Atul Kochhar, Reza Mahammad, Gizzy Erskine, Vineet Bhatia, Georgio Locatelli and Suzanne Husseini – I saw them cook and I ate what they cooked!
Taste of Dubai is one of the most awaited food events in the city. The 3 day-event just concluded this weekend. Bringing in an alfresco dining experience, it featured internationally renowned chefs and 30 of Dubai’s top fine-dining restaurants. There were far too many good restaurants showcasing their signature dishes at rates that were less than fine-dining (and my gut feeling is that the number of restaurants participating next time is going to hit 100!). But portion sizes? Most of the dishes looked pretty but in pity proportions. The ambiance was great. The enthusiasm of diners was quite palpable. The weather didn’t let us down. The excitement of the drinking brigade let loose officially, on Dubai terrains, in open air, did seem to be contagious. A bit of over-commercialization perhaps?
Personally for me, my visit to TOD was very fruitful. I got the chance, not only to meet a few of my favourite chefs, but also see them cook, taste their dishes, speak to them, learn from them and hear them up, close and personal as they poured out their kitchen insights. Forget about my usual laments of missing out on someone or the other. My laments this time was missing out on Gary Rhodes, Richard Sandoval, Nobuyuki Matsuhisa (Nobu) and Ariana Bundy this time! There were many like me, who never left their seats in the Philips Chefs’ Theatre where some of the celebrity chefs were demonstrating and the Kenwood Cookery School where one could register for masterclasses with these Chefs. I was enjoying my few *fan girl* moments as I saw a whole lot of *stars* – Food Network’s Reza Mahammad and Jenny Morris, Atul Kochhar, Gizzy Erskine, Vineet Bhatia, Georgio Locatelli and Suzanne Husseini – LIVE in cooking action and sign my copies of their cookbooks. Later in life, I might boast of dining in their restaurants (if they have one) but I might not be able to boast of having tasted dishes that have been cooked personally by these Celebrity Chefs. Starting with…
Atul Kochhar @atulkochhar: The Indian born British Chef cum TV personality, is a two timed Michelin star (also the first Indian Chef to receive a Michelin star). Atul cooked Pan seared Scallops (above left). Soft and succulent, I bit into the scallops – my first taste of a Celebrity Chef’s cooking in TOD. I love the way he breaks down the food components of a dish so that it can be appreciated even by those uninitiated into Indian cuisine. When I tell him that there is no Bengali restaurant in Dubai and Rang Mahal, his Indian Restaurant in JW Marriot Marquis Hotel, is probably the only restaurant where one can find a Prawn Mustard cooked in the Bengali style, he gives a hearty laugh and tells me that he was born in Jamshedpur, a city which is very close to Kolkata. And that has influenced his cooking a lot. Atul’s highly acclaimed restaurant in London, Benares Restaurant & Bar (for which he was awarded his second Michelin star in 2007) has always participated in Taste of London. Rang Mahal’s participation in Taste of Dubai, for the first time, will highlight it’s ‘unique dining experience – casual, chic dining with a friendly atmosphere’ that he believes will definitely ‘rock Dubai’! I hope that too, as he does garner a lot of positive ticks on a conscientious foodie’s checklist. 1) Atul believes in locally sourced ingredients, organic products (a tick mark on a subject that is currently on the top my checklist); 2) He has been using responsibly sourced fish in all his restaurants (I have to mention here that I have recently come across a restaurant with a 100% sustainable and organic menu and another, which has a sustainable fish menu and a Salt Guru who advices on the various kind of salt that will enhance the flavour and taste of the fish). In all the excitement of Bengali fish talk, my copy of Atul’s recent cookbook which just got released, Curries of the World, remained unsigned. An excuse to meet him again, soon!
Reza Mahammad @RezaMahammad: OMG! Oh My God! This is my only reaction to describe Reza Mahammad. This man is incredibly funny when he speaks, but don’t get fooled. There is a really serious Chef lurking behind the funny facade, who talks about ingredients, regional spices and history of food. His passion for spices and cooking does overcome his humour eventually. He cooked Lamb Shank Rogan Josh in the Kashmiri style (above left) and a Persian Pulao (below right), all the while talking and describing about his Indian roots and stories on Zanzibar. Why Zanzibar? His latest series with Food Network, Reza’s African Kitchen, takes Reza to southern Africa to discover the tantalizing tastes of Indian inspired food on this continent.
Practically, everybody swoons over Reza – ‘Oh Reza, we love you!’ and Reza blows out kisses in the air, posing with everyone. ‘You must blog about one of the recipes from my book’, he tells me, as he signs my copy of his cookbook, Reza’s Indian Spice. Of-course, I will be blogging, specially after tasting the great Persian Pulao and the tanatalising Rogan Josh you cooked. Next on my wishlist – visit The Star of India, Reza’s restaurant in London and taste his favourite dishes Sunehri Khaste, Venison Pasanda and Malai Adraki Champen! (Reza’s African Kitchen will air on Food Network from 25th March, weekdays at 11.50 and 17.15, repeat Mon 21.00 and Sun from 13.05 to 14.45)
Gizzi Erskine @GizziErskine: Gizzi looks straight out of the box television of the 1960s with a fluffed bouffant and an eyeliner stretching outwards. She is pretty, pretty, pretty! And prettily she cooked up a very tangy Chicken wings (above left) which left my fingers stained with its strong sauce. She also created a Sashimi (above right), dripping in a light sauce base. Looking at her present persona, it’s difficult to fathom that this British chef, food writer and TV personality was formerly a punk and earned her living out of body piercing! Reading up on her is as interesting and edgy as her take on cooking. Her beautiful book, Gizzi’ Kitchen Magic is ‘the new technique based food bible for foodies young and old and there are over 200 straight forward and delicious recipes to choose from’.
