We round-up the first week of Gourmet Abu Dhabi – talking to its impressive cast of international culinary stars – and highlight more of the not-to-be-missed events in the coming week.
Gourmet Abu Dhabi: Meals from the masters
Gourmet Abu Dhabi got off to an exciting start during the red-carpet gala opening at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr on February 4. The crowd was abuzz as guests mingled with an impressive cast of culinary stars from around the world. There were innovative bites on site, including foie gras hot dogs, sumac prawns and jasmine tea-infused Wagyu beef.
The visiting international master chefs are clearly putting their best food forward. As they serve up their signature dishes to the masses, diners across the capital are pushing back from the table with glowing reviews and very full bellies. But don’t start that diet just yet. There’s still plenty of food to be dished out over the next eight days.
During the first week of Gourmet Abu Dhabi, hungry guests were eager to try the visiting chef Henrik Yde-Andersen’s modern twist on classic Thai food. The Danish chef – who has no Thai roots – has the only Thai restaurant in the world with a Michelin star.
A classically trained French chef, Yde-Andersen didn’t even start cooking Thai food until the age of 30 when he tried the food on holiday in Thailand. “The main course was sweet; there was salt in the dessert. They had fried onions on puddings. There were no rules,” he recalls.
He was hooked. Now, at 43, he owns six restaurants, including the Michelin-starred restaurant Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen. “My strength is that I’m not Thai and the Thais know that I play around,” he says.
Yde-Andersen’s signature dish – frozen red curry – is a result of his uninhibited spirit. He discovered the dish by accident after he threw leftover coconut curry into an ice cream machine to see what would happen. He doesn’t seem to fear the possibility of failure, which could be why he’s successful. “When I was 18, my dad bought me a plane ticket and said: ‘See the world. Never become 40 and regret that you never did it.’”
That advice has carried him through his career. “When we open restaurants, we never calculate the finances behind it. We ask: ‘Would we want to sit here ourselves?’ It’s important that our managers never ask how much money we make; they have to ask: ‘Were all the guests happy?’”
Of the millions of restaurants across the world, only 109 have three Michelin stars. The Restaurant at Meadowood in northern California is one of them. The man at the helm, Christopher Kostow, is among the most sought-after chefs at Gourmet Abu Dhabi.
Despite his popularity and Michelin-star status, Kostow is kind, patient and welcoming. He has a degree in philosophy and calls his food “thoughtful”.
At his featured château dinner in Abu Dhabi last week, Kostow served broccoli soup with smoked egg, caviar and hazelnut. He cooked potatoes in beeswax and served camel bacon in rye porridge topped with seaweed, mustard and cabbage. The way the flavours play on each other often results in no two bites of a dish tasting the same.
Kostow says the secret to his success is “never settling or resting on our laurels. We are constantly changing and evolving and thinking of ways to get better”.
Of his first trip to Abu Dhabi, Kostow says: “It’s interesting, very diverse. I like the traditional Arab customs and dishes very much.”
This is the Michelin-starred French chef Cyril Lignac’s second time at Gourmet Abu Dhabi and he’s grown to love the place. “Abu Dhabi is a real melting pot of culinary traditions. It boasts lots of international chefs, each one with his own singular touch,” he says.
Lignac is from the Aveyron region, dubbed the Land of Emotion, in south central France. Passion for food seems to be a side effect of living there. Lignac says ideas for new recipes come from conversations with local gardeners, fishmongers and farmers.
His goal is simply to please his guests, he says. “My priority is to surprise them and to offer them a friendly and welcoming time. I just do the thing I love most: cooking.”
Lignac is serving French fare (including his favourite dish, scampi ravioli) at Nautilus, Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi, until tomorrow. For reservations, call 02 656 0600.
As the UAE’s first female chef, Khulood Atiq spends much of her time promoting Emirati cuisine across the country, ensuring both locals and visitors alike know where to go to get it. A few years ago, Atiq’s most fielded question was: “What is Emirati food?”
“Now everybody knows we have Emirati cuisine,” she says. “The question now is: ‘Where can I try Emirati cuisine?’”
Atiq’s next project is to work with and train hotel chefs across the UAE with the goal of getting a taste of traditional Emirati cuisine into every hotel.
“I am not working in this field because I want to be a celebrity chef. I work for my family, because I want to keep this heritage, this knowledge, this culture alive. I want to do something big for my country to save my heritage … to save our cuisine.”
Atiq is working on a second cookbook, which will explore the roots of Emirati cuisine.
Try to score a seat at her Star Struck Cook & Lunch on Sunday at the Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa by Anantara. The lunch is from 10am to 2pm for Dh300. For reservations, visit www.gourmetabudhabi.com.
• For recipes from the festival’s chefs, visit