Visitors at the Al Dhafrah Festival on its opening day last Saturday. This year, the festival features a cooking competition that will delight families and tempt tastebuds. Image Credit: Ravindranath/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi:  The Al Dhafrah Festival, which began last Saturday, now has one more reason to encourage visitors to attend it — the Tastes of Tradition cooking competition.

The festival is held under the patronage of General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. It is organised by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach),

Participating chefs will be competing until tomorrow for a chance to showcase not only their culinary skills and creativity, but also to win trophies and cash prizes that will be presented to the winners on February 8, the festival's final day.

In pictures: Al Dhafrah festival

"It's [the competition] a great way to see how we can mix modern with tradition. It didn't take my team and me very long to come up with the menu and we wanted to show that just because the ingredients are traditional, it doesn't mean that [the dish] can't be innovative," said David Harnois, executive chef, Radisson BLU Hotel, Abu Dhabi Yas Island.

Creative dishes

While for some hotels this would be the first time they participate in such an event, for others it is a chance to once again roll up their sleeves and show off their creative and complex dishes.

"We had also participated in Tastes of Tradition during the Liwa Date Festival [in 2009] and had won second place, which was great. Our menu's theme this time is East meets West and it took us [my team and I] over 15 days to finalise everything because there were just so many ideas and suggestions being thrown around," Ahmad Hassan Al Bayegh, sous chef, Beach Rotana Hotel, said laughing.

Participants are encouraged to think outside the box to show how traditional ingredients can be used in highly creative and unique methods. They will then be judged by a panel compromising two chefs, one Arabian and one Western, a food critic and two Emiratis.

"When we first approached hotels to participate in Tastes of Tradition during the Liwa Date Festival, they were sceptical because nothing like this had been done before in the UAE. But they [hotels] are very enthusiastic about participating during the Al Dhafrah Festival.

"The competition began on Saturday, and our judges were amazed by what they saw and tasted... chefs are being highly innovative and are fusing a variety of styles. All of the dishes are being created especially for the competition and it is amazing to see the level of creativity among everyone," Gwendolyn Dias, project coordinator for Tastes of Tradition, said.

What, when and where:

  • Competition dates: January 30 to February 3.
  • Venue: Southern wing of the Traditional Market.
  • Competition timings: From 3pm-8pm.
  • Contact person: Gwendolyn Dias, project coordinator, Tastes of Tradition, on 050-6943852.

Ata glance: Judging Criteria

Competitors' menus must consist of a starter, a main course and a dessert. They will receive a maximum of 50 points. The break-up is as follows:

  • Originality: 10 Points
  • Taste: 10 points
  • Presentation: 10 points
  • Degree of difficulty: 10 points
  • Artistic achievement: 10 points

Medals and certificates will be awarded to the competitors as follows:

  • Gold: 46-50 points
  • Silver: 39-45 points
  • Bronze: 32-38 points

There will also be cash prizes:

  • Winner: Dh35,000
  • 1st runner-up: Dh25,000
  • 2nd runner-up: Dh15,000

Certificate of participation will also be presented to all.

The judging committee's decision will be final.