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Top 5 Culinary Trends in 2016

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016 twiter-07
Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016

Industry perspective into culinary habits that will be big this year.

The UAE’s culinary business is experiencing a growth spurt. It is almost as if the industry has somewhat entered its teens when we expected it take some more time. If reports are to be believed, about 20,000 F&B outlets are expected to ‘shroom up by 2020. Such reports are not surprising. Think of UAE as your home kitchen. When more guests turn up, you just make some more food and serve your guests. The numbers of tourists flocking to the UAE sees a healthy year-on-year growth. Hotels are expanding their chains and restaurants. Eatery chains are opening newer outlets in newer malls that grow faster than the palm trees. Stand-alone eateries and food entrepreneurs see this as a growth opportunity to increase their capacity. And so, the country’s kitchen, as it were, is expanding.

UAE is a hotspot of culinary conquests. It is the star attraction. Residents and tourists alike, love eating out and why not! When you can get food from the world in a span of 50 kilometres or thereabouts, food becomes the main attraction. Accessibility to the global palate is easier than getting a visa to go for a holiday. Think Argentinian to Japanese – and all that is available, in full authenticity.

All this has led to a large influx of global culinary masters. Whether starred or yearning to have the Bibendum’s mark of excellence, they all make sure that they have a UAE presence. It could be argued, over some single-origin coffee and focaccia, that the usual map pegs are giving way to opening up in the glittering UAE. Georgio Locatelli, Gary Rhodes, Nobu, Gordon Ramsey, Atul Kochchar, Heinz Beck, Vikas Khanna, Yannick Alleno, Vineet Bhatia and Jamie Oliver are some names that reinforce the belief as high as the Burj that Dubai is quickly becoming a culinary epicentre.

In this Middle East Milan, the melange of such culinary brands helps hotels lure more and newer guests. Global chains are swimming the seas to set shop here like Joe’s Crab Shack did when they opened their 131st store and the 1st overseas restaurant in the Dubai Mall a few months back. I see that the burgeoning food industry has also given rise to the new breed of food journalists or bloggers who are becoming a force to reckon with, Darth Vader notwithstanding. Adding in more gourmet force, digital platforms allow restaurants of all hues and pockets to list and get reviewed – all of this feeding into the big churning bowl of the culinary kingdom in the UAE.

With the last few years being spectacular in this respect, 2016 begins on a happy and hopeful note of newer food experiences and newer entrants into the market. This is an attempt to tap into the top 5 trends of this year.

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016#1. RISE OF THE CASUAL SMART DINING
Fine dine does not find favours with many, mainly because it is a starched and stiff affair. These days, people want to go to a restaurant, however posh, to have some good nosh, enjoy the ambience without having to worry about which service fork to use or if their cufflinks are secretly kissing the meat gravy.
Casual Smart Dining restaurants are a sub-niche between the fine dining restaurants and casual dining eateries. The cutlery remains classy while the ambience is slightly more relaxed. Many restaurants are working that extra mile to give value for the dirham spent in eating.

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016
Chef Leonardo Maltese

Head chef at the multi-award winning Italian seafood restaurant Bice Mare at Souk Al Bahar, Leonardo Maltese feels “You expect guests in formals to turn up for a fine dine restaurant. But again, you cannot be rude to a patron who may turn up in a hoodie. At Bice Mare, every guest who walks is given the same attention and care so that the experience is memorable and the taste will transport them to the south seas of Italy.”
Can’t argue with that.

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016#2. STREET FOOD GOES CHIC Street food has a huge following. After all, it is food that is made for the working class. Look up the cultural history of food and you will see how a certain breed of eateries opened up across the globe that catered to middle class people. It is what is known as the Quick Service Restaurants. Easy to make food that could be consumed on the go became a rage. Restaurant grew in operations due to popularity and less wastage of resources. What is cooked is served and finished. But the hidden hurdle was that of unhealthy food. Deep fried, slathered with fat and preservative laden condiments didn’t help the gastro gizzards of the consumers; not to mention processed meats.
But now, street food has been adopted by the high street. High end restaurants realise the popularity and taste profile of such dishes and have gladly given them a healthy make-over for the discerning diner to savour the taste and yet not compromise on health. Little wonder that Michelin-starred chef Vikas Khanna’s one year old restaurant Junoon at the Shangri-La, Dubai serves up a street food brunch that showcases the length and breadth of Indian street food without the need to have antacids. The eggplant chat is a favourite of mine.
The very vibrant restaurant Nine7One at Oberoi Dubai has dished out the very popular Street Art Brunch that houses global favourites. You could be choosing your tacos one moment, and munching on fish and chips on the next. You could be negotiating your chopsticks over your favourite sushi or dipping into a bowl of Thai noodle soup with ‘everything in it’.
If you prefer some theatrics with your food, then Tresind at Nassima Towers, Dubai is your destination where the shy executive chef Himanshu Saini serves Indian street food in a boisterous manner, replete with liquid nitrogen and chutney gels to suit your dormant artist.
If you are not the sorts to saunter into 5 star properties, then bespoke cafes like The Sum Of Us, snuck into Trade Centre or Tom and Serg, tucked away in Al Quoz could be your preferred haunt to have healthy options of simple and humble street foods. The way I see it, there is going to be more street food that will be elevated to high-wire status by many restaurants in the months to come.

