x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 February 2018

World records keep racking up in UAE

More than 400 people in the UAE apply to join the record books each year and an average of 70 a year succeed – that is more than one a week.

Forty-six chefs worked through the night to produce the world’s largest batch of Thai sticky rice with mango in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
Forty-six chefs worked through the night to produce the world’s largest batch of Thai sticky rice with mango in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

Talal Omar does not like to use words like “wacky” or “crazy”.

When it comes to describing the people compelled to set and break records on a daily basis in the UAE, Mr Omar, the Middle East and North Africa manager for Guinness World Records, prefers words like “creativity” and “passion”.

There have been attempts at the world’s largest hopping race, riding a horse on its hind legs, and the biggest number of knuckle push-ups.

More than 400 people in the UAE apply to join the record books each year and an average of 70 a year succeed – that is more than one a week.

“They are really special people,” insists Mr Omar. “Not every record is interesting to different people, but we value every one and do not distinguish between records. It is all inclusive, and we appreciate that everyone has a different talent.”

Last week, two records were set – just another week in the office, as far as Guinness’s Dubai headquarters in the Middle East is concerned.

At Gitex technology week in an event hosted by the electronics giant Samsung, 461 people wore headsets to set the record of the most number of people riding a virtual reality rollercoaster at the same time for an hour.

On Friday, a vast stainless steel vat was filled with 2,831 kilograms of mango sticky rice to set a record for the world’s largest batch of the dish. It took seven months of planning and 10 hours to prepare.

What is more noteworthy is that the effort was not a record waiting to be broken. A thousand kilograms of rice, 400kg of fresh mangoes, 500 litres of coconut milk, 500l of coconut cream, 250kg of sugar and 25kg of salt were used.

It was dreamt up by Maurice Fitzgerald, executive chef at the Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort and Spa, who wanted to launch the hotel’s gourmet food festival “with a bang”.

“It was always on my bucket list,” he says. “We wanted to challenge ourselves and we will be able to talk about it for years to come.”

It is up to prospective record-setters to suggest a challenge, the only criteria being that it should be possible to beat anywhere in the world and it should be quantifiable.

Dubai outstrips the rest of the Middle East when it comes to setting records – no surprise for a city known for its superlatives and priding itself on boasting the biggest, the grandest and the most expensive.

There are records for the longest, driverless metro network, the tallest man-made structure on land, the largest indoor ski resort, the highest restaurant and the longest queue of taxis. Dubai Taxi Corporation set a record by assembling 1,100 cabs for a parade along Sheikh Zayed Road in March 2000.

The UAE is also known for records such as the fastest 10-metre sprint by a horse on its hind legs, the most number of people tying their shoelaces in a minute, the most number of people unwrapping a sweet simultaneously, and the largest gathering of people with the same name (1,096 Mohammeds in 2005).

Even government officials, charities and police have been eager to show their willingness to achieve the extraordinary.

Last year, Dubai Police gathered the largest number of signatures (13,288) expressing loyalty to the country’s leadership, beating the previous record of 12,884 signatures set in China.

In Abu Dhabi, records have been set for the following: the most expensively decorated Christmas tree, at Emirates Palace Hotel; the most expensive car licence plate, sold to Saeed Khouri for Dh52.2 million in 2008; and the most numbers of pull-ups in 24 hours, burpees in an hour and knuckle push-ups, all completed by Australian Eva Clarke at Al Wahda Mall.

Ms Clarke, a fitness trainer, says she felt as if she had been “hit by 19 cranes” after her push-ups attempt in 2014. Her husband had to dress her after she temporarily lost feeling below her elbows.

So why would rational human beings put themselves through arduous, seemingly impossible tasks that might be pointless?

“They want recognition of personal dreams,” Mr Omar says. “Dubai has always aimed to be a focal point when it comes to technology and positioning itself as the best in the world.

“There is a sense of competition and passion to be the best. It is a way of putting your country on the map. Being recognised as the best at what you do is the legacy that you leave behind.”

Guinness opened its Dubai office in 2013 after its headquarters in London realised the number of applications from the Middle East was soaring.

Rather than sending out adjudicators each week, it decided to establish a base in the UAE, one of six offices worldwide.

Guinness has been authenticating world records since 1955, when Sir Hugh Beaver, the managing director of Guinness Brewery at the time, got into a debate about the fastest game bird in Europe.

Unable to settle the argument, he commissioned two researchers to compile a compendium of amazing facts. The book became a Christmas bestseller and is now published annually, entering the records as the biggest selling book under copyright on the planet.

The United States is the world’s biggest record holder, with more than 6,800 titles.

Each year, Guinness receives about 50,000 applications from around the world, but only 1,000 make it on average.

The world’s largest mango sticky rice marked the UAE’s 169th record. It took 46 chefs working through the night to pull it off.

Mr Fitzgerald had not slept for more than 28 hours when the last topping of mung beans went on the dish of Thai sweet sticky rice with mango.

He used a traditional recipe and cooked a test batch with 100kg of rice to ensure that it tasted authentic and to calculate what the final weight would be.

Since 2011, Guinness rules stipulate that all entries in large food categories have to be eaten to qualify, so Mr Fitzgerald ordered 7,500 plastic containers to distribute the dessert to workers in labour camps.

He chose a rice dish because steaming rice would add the weight of water.

“I have been planning this for the past seven months,” Mr Fitzgerald says. “I kept it as traditional as possible and went to Thailand to explore how it was done in the correct manner.

“I knew what our capabilities were and the equipment we had. It was just a case of breaking it down and simplifying it, although it was no mean feat.”

At midnight, his team of chefs began dicing mangoes and cooking the rice, and blast-chilled the ingredients to stop them from deteriorating in the heat.

They began assembling the dish by the hotel’s outdoor pool at 7am on a stage with weighing scales. Four hours later, they entered the record books.

The rules are stringent in all categories. With food records, the recipe has to be checked and verified with chefs, the container is weighed before and after for accuracy, the food has to be eaten and there has to be video proof of an empty food container afterwards.

Guinness spokeswoman Leila Issa declared the record “officially amazing” but declined a taste of the dish. “Food is a popular category because people are passionate about it,” she says. “The most important part is to ensure that all the food is distributed.”

Mr Omar says there is one record that impressed him. In 2014, Ahmed Gabr, an Egyptian special forces officer, set a record for the deepest scuba dive – more than 332 metres – in the Red Sea.

He took 14 minutes to dive to that depth but had to wait more than 13 hours to resurface to avoid decompression sickness.

It can be dangerous attempting records, says Mr Omar, adding that no one willingly embarks on a suicide mission.

“People want to be recognised as pioneers,” he says.