The titanic stomach-stretcher that is Taste of Dubai returns to form on March 8, when restaurants, sellabrity chefs and assorted cogs in the vittles and tipples business descend on Media City for a three-day party. Some two dozen different cuisines (we counted!) will be available to those with an appetite — and some cash to spare.
Over the years, the event has shaped into the perfect family day out, with organisers apparently determined to cater for all palates.
BUFFET OF CHOICE
Selfie-struck foodies will want to head to the VIP-only Celebrity Chefs’ Tasting Table create at the Crate and Barrel Chefs Theatre, while Keto-diet fanatics will embrace the idea of the Butter Kitchen (see box), where there are classes in how to prepare and cook with the ultimate oleaginous ingredient. For lovers of La Dolce Vita there’s an Italian Pavilion with pizza competitions, burrata, espresso and tips on how to tell real Italian products from fake imitations. Did we say burrataaaah?
Ruminant stomachs can try out the many new restaurants offering sample plates from Dh15 each, including Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen, Guy Fieri’s Kitchen & Bar, Nobu, Sonamu, Kiza, Carnival by Tresind, Jodhpur Royal Dining and Ayubowan. For those who want to up their kitchen game, a hastiness of famous cooks from TV and the cheffing world will run masterclasses — and cooking contests at the Al Ain and Kibsons Cooking Challenge (there’s a trip to Rome up for grabs). Among them are the likes of Annabel Karmel, Sanjeev Kapoor, Reza Mohammad, Valentine Warner, Jenny Morris, Giorgio Locatelli and Eric Lanlard.
“It’s have the most amazing international culinary line up Dubai has ever tasted,” trills Chloe Winstanley, Senior Marketing Manager, Taste Festivals UAE.
To reinforce the point, headlining this year’s post-prandial recreation is disco-funk-soul act Sister Sledge featuring Kathy Sledge, who kicks off the party tonight. We Are Family! (We’d also download Lost in Music and He’s the Greatest Dancer for a quick re-acquaintance on the drive over.) Over the next couple of days there are local bands (4Salha and Mark Zitti ei Fratelli Coltelli) and thanks to a deal with Reel Cinemas, family movies galore all weekend (Spiderman Homecoming, and Captain America 3 but sadly no Black Panther.) There are food entertainers and a kiddie water park.
Finally, if you want to carry the party home, there’s also loads of shopping, with city brands setting out their stalls to test-market new products. We’ve shortlisted Holland Mini Pancakes for the Dutch street snack poffertjes, luxury Russian coffee brand Double B (ask for their Lavender Raf), Villeroy and Boch (there’s a wedding coming up we need to shop for), and of course, Gulf News.
After previous visits, though, we felt a frank chat with the organisers was in order. Taste of Dubai is like a bit of a magical mystery tour — you never know what you’re going to find. So we pinned down Winstanley, who gave as good as she got.
Read on for more.
What’s new this year?
Gosh we have loads of delicious new things happening this year! How long have you got!
[Winstanley rattles off another 3,021 words that we edited out for space reasons.]
In short, check out our global chefs, immerse yourself in Italy at the Italian pavilion, learn all the buttery tips and tricks at Butter Kitchen, taste your way around the world and get your dancing shoes on! Phew! That is thirsty work!
How many visitors do you expect over the three days?
Around 30,000 foodies from across Dubai and the UAE. My PR team tells me we also have visitors from India, Russia and the UK coming, which is fantastic.
They’re flying in for ToD? But regular visitors are often disappointed by the small portion sizes from participating restaurants. What exactly can we expect this year and how much do dishes cost?
They can expect dishes from around the world; we have literally covered nearly every cuisine that Dubai has to offer. The concept of Taste is that we bring together many of the city’s greatest restaurants so that our visitors can sample a selection of them. Dishes are priced Dh15, Dh20 or Dh30 (VAT inclusion varies). If we served larger portions visitors would be too full to try multiple restaurants, and we want them to try as many as possible. Just think for less than Dh100 you can still try six smaller dishes from six of the best restaurants — cheap as chips I’d say… or should I say cheap as cheek, beef cheek. We are serving fancy food after all.
How can I avoid screaming kids at ToD?
Head to our MMI Beverage Theatre. Either that or get your dancing shoes on and head down on Thursday night for the Sister Sledge featuring Kathy Sledge concert. It’s going to be a night of disco fever and a kid’s free zone. Or stay back after 9pm, kids should be in bed by then.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from organising Taste of Dubai?
Each year people’s demands are higher, visitors want more for their money so each year we include more features, more chefs and more entertainment, even a concert thrown in on a Thursday night. Dubai can be a tough crowd at times.
Three chefs you like hanging with at Taste?
Reza Mohammad and Jenny Morris are always amazingly good fun. They always get the visitors doing the conga, or some crazy chanting during the cooking challenges. Eric Lanlard is so lovely too, and FYI he bakes amazing cakes. All the chefs we work with are great fun.