Suzanne Husseini @suzannecooks: I have been lugging around my unsigned copy of Suzanne Husseini’s When Suzanne Cooks, in case I meet her in TOD. I absolutely love this cookbook where the traditional Arabic recipes are tweaked and twisted a bit to make them unconventional. Hosting her own cooking show on TV, Suzanne cooks in her own style and like a fairy godmother sprinkles some magic dust, as the huge ring on her finger sparkles and sweeps though in front of my eyes. She cooked a Roasted Cauliflower with Citrus Tahini Sauce, adding some Orange zest and freshly squeezed Orange juice into the regular Tahini dip to make it taste unique and so unconventional. The other dish that she made is a modern twist on Musakhan (above right), which is a traditional Palestinian dish with roasted chicken over a Taboon bread, with caramelised onions, pine nuts on top, sprinkled with Sumac. Suzanne presented the dish in the form of canapes, with shreds of roasted chicken and caramelised onion going into mini crusts. She added some colour and sweetness to both her dishes with pomegranates or her jewels as he calls them. Her irregular take on the regular dishes, is what makes her recipes so interesting. Her vivacity is infectious as she tries to educate us beyond our limited knowledge of Arabic food, namely Baba Ghanoush, Moutabbel, Houmous etc . Do expect an elaborate post later on with the recipe of Musakhan. At the end of all her cooking, Suzanne likes to put in a secret ingredient. Yes, you guessed it right – ‘love’. The same secret ingredient goes into her signing of my copy of her book!
Georgio Locatelli: Well, I love everything Italian – Italian men (ever since Michelangelo sculpted David) and Italian Mamas, their accentuated English, the animated hand movements, their love for cooking and feeding (as I got to know on our Sicilian sojourn). And Locatelli is all that and more. He is passion translated into cooking. As he demonstrates the making of pasta, he explains all the minor nuances of Italian cooking, about the two different types of Italian olives and the importance of a good Olive Oil. As you can see from the pictures, he’s all animated – puts his sunglasses on as the sun hits his eyes, rummages through his unruly hair (sorry, if I’m gushing as if I’m describing the hero of a Hollywood film!). He emphasises on making pastas at home than choosing a variety from supermarkets, also adding that making pasta at home is much easier than what the supermarkets would make us believe. Ronda Locatelli, his restaurant in the Atlantis, The Palm, reflects the same joie de vivre of the consultant Chef. It’s not surprising that passion for food runs in Locatelli’s veins. After all, he’s grown up in a family who ran a Michelin-starred restaurant! Another next on my wish list – visiting Locanda Locatelli, his restaurant in London. The restaurant has been awarded a Michelin star in 2003, which has been retained in 2004, 2005,2006, 2007 , 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. Oops!
Vineet Bhatia @Vineet_Bhatia: To be honest, I was really shocked to meet Vineet Bhatia. I had read so much about this man – a Michelin star Chef and Restaurateur (also the only Indian Chef to have two Michelin Stars). I had a preconceived notion of a man who would have a lot of airs. Well, he was exactly opposite. He seemed to very calm and composed. He called for four assistants from the audience to help him cook Jumbo Prawns poached in Chilli, Coconut and Lime scented Curry (thanks to Del, one of my ardent readers, who helped to re-assemble the name of the dish once again!). What striked me about Vineet is the way he engaged the audience into his culinary demonstration, how he instructed the four chosen ones with all the steps of cooking the dish and actually let them cook it. Or, rather how subtly he got them to cook the dish the way he wants it to be cooked! He divided the four of them into groups of two, with one group overseeing the sauce and the other group cooking the prawns. After all the shoo-shaa was over and he sat down to sign his cookbook, aptly named Rasoi: New Indian Kitchen, I made sure that I had jotted down all the kitchen essentials that I had learnt from him – ‘stick to simplicity; don’t use more than 4 spices; keep your kitchen work station absolutely clutter-free; be focused and clear in your mind about what you want to do in a dish.’ Interestingly, his Dubai restaurant, Indego by Vineet reflects the same clutter-free decor and clarity in it’s menu. It also serves a Thali/platter, which my friends like to describe as the Michelin Thali! The fourth next on my wish list – visiting Rasoi by Vineet Bhatia in London, which has been sporting a Michelin star since 2006.
I didn’t register for any masterclass this time. I did this consciously as I wanted to enjoy watching and interacting with some of my favourite Chefs. My foodie friend, Darryl (above right), however, had signed up for a cooking class with Chef Masahiro Kinoshita of Izakaya. His thoughts on TOD reflects loosely my thoughts as well – he could hardly believe that he saw two Michelin-star Chefs on a a single day; nor could he believe that he was actually speaking to a Chef who had two Michelin stars (as he spoke to Vineet Bhatia!). Yes, I did miss out on Gary Rhodes, Richard Sandoval, Nobuyuki Matsuhisa (Nobu) and Ariana Bundy. I had been carrying Ariana’s cookbook – Pomegranates and Roses, to get it signed by her. It is so ironical that as a child I grew up amidst a lot of Bengali celebrities and intellectuals and never had this inclination to acquire autographs. But now, I hanker to get my copies signed by celebrities or chefs whom I admire. Probably as a child, I didn’t realise what they had achieved. And as an adult, I’m overwhelmed by their achievement and inspired by these people, in different ways. I specially like to see the first part and the last part in their autographs – ‘Dear Ishita…. with lots of love!’
Unblogging it all… Ishita
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