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Taste of Dubai 2013

March 22, 2013

Taste of Dubai 2013As Gary Rhodes, Gizzi Erskine and Vineet Bhatia announced the opening of this year’s Taste of Dubai there was a real feeling of excitement. There was also a sense that it was going to get a lot hotter and a lot busier. In its sixth year, Taste of Dubai has come of age, with more restaurants than ever, celebrity chefs, demonstrations, a lot more live music, more pre-publicity – it’s a ‘must attend’ date in  Dubai’s calendar. Indeed Gizzi Erskine, face of Taste of London, intimated that Dubai might do it a bit better…however, with guaranteed sunshine and a great setting in Media City, this city has several advantages.

This was my third year of attending and there were some highs as well as lows. So here’s an entirely personal account of my likes and dislikes in 2013 – and lots of pics.

Thumbs up

  • It’s a great chance to sample the fare of expensive restaurants, especially some of their signature dishes, at reasonable rates (some more reasonable than others).
  • Great idea from Atlantis to do an all-in price of five dishes from their range of restaurants  (125 AED)
  • Loved the sparkly trees and separate dining terrace for the JW Marriot Marquis which was an excellent showcase for this new hotel and a less frenetic experience than the main drag.
  • You could sit in the chefs’ theatre and watch a series of excellent demos all day long and get very close to some top chefs (see Ishita Unblogged’s review below).
  • Seeing chefs in their element. I bumped into Paul Kennedy from the Mango Tree, Paul De Visser from Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Alessandro Zulian from Carluccio’s, among others, all patently loving the interaction with the crowds.
  • The Cookery school is a superb hands on experience where you can actually cook with some brilliant chefs. I didn’t manage a session this year, but loved every second of making risotto with Giorgio Locatelli last year (when Miele sponsored it)
  • There were a few interesting competitions linked to social media run by individual restaurants. You could win a dinner for ten cooked in your own home by Paul Kennedy of the Mango Tree and Carluccio’s gave away 150 ‘dinners for two’ .
  • Fresh produce. Lafayette Gourmet led the way with being able to taste really excellent ingredients. I met a charming man who runs Al Fumo,  an artisanal smokehouse in Dubai, and tasted excellent maple-cured smoked salmon. Balqees were showing off their sublime raw honey produced by bees that feed on nectar from the Sidr tree and harvested using ancient traditional methods by semi-nomadic beekeepers in remote areas of Yemen; one taste is enough to know why it is the most expensive honey in the world. And I bought some very, fresh rhubarb and fabulous pink garlic flown in that morning from the Rungis market in Paris.
  • More fresh produce.  Knock me down with a feather. There was lots of local produce on display by Local Harvest which represents local farms in Abu Dhabi. It was so refreshing to see vegetables from the UAE (although being given a tasteless tomato in some cardboard packaging was not really in keeping with the environmental and flavour messages).
  • I didn’t manage to experience Andy Campbell‘s Dining in the Dark concept but heard really good things about it. Ten out of ten for innovation.
  • The MMI beverage theatre was in a much better layout and location. You still had to book early as sessions sold out immediately, but there was lots of room inside and it wasn’t just a magnet for people after free booze. You could learn about wines, whisky or cocktails in a fun environment plus there was….
  • …the photo booth, also set up by MMI. I have to declare that KP helped create some of the graphics, but the way people have used the props in the pics on Facebook is so entertaining. Did I have a go…..?

Thumbs down

  • Cramming every possible space with stands – many not food-related. A dentist…investment advice…a clothes stall… no, no, no…
  • …and because of this there was hardly a blade of grass to sit on, let alone a chair. Has Taste of Dubai outgrown this venue?
  • The restaurants that roll out the same menu year in year out. Yes you Gary Rhodes! White tomato soup has had its day, as has butter chicken from Vineet. The Grosvenor House Hotel restaurants were particularly guilty of this. There was no buzz at all around Toro Toro for instance, the slow service and repetitive menu did not do this stunning restaurant justice. A bit of innovation would show off these excellent restaurants better.
  • More about the ingredients please. What are yukka fries? What are all those interesting-looking Asian bottles? What is black cod? More engagement while we wait for our food please.
  • No real innovation. How about a downloadable map – a Taste of Dubai app…?
  • …and much better social media interaction. It’s all about giving as well as taking you know! A display wall of tweets is a given.  Why not do some location-based tracking of restaurants, vote for your favourites? My consultancy rates are very reasonable!!
  • And wouldn’t it be nice to see some different chefs – not just celebrities – demonstrating how to make some of the dishes of the region.
  • Oh…and the waste. I shudder to think how many plastic trays, forks and knives are thrown into landfill because of the festival. Couldn’t the organisers bulk-buy stylish biodegradable items for all restaurants to use?

