And other essential cookery skills you should really have already
Get a cookery qualification ‘If you are looking for a cookery qualification you need to ensure you pick a programme and a qualification that most closely meets your requirements. You can do this by asking yourself some important questions that will help you to plan your culinary education. A key question is the amount of time you can commit. Programmes range in length from the short ten-class SCAFA’s Fundamentals of Cuisine, to its one year Professional Apprenticeship programme. If you have day time commitments, such as a job, find out about programmes that run in the evenings or on weekends. Culinary programmes often sound expensive but remember that a good programme is very ingredient-intensive and requires close teacher supervision. Check out the costs for the different programmes and if there are any payment plans available to spread out costs. Always plan a visit to the school first so you can have a good look around, meet the faculty and see the facilities and if you can, see a class in action. Cooking schools are always fun to visit.’ Chef Francisco Araya, SCAFA (The School of Culinary And Finishing Arts), Cluster I, JLT (04 379 4044).
Put together a cheese board ‘Begin by sourcing four/five good quality artisan cheeses. I would recommend a blue cheese, brie, cheddar, goat’s and cow’s milk (around 250g of each). Refrigerate until one hour before serving, as it is much better to eat cheese at room temperatures. You will need one large bunch of grapes, a good quality chutney, (I find that fig works well), a selection of mixed cheese crackers, soft butter and also walnuts work well with cheese. Have to hand a large board or plate for presenting the cheese with all the other components along with a cheese knife, and some small plates for each guest.’ Chef Ben Tobitt, The Ivy, Jumeirah Emirates Towers (04 319 8767).
Light and maintain a barbecue ‘The key to a solid barbeque is to make sure you maintain an adequate amount of fanning and air circulation during the process. Use charcoal and fire wood, build a mountain of charcoal using at least two kilos of charcoal. You need to warm up gradually and have enough air in between the charcoals. Have two to three sheets of paper (newspapers or cartons) ready and slide them in between your charcoal to help air circulation, which will assure you get a steady warm grill and no fire as you do not want to have extra heat and always air filtering within the barbecue. Have extra amounts of charcoal next to your grill so you can use extra where needed to make more heat and maintain for the duration of the cooking.’ Chef Gabriel Stival, Asado, The Palace Downtown Dubai, Downtown Dubai (04 428 7888).
Make a risotto ‘Use a heavy-based pan so that heat is well distributed and the risotto is less likely to catch. Have your stock of choice boiling before you start any kind of cooking. Sweat some finely diced shallots, minced garlic and thyme and bay leaf and a pinch of salt on a medium heat until softened and translucent. Once softened, add your Aborio or Vialone nano short grain risotto rice. Under no circumstances should you wash it, you need the starch from the rice to help thicken the risotto and aid the emulsification of the butter later. Gently toast the rice in the pan with the shallots and garlic for about five minutes until you start to hear it popping. Add your stock, one ladle at a time, stirring occasionally with a spatula (using metal will damage the grains of rice). It is important not to add too much stock as you need to keep an eye on how the rice is cooking and it must cook evenly. Once the rice is nearly cooked (I was taught that you know this by taking a grain of rice and crushing it between your thumb and forefinger, if there are is a mini rice grain in the centre broken into three, it’s there!) remove the pan from the stove (there should only be a small amount of stock left in the pan, not even covering the rice) with your spatula, fold in diced cold butter, bit by bit until melted. You should stir this in quite aggressively so that the butter emulsifies with the excess stock left around the rice. Then finish with a pinch of freshly grated parmesan cheese (no older than 24 months as older parmesan is prone to splitting when hot). Add some chopped herbs and a squeeze of acid lemon juice or vinegar depending on the flavour of the risotto.’ Chef Christopher Graham, Time Out Dubai Young Chef of the year, Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 2626).
How to choose a fresh fish ‘For selecting fresh fish we need to use our senses: eyes, nose and fingertips. Really fresh fish should be shiny, a little slippery and wet – it is hard to hold a really fresh fish with bare hands. Fish should not smell fishy, it should smell like sea. The eyes should be shiny, bright and clear not cloudy, the gills should be red or pink, fish with scales should have nice even scales, if you have scales missing it indicates the fish is moved a lot. If you enter a fish court and it’s smelly, it is not a good sign; if you get an ammonia smell something is wrong. Sometimes you get a strong smell from the ice under the fish, so get close and smell the fish. When you touch the fish, it should be firm, if it is soft it is not a good sign. Fresh fish has its mouth closed. I suggest really checking the fish at markets, because many times fresh fish is just freshly defrosted, especially after the weekend, holidays or stormy weather. This is when old stock goes on the counter.’ Chef Uwe Micheel, Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek (04 222 7171).