What kitchen goodies will you be shopping for?
A good set of kitchen knives… I’m going to get Siri to remind me or else I might forget.
Some say bringing people around a table can help the peace process. But then there are hummus wars (in the Middle East), couscous wars (in North Africa) and so on… so food can divide. What’s your view?
Do you mean the Peas Process? I think life is too hectic and complicated enough, there isn’t mushroom for any more negativity.
If Dubai were a food, what would it taste like?
Mmmm interesting. Hot, intense and an explosion of flavours!
QUICK COOKING WITH FRANCOIS ROBIN
Butter, apparently is a thing again. In case you slid under a rock recently, the dairy staple is now all-OK to eat again, just like eggs before it. Recent studies have confirmed lower health risks from consuming dairy-fat and underlined the detrimental effects of alternative trans fats, which has prompted demand for commodities rich in butterfat to skyrocket over the last year.
Never one to let the grass grow under cows’ feet, the Taste of Dubai crew is hosting a pop-up Butter Kitchen where French chef Charles Soussin and dairy specialist Francois Robin are showing off fancy fats (spicy butter? algae butter?), teaching how to cook with it (so it doesn’t burn, innit?) and even how to make butter at home.
In case you’re too busy hanging with Jack at the bar, we put some questions to him on your behalf. “Listen to the butter,” Robin advises. “When you put it in the pan, the butter ‘sings’, that is to say produces a noise, then the sound fades, you can put your meat or vegetables in the pan, after reducing the temperature. Butter is not supposed to be pushed to high temperatures, respect that.”
Adding butter at the start captures ingredients’ natural aromas better than oil, adding it at the end in the classic French style leaves a rich, creamy mouthfeel, he says.
And yes, you can make your own butter — although it may not be healthier or tastier than store-bought because everything depends on the milk you use. Robin has a funny recipe for making butter at home: “Put cream into a small plastic bottle with a plastic spoon inside then shake it for a few minutes. The cream will change texture and become thick and yellow. The result is a kind of butter, even if the taste and texture is really far from the quality of French butters.”
10 DISHES TO TRY AT TASTE OF DUBAI
There are 153 dishes being served by some two dozen city restaurants. We whittled them down to 10 so you can start somewhere. Remember to wear your stretchy trousers.
1. Crispy beef short rib | Bread Street Kitchen
Start on a posh note with superstar chef Gordon Ramsay’s take on a classic cut of meat. It’s paired with pomegranate, pomelo and hoi sin honey glaze. You know it’s worth Dh30.
2. Trash can nachos | Guy Fieri’s Kitchen & Bar
You’ve watched the show, you know the drill — Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives’ Fieri’s crazy cheesy Tex-Mex are filled with good stuff despite being served in a rubbish bin. Dh20.
3. Mushroom management | Carnival by Tresind
Vegetarians (and gluten-haters) foraging for some fodder should head straight for Chef Vinu Ravindran’s fungus pulao. The umami hit from the wild mushrooms and truffles should leave you sated. Dh30.
4. Quinoa truffle risotto | Waka
Since it’s be-kind-to-vegetarians week, get with the plant-forward programme and head to Waka’s pop-up for their risotto. With truffles and yellow aji Amarillo chillies, what more do you want for Dh30?
5. Braised lamb chops | Jodhpur Royal Dining
Shaswat Shivam, who runs the kitchens at the Downtown Dubai classic Jodhpur, trained as a pastry chef but you wouldn’t know it from his stunning pickle-glazed lamb chops with on-trend puffed amaranth. Dh20.
6. Steak frites | Couqley
Our French isn’t good enough to pronounce the fancy JLT bistro, but we do love a dish that advertises itself unpretentiously. And to think the original establishments are in Lebanon! Dh30.
7. Thai green curry | Royal Orchid
If you’ve spent too much time swigging snifters of different sorts, you’ll want to finish with a properly spicy curry. Just remember to tell them to make it true Thai-style hot. For Dh30, with jasmine rice.
8. Pizza | Bianca
Margherita, diavola, bresaola or burrata. Four pizzas to choose from at Bianca — why not pretend you live in a country with four seasons and try them all? Prices range from Dh15 to Dh30.
9. Sticky toffee pudding, salted caramel sauce | Eloquent Elephant
Nothing comforts like sticky toffee pudding, so whether your heart’s just been broken or you’re merely feeling meh, Nigel Lobo’s Dh15 classic is sure to console and cheer you up.
10. Malva pudding | Kiza
Yes, really. If you haven’t heard of this South African classic, you’ve no idea what you’re missing. Head over to the pan-African restaurant Kiza’s stall to try this caramelised apricot sponge topped with custard.
Don’t miss it!
Taste of Dubai runs from March 8 to 10 at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. Tickets, starting at Dh80, are available on tasteofdubaifestival.com.