The Abu Dhabi Gourmet Stars Awards brought the curtain down on the fifth Gourmet Abu Dhabi, the emirate’s annual culinary festival which this year saw 56 international gourmet artisans from 14 nations serve up 16 days of gastronomic indulgence across 20 of the UAE capital’s finest restaurants and venues.
With three new categories - ‘Best Sustainability Practice’, ‘Best Use of Local Produce by a Chef’ and ‘Spirit of the Festival’ –a total of 13 awards were presented during a glittering ceremony at the five-star The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort. The winners were:
• ‘Executive Chef of the Year’ presented by Abu Dhabi Media - Danny Kattar, InterContinental Abu Dhabi
• Restaurant of the Year’ presented by Motivate –Hakkasan, Emirates Palace
• ‘Food and Beverage Manager of the Year’ - Moustafa El Gayar, Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri
• ‘Regional Cuisine Chef of the Year’ - Jouni Ibrahim, Li Beirut, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers
• ‘Regional Cuisine Manager of the Year’ - Suresh Yadhav, Indigo, Beach Rotana
• ‘Regional Cuisine Restaurant of the Year’–Agadir, The Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa
• ‘Restaurant Chef of the Year’ presented by Acqua Panna & S.Pellegrino– Alexandra Pernetta, Bord Eau, Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri
• ‘Restaurant Manager of the Year’ - Ashwin Naidu, Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill, Fairmont Bab Al Bahr
• ‘Restaurant Host of the Year’ –Yuni Sukmawati, Teatro, Park Rotana
• ‘Pastry Chef of the Year’ - Praveen Kumar, Hilton Abu Dhabi
• ‘Best Sustainability Practice’ presented by BBC Good Food Middle East - Fairmont Bab Al Bahr
• ‘Best Use of Local Produce by a Chef’ presented by Local Harvest – Nicolas Perz, Hyatt Capital Gate
• ‘Spirit of the Festival’ presented by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority – Ushna, Souk Qaryat Al Beri
With Hakkasan, the modern Chinese fine dining restaurant at Emirates Palace, retaining its ‘Restaurant of the Year’ gong, it was third time lucky for the InterContinental Abu Dhabi’s Chef Danny Kattar, who landed ‘Executive Chef of the Year’ after missing out twice previously.
“Finally it’s my year; I was beginning to think destiny was against me winning this award,” said Chef Kattar. “I’m already planning the main course for next year’s gala dinner and I promise to create something in the best gastronomic traditions of InterContinental Abu Dhabi.”
With Souk Qaryat Al Beri favourite, Ushna, finishing runner-up to the five-star Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in the ‘Best Sustainability Practice’ award, the independent Indian restaurant got the nod for the event’s first ‘Spirit of the Festival’ – an accolade introduced by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) to reward an outlet judged to have most actively promoted and embraced the festival.
“Ushna’s ongoing support of Gourmet Abu Dhabi and the team’s passion in driving forward the emirate’s sustainable fine dining agenda has been an enlightening and encouraging experience for many years now – it is a worthy winner,” said Noura Al Dhaheri, TCA Abu Dhabi’s Leisure Products Development Manager.
Having walked away with the inaugural ‘Best Use of Local Produce by a Chef’ accolade – sponsored by Local Harvest, the homegrown produce brand of Abu Dhabi Farmers’ Service Centre (ADFSC), an Abu Dhabi government education and extension resource for 24,000 farmers in the emirate –Nicolas Perz believes his winning creation (Crispy whole roasted Sultan Ibrahim wrapped in Kunafa dough stuffed with local dates, organic honey and zaatar, served with a camel milk sweet potato mash) will inspire a generation of dishes infused with the taste of Arabia.
“This is truly a remarkable category,” said Perz. “I cannot think of another regional award that encourages our industry to utilise the diverse produce and flavours at our fingertips. The local F&B sector needs to reward originality and push authentic Arabian dishes - I hope my dish can play a part in building a legacy.”
With this year’s all-star cast of international gourmet heavyweights now heading home, many hotels have reported house-full restaurant bookings during Gourmet Abu Dhabi, including the five-star Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, with Hotel Manager Stephan Fuchs dubbing his two-Michelin-star hosted French chef Mathieu Viannay “a real superstar.”
As with most of the festival’s international masterchef-led events, Chef Viannay’sone-off culinary demo and luncheon and four-day culinary promotion - including a special Valentine’s Night package at the hotel’s Brasserie Angelique - were sold out.
The festival’s success was not restricted to its gourmet dinners and promotions. The revamped Culinary Creation Stages - previously called masterclasses - were more than 80% booked within the first day of launch, while visits to the dedicated Gourmet Abu Dhabi website have now quadrupled since the event’s launch in 2009.
Elsewhere, a snap survey conducted by TCA Abu Dhabi revealed 46% of this year’s guests classified their Gourmet Abu Dhabi experience as ‘excellent’, while 84% of responders said they were ‘extremely’ or ‘very likely’ to attend next year’s festival.
“These results came as no surprise to us because the entire festival represents exceptional value for money,” added Al Dhaheri. “Take the Culinary Creation Stages, for a mere AED120 guests get to see and hear true masterchefs in action, learn essential tips of their trade, taste their fare and then enjoy an excellent lunch. The social atmosphere is excellent with keen foodies gathering in one place to meet and discuss their passion for gourmet.”
With its net cast wider than ever, Gourmet Abu Dhabi is also building a robust reputation for the destination within the upper echelons of international culinary circles. A number of masterchefs and celebrities – among them Ireland’s Rachel Allen, India’s Abhijit Saha and Japan’s Shinichiro Takagi – have all signalled their desire to return to the event – and the destination.
Englishman Jason Black, who is now the star of leading Hong Kong restaurant, Shore Steakhouse, was effusive in his praise following successful restaurant promotions, chateau dinner sand a culinary demo and lunch at the Yas Island Rotana, where he also experimented with camel meat during an impromptu ‘Emirati BBQ’.
“The effort put into making this event come together is staggering and I am in awe of how well it went, especially considering the number of events happening at the same time,” said South African-raised master of ‘honest cooking’.
“Every person I have come into contact with since being invited to participate has been gracious, friendly and professional, and I can say it will be an experience I will treasure always. It was my first trip to Abu Dhabi and given the overwhelming hospitality I encountered, I’m sure I will return in the very near future. I have no hesitation in recommending Abu Dhabi as a great destination for food, beverage and entertainment!”
Meanwhile, Thailand’s internationally-renowned masterchef, Chumpol Jangprai, believes the emirate has all the ingredients to become one of the world’s leading gourmet destinations.
“Abu Dhabi has all the makings to become a top five global food industry destination; the scene is very rich and diverse. It also offers great potential for young chefs to take internships because the market is very willing and the sheer number of world-class restaurants on offer can provide a ladder for development,” said Chef Chumpol, who is luxury hotel group Anantara’s new Thai Culinary Director.
The sixth edition of Gourmet Abu Dhabi will run February 4-19, 2014