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016#3. FOOD ON WHEELS
Calling on the local Favreau. Just last year, local boy Jassim Najjar returned from the US. He was besotted with food trucks, “I’d just graduated and come back with this idea to have my own food truck. I fell in love with them while I was there – obsessed, actually.” Jassim helped his overweight chef brother lose weight and they decided to put it out on the menu of their food truck called f!T!
Food trucks are no longer just a fancy idea and are a trend that is catching on in the region. Most food trucks started out serving just sandwiches and burgers for consumers on the move. Today, more complex dishes are being added. Gourmet food trucks are starting to appear as part of the evolution of the new culinary trend.
Meet the owners of GObai, the brainchild of Cara Davies, woman entrepreneur, and her business partner Kevin Vaz, who decided to transport some Goan street food flavours to the emirate. “Dubai is such a melting pot of flavours, so we couldn’t help but give the food a Dubai twist, but it’s essentially traditional Goan food,” says Cara.
Dubai residents would have seen fancy and funked up food trucks in Emaar Boulevard, JLT Park, Kite Beach or Zabeel Park. Food trucks reach out to food lovers, with diners enjoying their favourite food sitting not in a brick and mortar restaurant but in the setting they choose to.
Cara says, “It is an initial step in opening up the Middle East market to this global phenomenon of food trucks. It will take some time to have this developed to scale the markets in the US or UK, but currently it is a great way to cater to the Dubai foodies.”
With the interest in food trucks, riding the high wave, companies are branching out into 360 degree B2B models where food entrepreneurs can get a truck from under a single roof – designed, fitted out, with licences procured as well.
Food trucks are now beginning to be seen in various events, be it the Art Fair at Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi or the brand new food truck brunch at the Emirates Golf Course, Dubai.
Moral of the story, this mobile model of food is going to catch on like wild-fire with food enthusiasts choosing to put in money in food trucks while restaurant chains see this as a popular model to reach out to patrons and potential customers.
Honk if you want to join in the convoy!

 

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016#4. SUPER FOODS LEAGUE
Here is a word that has garbed up as a super-hero in the dietary domain. Nutrient rich food items that are healthy (naturally) and sometimes help medical conditions are called Super Foods. Keeping in mind the first part, can also make a potato a member of this league. To demystify super foods, it is something that helps lose or control weight with some additional features like improving bodily functions. While I do feel that ‘super foods’ is as much a marketing gimmick as Valentine’s Day, I do appreciate the goods that have come on to the table. I bet my last dirham coin that you would have heard of quinoa, blueberries, kale, goji berry, wheatgrass, chia seed and many more.
I see the rise of carefully put together ingredients that are carefully grown, keeping in mind the generally unhealthy standard of living that most of us have. So be it fresh salmon or eggs that give Omega 3, or exotic acai berries or seaweed for that matter, more and more restaurants are dishing out to the latest living demands.
I do not mind it at all, after all cocoa powder is also considered to be a super food!

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016#5. MOLECULAR DE-MYSTIFICATION
Herve This may not be too happy knowing that molecular gastronomy is slowly making an exit. Known as the father of molecular gastronomy, Herve had visions of ending world hunger with chemical compounds becoming the ingredients of the future. While most of us may not understand the ‘why’ or ‘what’ behind molecular gastronomy, it is basically changing the physicality (and chemical composition) of food to manipulate taste and texture.
Here is the UAE, we have felt like being on the sets of the Terminator when liquid nitrogen was used to play around with hydration of ingredients. Undoubtedly there is more MG than gimmicky food presentations – it is the careful studying of food texture and presenting it in a form un-thought of. Mint chutney became globules, sorbets became spheres, savoury became mousse, condiments became edible dust and so on. Avant-garde restaurants experiment with the texture of food, replicating it to look like stones etc. It made the chef and artist and scientist.

Top 5 Culinary Trends of 2016
TheCalmDev with Vikas Khanna

Michelin starred chef Vikas Khanna, who runs a successful modern Indian restaurant called Junoon in New York and in Dubai has dabbled with this arm of cooking. However, he sees a change in trends. He states, “It was done over a decade ago. It was very exciting to experiment with food. However, kitchen craft is bending towards cuisine that is simple and organic, in its natural true form. I feel people will ultimately gravitate away from it.”
My recent meeting with one of the most critically acclaimed chefs in Britain, Michelin star chef, who is successfully running Benaras in London and Rang Mahal in Dubai, Atul Kochhar echoes similar sentiments. “I am not sure consumers feel very excited having chemicals put in their food to replicate the taste. As it is the world is fighting a war against additives and harmful chemicals. Not sure, if they are keen to have a chemical powder that tastes like a curry or chocolate on their plate,” feels Kochhar.