Here are a few facts supplied by Taste of Dubai about the festival: More than 150 dishes from 30 restaurants, 10 International celebrity chefs; 6,790 potatoes used to produce the famous Rivington Grill chips; 33 Philips Chefs’ Theatre Displays; 70 kilograms of black cod ordered for the famous Nobu dish: 70 (Note: I do hope it’s not endangered); 26 Kenwood Cookery School interactive sessions and over 2,700 pieces of handmade Ravioli for Ronda Locatelli.

Are you a fan of this kind of festival? Do you have a ‘Taste of…’ in your city? How does it compare? Do you think celebrity status for chefs has gone too far or is it all just good entertainment? In fact has cooking become entertainment and at what price? Did you go to Taste of Dubai this year – what was your take on it? All comments welcome….

Also read about Taste of Dubai in 2012 on My Custard Pie.

  1. March 22, 2013 5:17 pm

    I love reading about the food scene in other locales – thank you for this post. Beautifully vivid colors!

  2. March 22, 2013 5:18 pm

    A wonderful event!



    • March 23, 2013 4:28 pm

      Actually it is a great event… we are lucky to have so many choices in Dubai

  3. therealgeordiearmani permalink
    March 22, 2013 6:25 pm

    A twitter wall is a fabulous idea but seeing as their PR company was only linking FB to Twitter and not actually answering any tweets they obviously thought it pointless. Agree on all the other points, I won’t be attending again.

    • March 23, 2013 4:30 pm

      My recommendation is to choose the social media platforms and then use them really well. The Facebook interaction was good – but that’s not where I choose to follow them 🙂

      • therealgeordiearmani permalink
        March 23, 2013 6:59 pm

        exactly 🙂

  4. March 22, 2013 6:34 pm

    You have given words to my exact sentiments about the festival. I did enjoy Taste of Dubai 2013 – there was a lot to love, yet at the same time: I wasn’t inspired to linger for long. On many fronts it was a deja vu of something I deja vu-ed before! Despite voices sounding a plea for more local foods after last year’s ToD, I found myself staring at a non-food market and the dentist. Mine, for that matter. That in itself was cause for a dissatisfied grumble. At any rate, judging from the huge numbers of people flocking to the festival, the concept finds great appeal. Question is: will it continue to grow more into a quantity over quality festival?

    • therealgeordiearmani permalink
      March 22, 2013 6:53 pm

      It’s Dubai so your last sentence is quite correct …..

  5. March 22, 2013 7:04 pm

    For me Taste of Dubai had some things to love and some disappointments this year. You listed well those to put thumbs up and issues which were not well done.

    I like the fact that once year I have chance to see celebrity chefs to cook on live. So for me those are highlights, however I pick “my chef” to watch purely based on how I feel this chef might be in person and if their restaurant or recipes are according my liking. Next year ToD has to really prove they can make difference and be bit more innovative to get me moving from the comfort of my home and kitchen.

    I hope they collect visitors feedback and listen what people expect. Thank You for sharing all those photos and your take on ToD 2013.

    • March 23, 2013 5:10 pm

      I actually found a feedback app on their Facebook page so I hope this is a good sign. I agree there is a lot to like – in fact I suspect this is one of the best ‘Tastes of’ in the world. However, I think lots of people felt there were issues this year that could be rectified for next year. I’m glad you enjoyed it Minna

  6. glamorous glutton permalink
    March 22, 2013 7:31 pm

    It looks like a fantastic festival. I have to admit it’s some time since I’ve been to the Taste Of London. Its become so big and the queues are so long it can be more of a chore than fun. But perhaps I should take a new look. GG

    • March 23, 2013 5:11 pm

      Your comment is quite telling. For all the crowds at TOD, the queues are not too bad and it’s a very manageable festival.

