With local foodie festival Taste of Dubai kicking off next week, we thought it was a good time to look ahead to the year in food. Like fashion, food is subject to changing trends. Some are dictated by circumstance – such as seasonal variations and the economy – while others are down to the dishes chefs choose to create and serve, and whether customers want to eat these dishes.
‘I consider our culinary profession to be much the same as that of the fashion world,’ says French Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno, who has recently made a foray into the Dubai dining scene by opening STAY at One&Only The Palm. ‘[This year] will be oriented more towards terroir [the effect of geology and climate on ingredients],’ he explains. ‘People will look for the roots of ingredients whereby menus [feature] products from the local agriculture and country.’
Alléno believes high-end cuisine is becoming simpler, with many chefs returning to more traditional cooking methods. ‘You can see a lot more chefs focusing on providing simple, good cuisine, which is mastered in execution yet creative in taste.’
This sentiment is echoed by Colin Clague, executive chef of Caprice Holdings, which has already brought Rivington Grill to Dubai and will soon be opening London institution The Ivy at Jumeirah Emirates Towers. ‘It’s going to start being about quality. People are starting to eat a little more simply – letting the ingredients speak for themselves, if you like,’ Clague explains. ‘Source-ability is coming into it as well. People are asking where it’s from, they want fork to mouth, they want to know a lot more about the ingredients they’re putting inside of themselves – whether it’s sustainable or how it’s managed.’
Of course, here in Dubai, locally grown produce isn’t as readily available as it is in the west. Yet because a large proportion of Dubai’s restaurant-goers and chefs are from the west, Clague believes that attitudes here are no different to what they are back home. ‘Living in Dubai, no one can get away without the carbon footprint – not just for food, but for everything. But, for the stuff we do import, it’s still important that there’s traceability.’
This sudden emphasis on what we’re eating and where it’s from is largely down to the recession. People want to be sure that they’re getting their money’s worth and are buying the freshest, best-quality food they can afford. But it’s not just consumers who are thinking twice about the food they’re eating – the recession had forced chefs to reconsider the dishes they’re serving. Vineet Bhatia, the Michelin-starred Indian chef who has lent his name to Indego here in Dubai, says that the financial climate has set a new challenge for chefs. ‘With the economic recession, people are being very, very cautious about what they’re spending and what they’re eating, but that has led us to think how we can make our food better. There are so many things that are added into cuisine that are not really required. It comes to a point where you start asking, “How much do I need? What do I need? How can I be more careful in what I want to do?” The old garnishes are all out; heavy sauces such as butters and creams are also on their way out. People are looking at healthier options such as soya beans. Barley is also being used a lot now – these things that were not that common four or five years ago are now getting on to menus.’
Vineet has always specialised in Indian cuisine, which he says is not necessarily subject to the same trends as European food. ‘European trends are a lot more seasonal, because you actually see the four seasons. Go to a place like Bombay in India and it’s the same temperature throughout the year. It does affect your way of cooking. You don’t want to sit in the middle of Europe in winter and have something light – you want something hearty, something gamey.’
One culinary trend that is likely to fall by the wayside is molecular gastronomy. British celebrity chef Richard Phillips, who visits Dubai this month for Taste of Dubai, says he never really understand the fad in the first place. ‘There are a number of chefs who have done very well throughout Europe with it, [but] I think it’s certainly a phase. I think molecular gastronomy will be around for a number of years, but I think it’ll die out. It’s a bit like nouvelle cuisine, isn’t it?’
Economy and other external variables aside, does Phillips think food trends are dictated by the chefs who create the dishes, or by consumer demand? ‘We are led by customers,’ he concludes definitively. ‘I don’t care what any chef says. At the end of the day, you have to listen to their needs. You have to look at what’s selling; if something’s not selling, there’s no point in having it on the menu. So, to some degree, the menu is always dictated by customers, by what they’re buying. For me, I’ll always want a balanced menu – I want everything selling equally, and if you’ve got that, you’ve got a perfect menu.’
Vineet Bhatia, Colin Clague and Richard Phillips will all be present at Taste of Dubai, taking place in Dubai Media City on March 3-5.