There was a time when I was considering training to be a chef. When the bank that I used to work for collapsed (nothing to do with me, honest guv) I decided on a career change. It was between chefery (I think that's the right term) or journalism, and luckily for you, I chose the latter.
In all honesty, I don't think I could hack working all hours, being under-appreciated and being hot and sweaty all the time, but from time to time I like to give cooking a go. There are mixed results, it has to be said, so when we at Time Out were offered the chance to try out a new promotion at Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel, which included a masterclass with a chef, I jumped at the chance.
The new monthly Creekside Experience is also a chance to explore and enjoy the Deira side of the Creek, which is as vibrant and exciting a place as anywhere in the city. On the last Monday of every month you can join chef Russell De Hoedt (top right, main picture), chef de cuisine from the hotel’s Japanese restaurant, Creekside.
Over coffee and breakfast, he’ll explain how the morning will go, and it goes a little something like this: at 8am sharp the party meet at the Sheraton’s café by the pool. On this occasion, it consists of a couple of representatives from the hotel, a Time Out photographer and myself. With coffees and pastries served, De Hoedt, who has worked in Dubai for almost a decade, fills us in on the morning’s activities. We’ll be using the hotel’s bicycles to head to the spice souk, he says, to pick up some ginger and garlic powder. From there we’ll be cycling along to the Fish Market for some local red snapper or sea bass. After that, we’ll be coming back to the hotel and cooking the fish, with a little guidance.
He’s a gently spoken man and makes bartering over prices of spices and negotiating with fishermen seem like it’s going to be just fine. Negotiating the busy crowds while on a bike could be more tricky.
The first leg of the ride is easy – the cycles are lightweight and easy to ride, and the Deira Creek is quiet. Once we get towards the souk, it gets a little busier and we have to leave our rides at the entrance. After a nose around a couple of the stores, we find Hilton Novelties, where the shopkeeper is keen to impress us with his vast array of dried spices and herbs.
At first, Dhs30 for 100g of ginger powder seems too steep for our chef, but after he smells and tastes a little, he’s happy with the proprietor’s claim that it’s the very best you can get, so we take a bagful. The garlic powder seems a little more difficult to come by, but we find some from Bahrain, eventually. Winding through the narrow (and extremely busy) Deira streets is tough on a bike, but we’re not the only ones trying to make it through on two wheels, so no-one bats an eyelid.
The Fish Market is a proper experience. It’s a bustling hub of activity – with scores of stalls and thousands upon thousands of fish and shellfish to buy. The sellers are all friendly and eager to show you the quality of their produce. Most of it comes from the UAE’s waters, with some from Oman (especially lobster) and Iran. Once our guide has spotted somewhere with humongous red snappers, the stallholder reels him in. It doesn't really take a lot of negotiating, and our man is very proud of his wares. The snapper is just too big for our purposes, though – we need individual fish to serve whole. Dhs35 for 1kg of sea bass also seems like a sweet deal, so we go for it. Someone cleans it up, and while they do, we check out the fantastic array of shrimp, squid and crab available.
Then it’s back to Creekside where we work at the teppenyaki grill. We watch as De Hoedt shows us how to season and oil the fish and grill, before laying the sea bass on it. It takes about ten minutes to cook and we spend that time learning about the Balinese sauce that will accompany it, as well as grilling vegetables to sit the fish on, and finding out more about the restaurant’s Asian chefs (who come from countries including Bali, Sri Lanka, Japan and Nepal). When the fish is cooked, we plate up and tuck in. It’s delicious, even mine. But too bad, Dubai, my decision was made a decade ago, so you’re stuck with my writing now.
Dhs500 per person (minimum of three and maximum of six). Last Monday of every month. Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel & Towers, Deira (04 228 111104 228 1111).
Four to try Cooking classes
This charming café in Jumeirah 1 hosts a wide range of cookery classes, including Peruvian, Thai and Emirati. Chef Julius Mutava is a great host and excellent teacher. Prices vary depending on which class you choose.
Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah 1, www.culinaryboutique.com, (04 345 002304 345 0023).
Jones the grocer
We’re big fans of this chain, which has branches across Dubai, as well as in Abu Dhabi, Doha and Bahrain. Classes are weekly, for ten people maximum to attend. Throughout April, there are pizza-making classes for one adult and one child for Dhs100.
Various locations including Al Manara (800 56637).
The Chef’s Palette
Join some of Fairmont The Palm’s top chefs for a whole host of different sessions, including Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and one using premium ingredients such as wagyu beef and foie gras. There’s even one for kids only. Times and prices vary.
Fairmont The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 457 345704 457 3457).
A workshop for mums (and presumably dads) and kids is taking place at Pantry Café’s Bay Square branch this month, helmed by Cooking@Home. It’s a chance to learn healthy recipes with your little ones. Prices start at Dhs100.
Bay Square, Business Bay, firstname.lastname@example.org (056 244 5082056 244 5082).