Have a delicious 2016!

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Dhal v Dal

Phonetic Ph*k Up: Dhal V Dal
Phonetic Faux Pas: Dhal V Dal

There seems to be a personality problem with the humble ‘dal’. Dal or ‘daal’, is a Hindi term used for cooked pulses or lentils. Lentils (from legumes) is split and prepared as a stew that goes well with rice or flattened bread, as a staple. There are several variations of the same, as one would travel from region to region (specifically in South Asian countries). Now the problem arises when the ‘dal’ is written and pronounced as ‘dhal’. This is where the personality problem arises.

Bronze copy of Schwantaler's Shield of Hercules at Chatsworth House, UK
Bronze copy of Schwantaler’s Shield of Hercules at Chatsworth House, UK

‘Dhal’, as transcripted from Hindi, means shield. One that is commonly used in warfare. Fancy, engraved and carved ones from history to the ones used by anti-rioting police. So when ‘dhal’ is used, interchangeable for the ‘dal’, it loses its taste; almost literally. Sure some varieties of ‘dal’ are spicy enough to bring an army to its knees as there are others that can win kingdoms.

I feel, if the western world would have termed it as ‘dahl’, it wouldn’t have been much of an issue. Unless Sophie would resist her name becoming a recipe! But when alphabet ‘H’ is conjoined after ‘D’, then phonetically it assumes a heavier broth. The consonant ‘dh’ is a ‘punchy’ one, onomatopoeically speaking, something that is used to denote the base note of the left of the tabla. The other sound is a heavier ‘D’. Native Hindi speakers would understand the usage here. Many languages around the globe, translate heavy sounds into a more fluid phonetics, like the Portuguese are known to do.

Funnily, if ‘H’ is added to the ‘dal’, and kept silent while pronouncing, then I do not see why it is added in the first place! If border-less food ambassadors want to migrate the word for lentils, then use ‘dal’ or at most, ‘daal’.

Phonetically, a ‘dal’ is to be uttered like you would read Dante. You see, the ‘dal’ is no less poetic. It is tough to make a good ‘dal’. It is the simplest thing that I judge most restaurant menus on. It is something that can cement a relationship, if made correctly. On the other hand, the ‘dhal’ is a dull sounding word that takes away from the lustre of this delicious broth.

Therefore, I reject the ‘dhal’ in favour of the ‘dal’. And I would urge the culinary world to see the taste behind the reasoning and favour the seasoning. So, say it with me, ‘dal’.

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Nominated for Best Asian Blogger for #MasalaAwards2015. To vote, log onto: masala.com/awards

It’s The SAUCE That Matters

Be it a story or food – it is the sauce that matters!

And finally, I found the courage and confidence to make mushroom pasta. I haven’t the courage to make pasta from dough-scratch but the sauce, I got! And the brilliant thing is that one needs just 4 ingredients to have this creamy, shining and delicious sauce.

So, here we go:

Button / white mushrooms        300 grams (usually boxed in supermarkets – can also use other varieties)

Onions (red)                             2 medium-sized

Rosemary                                   2 sprigs

Garlic                                            2 cloves

Cooking Cream                      150 ml

Salt and Pepper                      as you like ’em!

Prepping up for Mushroom Sauce!
Prepping up for Mushroom Sauce!

Sharpen up your knife and chop those red onions up finely. In case you are likely to cry a bucket, burn a candle before you start chopping. You will see the magic when you realise you are not welling up.

Slice up the mushrooms. Keep aside. For the rosemary, hold ’em from the top and pull down the leaves with your thumb and fore-finger like a smooth swipe. You get only the leaves. Chuck the stem. Finely chop them up.

Now, get your saucepan (the keyword is SAUCE) nice and hot with a drizzle of olive oil. Add in the onions and cook them till they are soft and pink. Add in the garlic then. This way, the garlic will not burn and the onions will not be undercooked.

When you see them sweating it out in the sauce pan, add in the rosemary, give it a good stir and stop a while to enjoy the aroma! Once you are suitably intoxicated, slide in the chopped mushrooms. Cook them through. The mushrooms will half-out in the heat and by then you would have coated them well. Time for the seasoning. That done, dunk in your cooking cream and mix well. In case you notice that the concoction is too thick, use some cooking stock or simply use the pasta-boiling-water to loosen it a bit.

It is now time for the pasta to take a dive into the delicious sauce. Drain them and put them straight in with the sauce. Mix well and ladle them on pasta plates. Top off with parmesan shavings!

Enjoy! And remember – the magic is in the sauce!

On my #Burp&Belch meter, I give it a shameless 5 burps (out of 5)! Modesty clearly doesn’t mix well with a good sauce!