x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Save your appetite for the Taste of Dubai

Size up the UAE's ever increasing food landscape at this weekend's Taste of Dubai. We talk to some of the chefs showcasing their culinary prowess at the festival.

A dish of Thai red curry mac 'n' cheese, made by Aarti Sequeira, host of the cookery programme Aarti Party.
A dish of Thai red curry mac 'n' cheese, made by Aarti Sequeira, host of the cookery programme Aarti Party.

Tomorrow will see the return of Taste of Dubai, the yearly food festival held in the amphitheatre area of Dubai's Media City. With 26 different restaurants serving up sample-size portions of signature dishes, a theatre boasting a tightly packed schedule of Michelin-starred chef appearances and an interactive cookery school, where participants can cook alongside their favourite chefs, food lovers are certainly going to be well catered for.

While the live music and dedicated Kids Zone (complete with bouncy castle and tropical rainforest) mean that the event promises to be a fun day out for all ages, the festival also offers a great opportunity to truly size up Dubai's ever increasing food landscape.

After all, when else can you enjoy a starter from Rhodes Mezzanine, try a main course from Nobu and eat dessert courtesy of Rivington Grill all in one sitting, while also scoping out some of the city's newest restaurants - The Ivy, Gaucho and Toro Toro - without spending vast sums of money?

Although the likes of Gary Rhodes, Vineet Bhatia and Richard Sandoval are firmly established as festival favourites, this year there will also be a number of new faces on stage.

Aarti Sequeira won Food Network's popular reality television show The Next Food Network Star in 2010 and went on to host Aarti Party, a cookery programme that showcases her take on Indian and American dishes.

Being part of Taste of Dubai is particularly important to the Indian-born Sequeira, whose family moved to Dubai when she was two months old and remained there for the following 18 years.

"I remember the markets: the fish market, the fruit and vegetable market, Karama, the gold souq - they were authentic, real, rough around the edges. I loved them all so much and I really miss them," she says. "Even now, I think I'm drawn to farmers' markets in the States because I'm trying to recapture that feeling of walking around Dubai's many markets."

Sequeira, who trained at the New School of Cooking in Los Angeles and worked as a CNN news producer before entering the Food Network competition, attributes her love of cooking to her family.

"I grew up with a mother who believes that if you want something to eat, you should make it," she says. "We love eating out, but to be able to make something delicious, with your bare hands? It's a point of pride in our family."

Asked to describe her cooking style, Sequeira says, "A real reflection of who I am: an Indian girl, who grew up eating everything from shawarma to beef rendang in Dubai, then moved to the States where she learnt the joys of Sloppy Joes, sushi and tacos. Ultimately, I'm interpreting all of that food through my Indian soul, so while my food is by no means traditional Indian food, it does have that overarching influence."

The Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar has visited the region on numerous occasions and will be opening a restaurant in the JW Marriott Marquis on Sheikh Zayed Road later this year. Like Sequeira, he is no stranger to putting a unique stamp on traditional Indian dishes; in fact, along with Vineet Bhatia (a festival regular), Kochhar is credited with reinventing, refining and modernising Indian cooking.

Kochhar will be cooking at the Philips Chefs' Theatre at 3pm on Saturday and is hoping to shatter a few preconceptions about the cuisine.

"Despite what people think, it is neither hot nor unhealthy. Eating hot food is people's personal preference and not a national obsession. It is also healthy - it just depends on how you perceive and follow the cooking - there are zillions of salads and millions of steamed recipes across India's cuisine," he says.

Also making his Taste of Dubai debut is the Italian restaurateur and celebrity chef Aldo Zilli, who says he is thrilled to be in town.

"Taste has been my favourite food festival since the start and Dubai is one of my favourite places in the world, so put the two together and it is a marriage made in heaven," he says.

After taking part in the UK reality television series Celebrity Fit Club in 2005, Zilli lost a substantial amount of weight and was forced to reassess his approach towards cooking and eating. "The show was a big learning experience with my relationship with food and drink. It meant that I was inspired to shed weight and become an inspiration for others," Zilli says.

