So the Oscar of Food Awards got over only last night. I hurriedly left the after-party celebrations before the clock stroke midnight, almost like Cinderella – lest my glass slippers disappeared and I turned into the nagging mother that I am, struggling to get up in the wee hours of the next morning, trying to get the Z-Sisters ready for school. Reaching home, as I downloaded the pictures from my Nikon and the smartphone, a few scenes from the evening flashed back. Sitting in a table with a few expectant winners, even I had a few moments of anxiety. This is hilarious, considering the fact that I didn’t work for any nominated restaurant or a food brand. But yes, I have had associations with a few of them over my past 2 years of blogging.For example – Blue Jade, the Asian restaurant in Ritz Carlton. When Blue Jade opened, I had been one of the first ones to have dined there, in an exclusive sit-down invite hosted by Chef Eric Meloche. He had introduced us to the very humble looking Chef Ta Van who had prepared the menu for the night. Another time, I had attended a Masterclass where Chef Ta Van took us through a journey of the East by picking up a heritage dish, the recipe of which had been passed on to him by his grandmother. I learnt to cook the Ginger Lotus Sea Bass – Sea bass cooked in Vietnamese Ginger Lemon Sauce, all the way wrapped in Lotus Leaf! Last night at the Awards, when Chef Ta Van joined me outside the ballroom of The Address Hotel in Dubai Marina, he confessed that he was very anxious and nervous – Blue Jade had been nominated for the ‘Best New Restaurant – Dubai’ but he didn’t expect that Blue Jade will win the coveted title later in the evening. So Blue Jade’s win in many ways was, as if, my own personal victory. There were many such moments like these. I expect that in the Awards next year, the Blue Jade team will be sitting at a table in front, rather than at the back with the Executive Chef, Eric Meloche holding hands. (No offense meant but a bit of gossip and glitter do go together after all. If it’s the Oscar of Food Awards, the seating is important, right? Sitting around the Judges table, perhaps? Well, at least some of the Instagram feeds did seem to suggest that!)
As the evening rolled, Sudeshna Ghosh (above), the Editor of the BBC GoodFood ME announced the surprise guest of the evening – the celebrity chef – Gary Rhodes (Surprising? No, not really. With a new restaurant in Abu Dhabi, he needs to be around the region a bit more, isn’t it? Incidentally, Rhodes 44, The St Regis Abu Dhabi won the Best New Restaurant – Abu Dhabi). Emphasising on home cooking as well as dining out, sourcing local produce from Farmers’ Markets, Sudeshna touched upon a few dining trends and very rightly said that ‘this is probably one of the most exciting times to be in’. And as Gary Rhodes (below) later said ‘Eating is part of the daily entertainment in Dubai’. Indeed so. A point that I have highlighted in Top 11 Unique Things About Living in Dubai – ‘You ask yourself ‘Which new restaurant will I eat this time?’ instead of ‘What new am I going to try out from the menu this time?’ Yes, nowhere in the world will you find restaurants opening up everyday (and sadly shutting down as well). A lot of quotes there from the experts in the food industry!
One of the Award categories that really excite me, is the Chef of the Year. The nominees are pitted against each other and the winner is chosen after cooking off against their closest competitors in a Mystery box cooking challenge. A snippet below captured from the big screen showing a film documenting the 4 finalists on the day of the competition – Amrish Sood (Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar, JW Marriott Marquis – the winner of the evening), Izu Ani (La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie, Vida Downtown), Jamie Robertson (Gaucho, DIFC) and Roberto Segura Gonzales (The Act, Shangri-la Hotel)…
I like the fact that while the winners for Restaurant of the Year (Dubai and Abu Dhabi), Best New Restaurant (Dubai & Abu Dhabi) and Chef of the Year is chosen by an independent judging panel (this time the panel comprised of Chef Uwe Micheel, Tarek Ibrahim and Marianne Saulwick), all the other categories in the BBC GoodFood Awards are chosen by actual diners through online voting. It is important for me that the end consumers get to decide the winners. One point I would like to make here (without breaking into a controversy) – BBQ Delights won the Award for the Best Casual Dining Indian Restaurant and just in case you thought otherwise, I am very happy as it also happens to be one of the regular places that I am always ordering for home deliveries. Very recently, I just wrote a post which garnered a huge amount of feedback and interaction and that was purely based on BBQ Delights primarily being a Pakistani restaurant – The Afghani Rosh That’s Forced Me To Discuss Indo-Pak Politics! As their website proclaims, Barbecue Delights is a casual dining restaurant offering a variety of Pakistani, Afghani and North Indian inspired cuisine. Just like there are award categories like Best Asian (without specifying it as Chinese or Japanese or Korean) Restaurant or the Best Middle Eastern Restaurant (again without specifying it as Lebanese or Syrian or Jordanian or Emirati), I think it’s time to consider having a separate category that reflects the cuisine from the Subcontinent. What if today a Srilankan fine dining restaurant pops up, where is one going to fit that in? Yes, there are enough Indian restaurants in Dubai (just like there are Italian restaurants), and probably deserves an independent category but I am sure an Irish restaurant will not fit into the category of ‘Best Contemporary British restaurant’. Also any new category that can recognise the culinary creativity of Chefs working independently (example, Chef Tomas Reger or Chef Marta)? Any thoughts here?
On a lighter note, while leaving (please ignore the mess we left as evident from the above picture), I was in the same lift as the Zuma guys and I congratulated them (Zuma won the coveted Restaurant of the year – Dubai, another favourite of mine and here’s my blogpost on it). The lady standing opposite me smirked ‘Yeah, I am from Le Petite Maison’, another restaurant nominated for the same category. It seemed like we were all school kids and I was stuck between two teams competing for the house trophy on the sports day. The air felt stifled inside and I took a deep breath and tried to remember some great moments from the evening – no, not the blaring live performance or the slightly overcooked Beef tenderloin (of course compensated by the Vanilla Pannacotta served for dessert) but downing some bubbly with my blogger friend Debbie who writes Coffee, Cakes and Running (she managed to tweet each one of the award winners – Phew!) or Chef Marta looking more like a lady and less like a Chef (she’ll be offended I know) and oh yes, Sudeshna looking lovely and playing the perfect hostess, pausing at each one of the tables that night and finally the momentary elation that I felt, each time one of my personal favourites won in some of the categories. Here’s a list of all the winners… well done!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: I was a guest of BBC GoodFood Middle East. Please note that this post is not a sponsored post and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.