Battle of the Kitchens pits top chefs against each other to prepare imaginative dishes against the clock.
Taste the results as three top Dubai chefs go head-to-head
If there is one trend that has shaped our perception of the culinary world over the past 15 or so years, then it is the rise of the celebrity chef. Thanks to a slew of television programmes, cookery books and endorsement deals, the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Martha Stewart have prompted an unprecedented interest in professional cooking.
No longer are chefs left to toil out of sight, in a kitchen hidden away at the back. These days, they are far more likely to be touted as the restaurant's crowning glory. The general public are ever more keen to be granted access to an arena renowned for being volatile, fraught with tension and unashamedly masculine - hence the increase in popularity of open kitchens, chef's tables (where diners are fed a bespoke menu and encouraged to interact with the chef) and cookery classes and schools. By creating the Battle of the Kitchens, a contest to be held tomorrow night at the Shangri-La hotel in Dubai, Sascha Winter is attempting to capture this zeitgeist and make it both local and accessible. "With the Battle of the Kitchens concept and format, we give audiences the opportunity to witness how the culinary operation works in a very demonstrative way," he says, adding that "everyone talks about celebrity chefs and global brands having prominence in the UAE, but it is time to recognise the local talent".
The event, which will see chefs from three Dubai hotels - the Meydan, the Shangri-La and the Fairmont - taking part in a live cook-off, is not an entirely new concept for the city. However, Winter says that while this type of competition has taken place before, it has always been behind the industry's closed doors, at trade shows or within hotels. What he wanted to do was increase the scope and "scale this idea upwards, by bringing together different hotels in front of an audience".
According to Winter, those in attendance tomorrow evening will be given a taste of what the competitive world of the professional kitchen is really like. Three chefs have been chosen to represent each hotel and the teams will be tasked with producing a three-course meal against the clock. One team member will take charge of each course and after opening their box of surprise ingredients on-stage, they will be given just 60 seconds to confer with their colleagues before the cooking begins.
Although not willing to give away much about the contents of those mystery boxes, Winter says that thanks to input from Michael Wunsch, the general manager of Barakat International, and Uwe Micheel, the president of the Emirates Culinary Guild (both members of the judging panel), they are filled with ingredients "which are not commonly used together, but the most imaginative culinary team in the competition will be able to find some cohesion".
The chefs will have access to ingredients commonly found in pantries such as cooking oil, salt, sugar, flour, herbs, spices, butter and milk, but beyond that, the clock will be ticking and they will be at the mercy of their imaginations. Let's just hope that no one suffers from stage fright.
The Dubai-based television chef and cookbook author Suzanne Husseini will also be joining the panel of judges, who, according to Micheel, will be looking out for competitors with "great cooking skills, who can think fast, work fast and adapt quickly to a new environment and kitchen - all in front of a large audience".
He adds that to succeed, they will also need to open their minds to new and unusual flavour pairings, pay due attention to health and hygiene regulations and maximise the full potential of the products. At the end of the day, however: "The highest number of points will be awarded for taste."
Battle of the Kitchens will take place tomorrow at the Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai. The event begins at 7pm and tickets cost Dh190 per person, which includes entry to the event, a soft drink, a selection of food and access to the after-party. For more information visit www.xperience-me.com or call 055 101 5391. A percentage of the profits will be donated to charities selected by the participating hotels