As a result, his next two cookery books, Zilli Light and Fresh and Green, were written with a healthy-eating theme in mind. The dishes he will prepare at Taste of Dubai will reflect this attitude, featuring fresh, homemade pasta and plenty of fish. His top tip for cooking and eating healthy? Use plenty of herbs and spices.

Zilli will be cooking live in the Philips Chefs' Theatre at 6pm tomorrow, at 3pm and 6.20pm on Friday, and at 4.40pm and 8pm on Saturday.

Sweetcorn and chicken soup

Difficulty: Easy

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour

Cook's tools: Cheesecloth

Serves 4-6

For the soup

1 leek, green parts too, if you have them, sliced in half, thoroughly washed

1 carrot, chopped in half

7cm piece fresh ginger

1 tsp whole coriander seeds

1 tsp whole black peppercorns

2 chicken breasts on the bone, with skin

3 (400g) tins creamed corn

2 chicken stock cubes, crumbled

3 tbsp finely chopped ginger

4 spring onions, chopped finely, white and green parts (reserve some green for final garnish)

1 tsp sesame oil

56g corn flour

60ml cold water

2 egg whites

1 tsp unseasoned rice vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Soy sauce, for serving

Pour 2.25L water into a big stock pot and bring to a boil over high heat. While it's rising to temperature, throw in the leek, carrot and piece of ginger. Place the coriander and peppercorns into a small square of cheesecloth. Tie with kitchen string and add to the pot.

Skin the chicken breasts, remove any excess fat and throw the chicken breasts into the pot. Allow the whole lot to come to a boil, and then turn it down and simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked and tender, 20-30 minutes.

Remove the chicken and allow to cool. Strain the stock and discard the leeks, carrots, ginger and cheesecloth sachet.

Return the stock to medium heat. Add the creamed corn, bouillon cubes, ginger-garlic paste, spring onions and sesame oil. Keep the soup at a gentle simmer while you remove the chicken from the bone and shred finely using a fork (or you can just slice it really thinly).

Turn up the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix the corn flour with the water until smooth. Add half to the soup while stirring. Allow to boil until it's thickened to the soup consistency of your liking (if it doesn't thicken, add the remaining slurry).

Turn the heat back down to medium. In another small bowl, beat the egg whites with a little water. Stir the soup in circles as you add the egg whites in a steady stream; it should form pretty white wisps on the surface of the soup.

Thai red curry mac 'n' cheese

Difficulty: Easy

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Serves 6-8

For the mac 'n' cheese

450g elbow macaroni

70g butter

5 tbsp plain flour

1 (115g) jar Thai red curry paste

470ml whole milk

470ml single cream (alternatively, use 1.1L whole milk instead of both milk and cream)

225g Monterey jack cheese, grated

225g Cheddar cheese, grated

For the crumb topping

3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

30g butter, melted

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the mac 'n' cheese, bring 4.5L of water to a boil in a large pot. Salt generously and then add the pasta and cook to box instructions, usually six to seven minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, in another large pot, melt the butter over medium-to-high heat. Whisk in the flour and continue whisking until it deepens in colour and releases a light toasted aroma, about one minute.

Whisk in the Thai red curry paste and when fully combined, pour in the milk and cream (or all milk, if using). Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, and then turn down to a simmer. Simmer until the mixture thickens, whisking occasionally, about five minutes.

Off the heat, whisk in the cheeses and stir until melted. Add the pasta and toss to combine.

Turn your grill on.

For the crumb topping, toss the panko with the melted butter and season with salt and pepper.

To assemble, pour the mac 'n' cheese into an oven-proof casserole dish, sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture and put under the oven grill until browned, about one minute.

• Recipes from Aarti Sequeira's Aarti Party, courtesy Food Network

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• Taste of Dubai begins tomorrow and continues until Saturday. To book tickets, visit www.tasteofdubaifestival.com