Dubai is forever changing! Evolving, progressing, growing – if it’s always for the better is debatable but often there are changes and concepts emerging that really excel. In a city where superlatives are found at almost every corner finding something that really carries that WOW-effect can be hard. Often, for me it is not the mega glitzy or glamorous that stuns in Dubai – it is the passion, the professionalism and the honesty of the people involved in projects and ideas that carries a valuable seal.
These discernible attributes also play an important role in my workshops in Dubai. For me the WOW-effect most certainly comes from the people I collaborate with to help me realize the 2-day workshop. This year we focused on a different venue for the workshop to diversify the direction we have been taking for the Dubai workshops. Dubai is advancing immensely in the food business and I find it extremely interesting to see the many opportunities it has opened up for professionals in all areas of this business. Collaborating with a professional culinary school like SCAFA - School of Culinary & Finishing Arts was a natural step. SCAFA brings together people, introducing them to a modern culinary training in an ever-growing culinary and hospitality environment.
New also this year was a complete co-hosting with my power-lady Dima Sharif, who in the past years has been an active part of my workshops realizing the cooking demos and lunch menus for the assignments. This year we planned, organized and worked closely designing the workshop together – it was energetic to say the least. Dima and I make a fabulous team with ideas bubbling over the rim. What I love about Dima is, besides being passionate, she is a strong believer in the authentic cause of food. She is not afraid to step off the path to discover the long forgotten roots of food, dishes and the true origins of a dish and she will always speak her mind. There is nothing superficial about her … she takes you deep into her world and love of food and you emerge with a very different outlook.
The workshop filled up shortly after we announced it in the summer and as we opened the doors to SCAFA to twelve participants, there was no doubt in my mind that this would be a rocking two days. The participants came from around the globe – Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Kuwait, Egypt, and of course from the UAE – it was going to be an exciting mélange of ideas, thoughts, input and creativity. The team at SCAFA gave us complete use of all their rooms for the 2 days where the demo and presentation rooms provided ample light and space for the presentations and the hands-on photography and styling sessions. The professionally equipped kitchen was the perfect location for our cooking demos and practical assignments and their in-house Bistro quickly became the hub of our meals and coffee kick!
We kicked-off the workshop with a grand brunch prepared by the charming Chef Russell Impiazzi of Lafayette Gourmet who has been part of the team in Dubai since my very first workshop back in 2012 here. This time we worked on an idea of modern British classics to complement the theme of the workshop: Modern classics and Modern. Classic. Russell is a professional through and through and without much bother he took my idea and created a fantastic experience for our delegates. Always in awe at the ease in which he prepares and presents such fabulous meals it is no wonder that Lafayette Gourmet has evolved into an incredible foodie paradise under his hand.
The meet and greet brunch is always the perfect setting to get to know the participants. We are all slightly nervous on the first morning – not knowing what to expect from each other or how we all will harmonize. But it does not take too long until the dynamics kick in and each of us fit into our own rhythm.
Day one is a packed day with presentations, long discussions, exercises and experience exchange. There is always so much to share and when there are 14 people in a room sharing one passion the borders are endless.
We not only discussed photography: the basics, the lighting, the focus the techniques, the artistic expressions but also styling, color, texture and how to engage the viewer on an emotional level to bring them right into the image, creating moods and atmosphere. We also talked about keeping the flame alive and taking the images to the next level, being authentic, honest and keeping the integrity in an industry that is growing at a very fast pace. For both Dima and me this is always a very important message to give.
For the evening we had a special treat lined up for the participants. As we did last year, we took our participants to a unique tour in Dubai with the amazing Frying Pan Adventures. Away from the glittery fashionable Jumeirah and Downtown to the sparkling and boisterous Meena Bazaar situated in Old Dubai also know as Little India was where we were headed not only to test the capacities of our stomachs on Indian street food but also push the limits on our cameras and skills. This time it was the lovely Farida Ahmed who was our guide on this culinary adventure. Last year her vivacious sister and founder of the one-of-a-kind food tours in Dubai took us on a special North African tour, which blew me away. It was very clear that this year I wanted the participants to enjoy a similar experience. Keeping it within the theme of the workshop we decided on classic Indian street food. As soon as Farida shared the schedule with me I was salivating just at the thought of all my favorite dishes. For the participants it was an ambitious feat – not only were they focused on the dishes and locations Farida took us to but they also had to concentrate on their on-location assignment that they received before leaving SCAFA. I personally had a blast watching some of our lovely participants trying pani puri for the first time – it was like watching a firework of expressions unfold on their faces as the orgy of flavors seduced their tastebuds. So much fun!
We indulged in many of my favorites like Bhel Puri - puffed rice with onions, raw mangoes, tomatoes, crushed puris, spices and deep fried gram flour noodles; and Dahi Batata Puri fried dough balls filled with potatoes, garlic-red chilli chutney, spicy chilli water, sweet dates chutney, yogurt, powdered cumin and deep fried gram flour noodles. Heading further to the south of India there were tiffins of Masala Dosa: fermented rice and black gram lentil crepe stuffed with mashed, curried potatoes, mini idlis in sambar: steamed discs of fermented rice & split black lentils paste), a variety of chutneys from coconut, coriander and beetroot chutney. For dessert, there was an amazing kesari a semolina-sugar-ghee halwa and a steaming hot cup of Madrasi filter coffee to wash it all down! And of course the fabolous 'Topi' dosa a hat shaped crisp crepe which when dipped in the coconut chutney was just the perfect meal! There was fresh tandoori roti made by the bakers of a small bakery - Abu Sahar Bakery to which Farida slathered ghee and generously sprinkled with jiggery taking me bake to my all-time favorite snack my nani (grandmother) would make when we visited them on summer vacations in Delhi! Finally dessert was the most amazing and the fudgiest Mysore Pak a gram flour-sugar-ghee golden brown fudge-like treat famous from the Mysore region in India.
