The 16-day food festival, kicking off on February 8, features international chefs, workshops and tasting dinners.
The not-to-be missed events at Gourmet Abu Dhabi
At last year's event, 23 international chefs with a fair few Michelin stars among them descended on the capital; over a two-week period, 8,000 visitors sampled their cooking, consuming upwards of 265.2 million calories. And yet Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), which organises Gourmet Abu Dhabi, promised that in 2012 the event, which is now in its fourth year, will be bigger and better than ever.
The 16-day food festival kicks off next Wednesday, February 8, with a gala dinner at the Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa, where nattily dressed guests - the dress code calls for "chic lawn attire" - will be able to sample a little taster, if you will, of what is to come. As well as devouring canapés aplenty, visitors will also be able to witness and (you have been warned) perhaps even take part in NANTA, a Korean stage show featuring acrobatics, mime, magic tricks and music, all set in a kitchen.
After that, the pace doesn't let up for the following two weeks. Most of the visiting chefs will be doing cooking demonstrations (referred to in the schedule as masterclasses) at the Armed Forces Officers Club & Hotel at various points during the course of the event. Unfortunately, unless you were very quick off the mark, all the places at these free sessions have already been allocated.
However, even if you weren't able to secure a seat, the chance to see some of these chefs in action is still possible. George Calombaris, the exuberant Australian chef renowned for his role as one of the judges on Australian MasterChef, is cooking and appearing at the Yas Island Rotana on February 10 and at the Yas Viceroy on Sunday, February 12. Be warned, though: at Dh750 each, tickets are not cheap and need to be booked in advance.
Roy Brett, one of Scotland's best chefs and the man in charge at Edinburgh's Ondine restaurant, is hosting a dinner on February 20, which he promises will deliver "a true taste of Scotland". Banish all thoughts of haggis from your mind; this chef is all about seasonality, sustainability and seafood: "I've been experimenting to get the marriages right. There will be venison carpaccio, lobster, langoustines, crab and cured smoked salmon, and all the shellfish and fish have been selected with conservation in mind."
Also new to Gourmet Abu Dhabi this year is a cheese dinner, held at the Beach Rotana on February 21 and presented by the two Michelin-starred chef Denis Martin. Martin, who often appears on Swiss TV, is known for his avant garde cooking and the playfulness of his presentation style. He is apparently in the process of creating a new cheese fondue called "Vision 2012" and has warned diners to come with an open mind: "People should expect cuisine of a different time. I want guests to leave with the message that although cooking is serious, eating should not be." If that appeals, and you don't pay heed to the "cheese before bed will give you nightmares" school of thought, tickets cost Dh750 each.
For an evening with a surrealist slant, the comedy night at the Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi on Thursday, February 9, promises to blend humour and high-end food. To give a bit of an insight, Ennio Marchetto is otherwise known as "The Living Paper Cartoon" and his show features a blend of dance, music, mime and quick costume changes that allow him to segue from one character to the next: Queen Elizabeth II and Freddie Mercury are past favourites. At the same time, chef William Ledeuil - who is also known for his creativity - will be serving a menu that marries French and Asian flavours, with plenty of imagination. Tickets cost Dh750 each.
Those with a sweet tooth and a passion for baking might miss out on the chocolate and pastry workshop being held on Saturday, February 18, but there are still tickets available for the chocolate and pastry brunch the day before. The calibre of pastry chefs providing the sweets is really quite special. Christina Tosi runs Momofuku Milk Bar in New York, a bakery renowned for adding distinctive twists to classic desserts. Her compost cookies contain crushed pretzels and potato crisps, her crack pie has developed a cult following and she serves cereal-milk flavoured ice cream. Ruth Hinks, a chocolatier and pastry chef, who currently holds the United Kingdom Confectioner of the Year award, will be bringing her creations to the brunch, as will Claire Clark, the former head pastry chef at the legendary Californian restaurant The French Laundry, who was awarded an MBE for services to the food industry in 2011.
Among the other gala dinners taking place, the French chef Bruno Menard returns to the capital for the second year running to serve up his foie gras-themed menu at the Shangri-La hotel; the Qasr Al Sarab is hosting an Arabian night; and on February 16, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club is once again holding its Gourmet Golf Experience, where walking the course becomes that bit more interesting, thanks to six food stations positioned at various points along the way. At last year's Gourmet Abu Dhabi event opener, Juan Amador, the German three Michelin-starred chef with Spanish origins, announced that he would be launching a restaurant at the Park Rotana. Amador Restaurant and Cellar (complete with tapas bar) opens for business on February 9, and there is a rumour that his most famous dish, Mieral pigeon served with jellied coconut milk, mango and purple curry, will be making an appearance on the menu. Amador will be cooking a special dinner at the Park Rotana on February 18, conducting a masterclass at the Armed Forces Officers Club before that on February 15 and overseeing proceedings at his new restaurant throughout.
Other chefs who will be offering a special menu at a host restaurant over the course of the event include Daniel Patterson, a self-taught chef and the owner of the San Francisco restaurant COI, which is renowned for its haute cuisine served in relaxed environs. Patterson will be at the 55 & 5th Grill, St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, from February 9 to 12 and if the reviews are to be believed, his menu will be well worth checking out.
For the capital, though, one of the most significant events at this year's Gourmet Abu Dhabi will be the launch of the Emirati chef and Arab food specialist Khulood Atiq's cookbook Sarareed on February 9. Sarareed is said to be filled with traditional Emirati recipes and the stories that accompany them, as well as dishes that chef Khulood has developed herself. While once again you might struggle to attend her masterclass, this is one chef we should all look forward to hearing more about.
For more information about Gourmet Abu Dhabi 2012 or to make a reservation, visit www.gourmetabudhabi.ae