on Yas Island from February 13 to 16.
Régis et Jacques Marcon Epicurean Promotions, February 13-16, Nautilus, The Yas Hotel
For those who dream of switching careers
Willin Low trained as a lawyer before making the transition to chef and restaurateur - not the most obvious career move in the book.
Singapore-born Low became genuinely interested in food when he started cooking for friends while at university as a means of de-stressing. When several years later, having qualified as a lawyer, he found he was still doing so, along with working as a private chef in his spare time, he made the decision to leave the law entirely. With no classic training behind him, he launched his first restaurant, Wild Rocket, in 2005. The success of this venture led him to open two more restaurants (Wild Oats and Relish) and has seen him being championed as a great Singaporean success story and something of a celebrity chef in his home country.
He describes his unusual style of cooking as "modern Singaporean", with Asian and western influences. The differences in Low's approach extend beyond his cooking style, though. He is also a philanthropist. His restaurant has a mandate to hire ex-convicts, he runs cooking classes for orphans and Low is closely involved with a number of charities.
At Gourmet Abu Dhabi he will host the inaugural charity dinner in aid of the Donate a Brick Campaign at Teatro restaurant and will also run a masterclass on February 15, where he will demonstrate how to cook two intriguingly titled dishes: pan-seared Hokkaido scallop with liquid nasi lemak and pandan-infused panna cotta with gula melaka.
Willin Low Donate a Brick charity dinner: February 16, 7pm-11pm, Teatro, Park Rotana Hotel. Tickets: Dh650
For chocolate and pastry lovers
Anyone with even a vaguely sweet tooth should be made aware that some of the world's top female patissiers will be making an appearance at this year's event.
Angela Pinkerton, Carolyn Nugent, Janice Wong, Loretta Fanella, Marike van Beurden and Ruth Hinks will first put on a chocolate and pastry brunch featuring what promises to be an unusual array of sweet and savoury chocolate treats.
Forget about high tea; Janice Wong, the founder of the very popular 2am:dessertbar in Singapore, likes to whip up chilli chocolate coral and chocolate soil; and Loretta Fanella has a penchant for cake, but bear in mind she has spent time working at the world renowned El Bulli restaurant, which is famed for its forays into molecular gastronomy.
The patissiers will also be taking part in various demonstrations and events from February 9 onwards.
This is a mere taste of the various culinary activities going on over the next two weeks, but as you can see, the event promises to be an altogether appetising one.
For more information and to make bookings, go to www.gourmetabudhabi.ae. All cooking demonstrations will take place at the Armed Forces Officers Club and Hotel, admission is free but reservations are required. Reservations for Epicurean Promotions should be made with the hotels.