Both Arva and Farida offer a wide range of food tours taking guests on an amazing culinary journey through Old Dubai. What I love about both of them is their wonderful professionalism and knowledge they bring with them. Incredible stories, historic details and candid anecdotes are told as guests are ushered into some of the best kept secrets in the area. If you plan to visit Dubai make sure you book one of the sensational Frying Pan Food Adventures, which is in the top ranking things to do in Dubai on Trip Advisor.
Day two started early with a session on post-processing and a look into working with Lightroom. For me this day is always exciting as I can watch the participants work on exercises and put their assignments together. I can take a small step back to watch how the group work together and see how they develop in a team. Dima took over seamlessly engaging the team into the cooking session which was part of the day's assignment. Having worked with Dima for a few years and closely working with her on her book last year – I knew what to expect from her and she knows what to expect from me so we make a great team complementing each other on many aspects and levels throughout the 2 days. She had the participants working up a frenzy, kneading and rolling out dough for tarts. Dima also created a spectacular lunch portraying classic Arabic dishes in a modern light Bistro style. Jerusalem met Paris in a different kind of Mfarrakeh a tart including potatoes, Goat’s Cheese, Black Olives & Artichokes. The main course the most sensational slow roasted lamb shanks in pomegranate sauce served with a long forgotten vegetable – Colocasia mash. For dessert we planned to surprise the participants with an apple baklava.
With stylish props provided by West Elm Dubai the participants tackled the final stage of their assignment after lunch in the light filled demo rooms of SCAFA. As they put their work together for their presentations the rooms were hushed filled with focused work. Finally it was time for the last class and to review the participants work over the past two days. Constructive critique, feedback and answering questions are a vital part of the workshop and while we do this throughout the 2 days the final class is vital and we can work with them based on their own work.
Chef Russell was back in the kitchen for the evening – under his wing a few ambitious students from SCAFA eager to learn from a professional like Russell. Once again the focus for the dinner was Modern British. Each year I think there is no way Russell can outdo himself but – he does – at least in my eyes. He created a spectacular multi-course menu portraying classic British dishes in bite size portions. There was the famous beef Wellington served on an oh-so-luscious gravy with a caramelized parsnip – one of the highlights of the menu for me. A divine fried cod on such a fantastic bed of mushy peas, roast beef perfect with Yorkshire pudding, scotch eggs, foie gras, duck, lobster – the list of dishes served were impressive and amazing. Thank you Russell for always being a special part of the workshop!
The dinner was perfect in every way, with the participants relaxing after a high powered 2 days, the sponsors enjoying the chance to network and of course all our lovely partners and collaborators joined in to wrap up such a special event. Toasting with a very decadent 24K Gold 0% Champagne and 0% wines provided by our super partners Lootah Premium Foods was the best way to end the workshop on a high note.
The video we put together gives you just a small insight and impression of what we got up over the two days. A tribute to the dedicated participants and the amazing partners and the vibes of the good fun we have!
A huge thank you to our very special partners and sponsors for the Dubai 2014 Workshop. Without you many aspects of this workshop would just not have been possible.
SCAFA - School of Culinary & Finishing Arts – for generously allowing us complete use of their venue and rooms. For making us feel right at home and for a caring, professional team supporting and attending to all of our needs. Thank you Francisco and Alisha!
Toffee Princess - has been a wonderful part of all my Dubai workshops sponsoring her luscious Scottish tablets in the most divine flavors. This year she once again prepared special treats for the goodie bags
Balqees – once again this year Balqees provided not only jars of their incredible raw Yemeni honey for tastings but also sample jars for the goodie bags.
Lafayette Gourmet - for supplying not only all the incredible ingredients for meals but also for our photography sessions. Massive thanks to Chef Russell for creating 2 thrilling meals!
West Elm Dubai – for providing the participants with an amazing variety of extravagant dinnerware, glasses, boards, napkins and the iconic black onyx cutlery as props.
Baker and Spice – for an amazing variety of breads and baked goods (the fig tart was to die for) to fortify us during our coffee breaks and as heroes for our styling and photography sessions. Not to mention the huge and very generous goodie bag for each of our participant.
Lootah Premium Foods - suppliers of some of Dubai’s most exclusive produce and ingredients. They generously supplied several bottles of their decadent 24K 0% Champagne and wines for the finale dinner. They also provided some exclusive items for the goodie bags: a selection of the fine 'La Perse' saffron blend teas and a selection of jam and chutneys just flown in from France.
Frying Pan Food Adventures - for giving us an amazing experience with the Indian street food tour. Thank you Farida!
I also want to thank the group of 12 amazing participants for joining Dima and me on an exceptional 2 days. Thank you for travelling from far and near and for feeding that fire that burns within us. Thanks for your passion and for your energy. You leave me inspired and motivated.
Lastly, but by no means last – my vibrant co-host and organizer, Dima: thank you for your honesty, for your amazing will and for being the best drama queen ever! We are twins in our minds, hearts and souls.
We look forward to rocking Dubai in 2015 again!
After the workshop SCAFA invited us back to their school to instruct a group of twelve young students training to be professional chefs at their school. We shook things up a bit at the school that morning getting the students to throw out cookbooks and rule books and take a totally different look into the world of food. As someone who has worked in big hotel kitchens I know how sometimes it can become routine, tedious and mechanical working in such a profession. It was important for Dima and me to show them how to keep their passion alive, how to communicate with their creations and bring their integrity to food and to make the experience a special and emotional one for guests and diners. We also talked about styling, plating and artistic expression. It was a great day and glad to instruct on a totally different level.
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