Don’t say you weren’t warned, but your Instagram feed is going to erupt with picture-perfect shots of haute Mexican food this weekend, as Carlos Gaytan spices things up at Emirates Palace. From Saturday through to September 22, the Chicago-based celebrity chef leads a weeklong gastronomic celebration of Mexicana across the UAE at Sayad, the hotel’s seafood restaurant.
The country’s Independence Day falls on September 16 each year, the start of the Mexican war of independence, when the priest Miguel Hidalgo issued his Grito de Dolores, or Cry of Dolores, a call for revolution. The President of the republic repeats the call every year on the previous day, and accordingly, venues across the country are laying on specials all weekend (see below).
But it’s Gaytan who’ll likely draw the most punters. Avid food TV watchers will know him from stints on Top Chef and MasterChef South Africa. In 2013, his windy city restaurant, Mexique, became only the third in America to win a Michelin star. It has since lost the rating, but this telegenic chef, who worked his way up from his first job as a dishwasher, continues to innovate with his Frenchified take on Mexican food.
“My food is very different from traditional dishes,” he tells Gulf News tabloid! via WhatsApp ahead of his arrival today. “I try to elevate Mexican gastronomy, particularly here in the US, and do something different with the ingredients I find locally, not necessarily import everything from Mexico.”
And although staples of the Arabian kitchen, such as aubergines and chickpeas, are widespread in his native country, they aren’t on his menu yet. “I’m really looking forward to get to know Arabian ingredients, and to try the food, so I can get more inspirations for my cooking,” he adds.
Having never been to the UAE before, he’s nevertheless been watching developments on the country’s food scene and says he’d be delighted to open a restaurant in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. “I’ve had no offers yet, but hopefully after I visit, I can get some!”
Diners can choose from a five-course menu, priced at Dh480++ a seven-course option (Dh580++), or order a la carte. Choices include Recado Negro Ceviche, a spiced seafood salad with avocado mousse, a sweet and earthy achiote-marinated halibut pibil, an oven-baked lamb rack with a pea and mint tamale, and a sweet guacamole for dessert.
Bar a couple, Mexican restaurants in the capital tend to favour the exaggerated, often greasy Tex-Mex fare that short-circuits the taste buds while pairing exceptionally well with chilled malt beverages. The finer nuances of the real thing aren’t easy to come by outside of expatriates’ homes, so Gaytan’s menu should go down a storm.
“The Embassy of Mexico in Abu Dhabi jumped at the opportunity to host our national celebration at Emirates Palace starring Mexico’s premier culinary ambassador chef Carlos Gaytan,” Francisca Mendez, the country’s ambassador to the UAE said in a statement, promising an evening of fine but fun food.
Either way, it’ll be something different. “Emirates Palace, with its 14 restaurants, prides itself on being Abu Dhabi’s premier culinary destination, and we are always seeking ways to please the palates of our international guests and city residents,” the hotel’s general manager Holger Schroth said.
MEXICAN INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRARATIONS: 5 TO TRY
With the national holiday falling on a school night, most Mexican restaurants around the UAE are hosting specials on Friday, so fiesta fiends can sleep off the excesses the next day. Here’s a look at what’s on offer:
DIFC’s fine-dining modern Mexican restaurant will serve up four special dishes in addition to its a la carte menu. These include Pozole, a traditional corn soup, Octopus Tostada, or grilled octopus on a blue corn tostada, and Bunuelos, a thin, fried pastry, served with banana and spiced sugar syrup. Plus, there’ll be agave beverages and a DJ playing through the night.
Details: September 15, 7pm onwards. Prices a la carte. Call 045216300
Part taco shop, part ceviche bar and fully authentic, the lively La Tablita is throwing an independence day party on Friday with a buffet dinner of specially curated classics such as garnachas (fried tortillas with different toppings), quesadillas, consome de Borrego, a spiced lamb stew, and the classic chiles en nogada, stuffed poblano chillies topped with cream sauce. There’s also a mariachi singer.
Details: September 15, 7pm onwards, Dh180 per head. Call 04 317 2221
The lively Madinat Jumeirah hot spot lays on a colourful buffet with ceviches, sopas, tacos, antojera, aguas frescas and a range of desserts — plus a live Mariachi band on September 15.
Details: September 15, 7pm onwards, from Dh225 per adult and Dh100 per child. Call 04 432 3232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s ¡Viva Mexico! all the way at the Sheraton Abu Dhabi, where Chef Froylan Lara has created a menu of favourites: there’s Arbol Guajillo Chilli Chicken Wings (golden-fried chicken wings basted in Arbol Guajillo chilli sauce), Tamal de Pollo Verde (corn dough stuffed with chicken and green tomato sauce), and Pastel de Tres Leches (a vanilla sponge soaked in milk and cream), among other choices. The all-you-can-eat-and-drink deal also features a range of margaritas in the colours of the Mexican flag, and a musical trio will stir up salsa, mambo and merengue rhythms.
Details: September 15, 6pm onwards, Dh197 for unlimited food and select drinks. Mexican passport holders get 15% discount. Call 02 677 3333
The chain’s Viva la Independencia Nacional! brunch runs on Saturday at its three branches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. On chef Juan Flores’ menu are kingfish fajitas, freshly made guacamole and slow-roasted ribs, as well as the infamous ‘make-your-own’ tacos. With its rough-and ready party crowd, this one’s sure to be fun — although expect to pay at the start of your meal.
Details: September 16, 12pm to 5pm, Dh270 per person, at Loca Dubai Marine Beach Hotel & Spa (04 346 1111), Souk Al Bahar Downtown Dubai (04 449 4455) and The Galleria on Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi (02 582 3639) or hit up locauae.com