From futuristic tables to the way we eat now, Expo 2020 Dubai promises to serve up time travel around the world on a plate. Celebrity chefs, contemporary trends, classic fare — culinary experiences for all palates and budgets are on offer over the next six months of the world fair, which organisers describe as the world’s most inclusive to date.
“At Expo 2020, visitors are able to eat their way around the world without leaving the UAE,” says Marjan Faraidooni, Chief Visitor Experience Officer, Expo 2020 Dubai. “Whether you’re curious about the latest dining trends or looking to indulge in what’s tantalising the taste buds of food fanatics around the world, Expo 2020 is a dining destination in its own right.”
Food experiences steam up the entire 483-hectare area of the event, with more than 200 food and beverage outlets — including, fantastically, a burrata bar. From October 1 to March 31, 2022, expect to see chefs whose restaurants have earned Michelin stars, space-age sensory dining experiences, gluten-free cooking classes to channel talent unleashed by the pandemic, and authentic food and beverages that are being showcased within the country pavilions.
Geeks, food freaks and anyone who has been touched by the digital tidal wave that appears to have engulfed us all in recent months should head to The Future of Food: Epochal Banquet. With hefty servings of space, microbiology, artificial intelligence and hyperintelligence, UK-based multi-sensory designers Bompas & Parr will present a multi-course exploratory menu with courses set at strategic points over the next 200 years. Luminescent seaweed broth and iridescent kunefe bookend a meal of delicacies created from new-to-the-plate plants and other rare ingredients fused together using NASA’s space dust-gathering techniques.
The designers take their cue from the chemist and inventor James Lovelock’s proposition that we are headed into the Novacene era, where robots will rule the world. Along the way, diners will be exploring important themes involving the future of food, including how humans and artificial intelligence sustainably nourish a growing global population and tackle food waste. “We hope to inspire diners to think positively about the reality of technology-infused dishes,” says Sam Bompas, Director, Bompas & Parr.
The Netherlands, one of the world’s biggest food exporters, offers a similarly inspiring immersive food journey at its pavilion, in keeping with its theme, ‘Uniting Water, Energy & Food’. At Future Food City, creativity, water, energy, food, future thinking and architecture all blend into an unforgettable moment in space and time, says Carel Richter, Commissioner General of the Netherlands Pavilion.
“The Netherlands pavilion is a platform to address some of the globally challenging issues related to the scarcity of food, water and energy that is required for the growing population. It is a platform to connect with Dutch expertise and experience,” he tells GN Focus.
Celebrity-led edible experiments
Perhaps more approachable is food from a line-up of 20 top chefs from restaurants that have Michelin stars. Some prosaic, others thankfully less so. Cookbook author and plant-forward preacher Matthew Kenney will present American, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours at three plant-based restaurant concepts, while 28-year-old superstar Mory Sacko, whose Mosuke restaurant won a Michelin star after only two months, will show how French techniques have helped realise his signature African-Japanese fusion cuisine.
The UK’s Rohit Ghai of Kutir in London’s Chelsea is creating an experimental menu inspired by the hunting lodges of princely India, while American ‘Gypsy Chef’ David Myers brings his California-born international-inspired burger recipe to Adrift Burger Bar, and the Armenian-American Geoffrey Zakarian, from TV’s Chopped, debuts his version of a grand café at The National Bar & Dining Rooms.
Travel the world on a plate
In a year when travel junkies have been confined to our shores, Expo visitors can go on culinary journeys to nearly all of the 192 participating countries. At the France Pavilion’s Paris-Versailles and Brillat-Savarin restaurants, visitors can tuck into Le Gustave, a dessert created by Jessica Préalpato, who was declared the World’s Best Pastry Chef in 2019.
“This dessert is the link between French and Gulf cuisine while respecting Jessica Préalpato’s concept of desseralité [a portmanteau of the French words for dessert and natural]. Elaborated in relation to local producers and suppliers, it is the (delicious!) result of extensive culinary exploration with local flavours such as cardamom, dates, saffron and honey in Dubai,” says Erik Linquier, Commissioner General for France at Expo 2020 Dubai and Chairman of COFREX, the French expo company.
Stop over at the Singapore pavilion, meanwhile, for Asian food specialist Jean Winter’s recreation of a hawker experience. There are traditional satay dishes from 111-year-old Jumain Sataysfaction alongside the delectably addictive kaya butter toast popcorn, made with the country’s famed coconut jam, she tells GN Focus.
An entire section is dedicated to Africa. The Alkebulan dining hall celebrates the continent’s cuisine with 10 counters, presenting gourmet dishes, street bites and fusion fare. Look for pepper fish, beef skewers with green bananas, breaded farm cockerel, injera bread and Afro-Asian noodle delights.
Meanwhile, the Rising Flavours Food Hall focuses on the GCC’s cuisines. A rotating lineup of culinary pods will see presentations from the likes of Saudi celebrity chef Douha Abdullah Al Otaishan, Bahraini restaurateur Roaya Saleh of the landmark restaurant Villa Mamas, Omani culinary specialist Nader Al Aisari, Emirati modernist and Dubai celebrity judge Musabbeh Al Kaabi and Hattem Mattar, the Arab world’s first pitmaster, among others.
Thought-provoking brain food
There’s food for thought, too. As humans have increasingly become aware of our impact on the planet, Expo 2020 aims to show visitors how sustainability can improve every aspect of our lives, including across the food system.
The German pavilion, for example, features several innovations and solutions aimed at spotlighting food production and farming challenges while also presenting traditional dishes such as currywurst (beef sausage), sauerbraten (marinated pot roast) with spätzle (Swabian noodles), and apfelstrudel (apple strudel) at its Campus Kitchen and Campus Terrace, says Dietmar Schmitz, the pavilion’s Commissioner General.
“Cubes Circle, for example, is an exhibit that addresses the problems of scarcity of acreage and growth of population by displaying a carbon-neutral cycle that can be utilised for food production. The exhibit Infarm presents solutions for costly and resource-intensive food supply chains: to produce food directly where it is needed the most — in cities. And the exhibit Food Farming Laser showcases a laser to remove harmful plants on arable land instead of using pesticides to protect crops,” he says.
Finland, which consumes more coffee per capita than any other country, will feature a sustainable coffee machine.
“In one stroke, Wärtsilä, together with its many partners, has pulled off the seemingly impossible. Engaging ground-breaking technology to combat a real-world problem and using it to create an eco-friendly solution. Out-of-the-box thinking, great coffee and deep-rooted respect for nature — you can’t get more Finnish than that,” a pavilion spokesperson said in a statement to GN Focus.
When the future forecasts get a little too much, rest assured that there’s plenty of approachable, down-home fare for your sensitive stomach. UAE standbys such as Ravi’s, Maharab Yemeni Cuisine, Al Reef Bakery, and Umm Suqeim’s Al Farwania are on hand to serve up classics from chicken mandi and shakshouka to burgers, pizzas, keema parathas and karak chai. Even at the most international of events, comfort food sometimes hits the spot. ■