Penelope Walsh previews the menu at this year’s food festival
N ow in its sixth year, food festival Taste of Dubai will be dishing up cooking demonstrations and taster-sized plates from the city’s best restaurants from Thursday March 14 until Saturday 16. According to Chris Fountain, MD of organiser Turret Media, this year’s event is going to be bigger and better, welcoming more restaurants than in previous years (a total of 30, compared with 26 in 2012). He’s also forecasting a significant increase in visitor numbers, expecting 25,000 guests this year, an increase of almost 2,500 on last year’s figures.
The festival first took place in 2008, with 12 restaurants participating, including Rhodes Mezzanine (helmed by Brit chef Gary Rhodes) and Indego by Vineet (overseen by Vineet Bhatia). Both the chefs have since become stalwarts of the show, appearing year on year.
The aim of the event, Fountain says, is to ‘reflect the current dining scene, while still representing Dubai favourites’. This year welcomes regulars Richard Sandoval and Giorgio Locatelli, with Armani/Amal, Armani/Ristorante, Asado and Thiptara all involved for the first time, plus appearances from newly launched restaurants Frevo (Fairmont The Palm), Izakaya, Prime 68 and Rang Mahal (JW Marriott Marquis) and Fogo Vivo (Ocean View Hotel). As well as local and international chefs, the organisers are excited by the inclusion of TV favourites, with Food Network presenters Jenny Morris (Jenny Morris Cooks Morocco) and Reza Mahammad (Reza, Spice Prince of India) taking part.
Also appearing for the first time is popular British TV cook Gizzi Erskine, who the organisers say will inject some glamour into the festival. Erskine has appeared on several programmes including calorie-counting cookery show Cook Yourself Thin on the UK’s Channel 4.
Having participated in Taste of London for several years, Gizzi tells us she’s excited to finally make it to Dubai. ‘It’s becoming one of the best places in the world to eat, because everyone who is anyone is opening restaurants here,’ she points out. At Taste of Dubai, which Gizzi expects to be ‘more family-oriented’ than the London event, she will host classes on preparing everyday meals, kids’ cupcake-decorating workshops, preparing samples from her K-Town pop-up eatery in London’s Shoreditch, and pushing her fusion cooking concept. ‘I’m bringing it back into fashion – fusion has now [unfairly] become a dirty word,’ she says.
A new concept at Taste of Dubai this year is Dine in the Dark with local chef Andy Campbell. Here, visitors will be challenged in a blindfolded canapé taste-test to guess the key ingredients, for a chance to have Andy prepare a dinner party for them at home. ‘It’s a fun freebie aimed at getting visitors to rely on their taste buds,’ explains Turret Media’ Cath Fraser.
Elsewhere, the Marketplace will house stands from local coffee roasters Coffee Planet and RAW, sweet treats from Bloomsbury cupcakes and London Dairy Ice Cream, plus kitchenware from Crate & Barrel and Lakeland. Aside from the edible, the festival also includes local and international live music. This year’s Dubai bands include The Boxtones (on Friday March 15) and Rachael Calladine and the Everyday People (on all three days), plus UK groups The Counterfeit Beatles (favourites of Liam Gallagher) and The Noisettes on Saturday March 16.
Despite the obvious fine-dining focus, Fraser argues that Taste of Dubai is an accessible event. ‘We’ve changed our concept over the years to cater for the masses and to ensure people can enjoy the festival at reasonable prices,’ she explains. The event gives visitors the chance to interact with world-famous chefs, while tasting dishes will range in price from Dhs15 to Dhs30 – significantly less than the full-sized dishes cost in their native environments. You can try a mini portion of steak from Prime 68, for example, for Dhs30, instead of paying the normal Dhs175 for the full-size version. Now that’s what we call a tasty deal – turn the page for more treats. Taste of Dubai takes place on March 14-16 in Dubai Media City. Regular tickets Dhs60 in advance, Dhs80 on the door, free for children under 12; VIP Dhs220 in advance, Dhs240 on the door. Open Thu 4pm- midnight, Fri noon-midnight, Sat noon-11pm. www.timeouttickets.com.