  7. March 22, 2013 10:42 pm

    Thanks much for the pingback – I had mixed feelings about the TOD….. and I agree with your assessment of the general atmosphere. This was my first, and I was hoping for some additional information… like, did the serving and cleanup people recycle any of the cans and plastics and such?? How many cubic yards were kept out of the landfill? Were any extras donated to shelters or such? I think it has definitely outgrown its venue – needs larger expo space, lots more of those “sail shades”, tons more accessible parking, and please, for the love of all that’s good, more than one entrance and one set of bathrooms!

  8. March 23, 2013 10:58 am

    A brilliant post Sally! And thanks so very much for the double pingbacks:)

    If mine was a post at the micro level, zooming onto just the Chef’s Theater, your post is at a macro level, capturing all the ups and downs so brilliantly. Your observations and suggestions about more interaction while waiting for food, the suggestion to the organizers to ‘bulk-buy stylish biodegradable items’, lack of space and many other points are so very valid. I also find it very irritating to park in one place and walk all the way round to the entrance. What is the problem in having more than one entrance?

    As I said, I enjoyed TOD because my objective was very focussed, meet a few chefs, talk to them, eat what they cooked and see their demo, up close and personal. But when my family and friends joined in later in the evening, it seemed like an open air night club with sozzled people stumbling over my kids, pushing them on the benches they were sitting – it was pretty hilarious!

    • March 23, 2013 5:14 pm

      There is a shortage of outdoor events where you can listen to music, while sitting, eating and drinking. This is one of the appeals of TOD to a different crowds…not necessarily people interested in food…more about hanging out. There is nothing wrong with this but it creates an uneasy overlap with the people with families and especially small children.

      • March 23, 2013 9:23 pm

        I completely agree with you. But then we knew this is going to happen and knowingly I took the kids. Your other suggestions are absolutely valid. I want an event like this to happen in Dubai, so I’ll def wish that the event organisers rectify the ‘owns’ and work on the ‘ups’!

  9. March 23, 2013 3:47 pm

    Blimey now that is an extensive review great job. I never made it over as we’ve The Dubai Dollar Project in the lobby till April 3rd but I’ll go next year. You saved me the ha$$le nice one. ..
    Keep it going

  10. March 23, 2013 5:14 pm

    I would definitely recommend going to see for yourself in 2014. Thanks so much for the nice comment.

  11. March 24, 2013 2:11 pm

    Taste of Dubai sounded like a great & fantastic event! It must have been fun for you!

    I love Gary Rhodes, he is an oldie but a goldie! 😉 Lovely pics too! I loved reading this post! 🙂 x

  12. Dima Sharif permalink
    March 24, 2013 5:54 pm

    Wow as if I am reading my thoughts about this year’s taste. Besides the growing crowd, and clothes & jewellery stalls I didn’t find it different from last year’s. the only Take though is that this year I took the kids and found it to be not kid friendly, not much for them to do and too crowded for them to even run around! If it wasn’t for the music, I would have thought it a miniature Gulf food!

    • March 25, 2013 8:57 am

      That’s so interesting. I avoid Gulfood for many reasons….

    • March 25, 2013 8:58 am

      Sorry to have missed you at TOD

  13. pinkpolkad0tfood permalink
    March 25, 2013 12:43 am

    What an honest review and a joy to read! I am soooo looking forward to The taste of Cape Town in April!

    • March 25, 2013 8:56 am

      I’d love to know more about it – hope you write in up.

  14. andreamynard permalink
    March 25, 2013 12:59 am

    Great balanced review and, wow, you have such an amazing array of food in Dubai. We had a food festival in Chipping Campden in Feb – on a slightly different scale! But still very lovely, reminding me of all the brilliant local food producers and chefs we’re lucky to have around here.

    • March 25, 2013 8:55 am

      Believe me – I would LOVE to go the Chipping Campden one. I’m always on the look out for food festivals when I’m in UK and always go to the wonderful Stroud Farmers’ Market when in Gloucestershire. Can’t beat a Gloucester Old Spot sausage in a bun 🙂


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