2010: A year in food

From restaurant openings worth cheering about to food as art and a revolutionary celebration of vegetables, 2010 has been a delicious year in the UAE. And there will be even more to tuck into in 2011.

United Arab Emirates - Abu Dhabi - May 26 - 2010: Hakkasan restaurant at the Emirates Palace. ( Jaime Puebla / The National )
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In 2010, vegetables finally shrugged off their supporting-act label and gamely took to the limelight. Being given starring roles in a number of the year's best cookbooks helped, of course. Leon 2: Naturally Fast Food, Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty and Nigel Slater's Tender Volume 1 all urged us to embrace veggies and view meat as an accompaniment to a meal, rather than the main event.
With recipes such as roast carrots and fennel in parmesan breadcrumbs (Naturally Fast Food), gratin of white cabbage, cheese and mustard (Tender) and smoked cauliflower frittata (Plenty), who were we to argue?
Vegetables also made their presence felt in the art world. In New York, Sotheby's staged The Art of Farming, a celebration of farmers and their heirloom vegetables (grown from seeds not used in modern large-scale agriculture), which were auctioned off for $1,000 (Dh3,673) a crate.
Over the past few years, Carl Warner has been gaining recognition for his stunning photographs of landscapes made entirely out of food - think salmon seas and broccoli trees. In October, he released his eagerly anticipated first book, Carl Warner's Food Landscapes to immediate approval.
Not one to shy away from controversy, Lady Gaga fused fashion and food like never before when she appeared on stage at the MTV Video Music Awards wearing a dress made from raw meat. In a more conventional (not to mention more appetising) turn of events, the shoe designer Patrick Cox teamed up with the French patissier Eric Lanlard to open Cox Cookies & Cake, a hip bakery in London's Soho. Here the staff wear studded leather aprons, the cakes are edgy (or as edgy as something made out of butter, flour, eggs and sugar can be) and there isn't a frosted floral cupcake in sight.
Speaking of cupcakes, in 2010 the popularity of these sugary treats, with their mismatched ratio of icing to sponge, finally waned. The whoopie pie was already waiting in the wings, ready and willing to steal the "it-cake" crown. For the uninitiated, a whoopie pie consists of two cake-like biscuits sandwiched together by a thick layer of creamy icing. Magnolia Bakery (which sparked the cupcake craze) was responsible for the resurgence in popularity of these baked goods, although they were apparently first made by Amish women whose children and husbands whooped for joy upon finding them in their lunch boxes. Experience your own form of glee at the Magnolia Bakery in Dubai Mall where you'll find whoopie pies for Dh10 each.
Food lovers with a penchant for a touch more sophisticated fare were delighted when Hakkasan launched at the Emirates Palace in June. For once, the hype surrounding a restaurant opening was justified. As the first platters of scallop shumai left the kitchen, you could almost feel the bar for fine dining in Abu Dhabi being raised. The décor was sleek, shadowy and seductive, the dim sum was prepared with startling finesse and the main courses simply shone.
Dubai wasn't short of luxury openings this year either, with Lafayette Gourmet proving to be the highlight. The UAE version of the famed Parisian food hall offered to transform a once-mundane supermarket shopping experience into a magical one. Oh, the possibilities, now that we were able to buy fresh oysters, unusual cheeses, bespoke chocolates, lobes of foie gras and organic corn-fed chicken all under one roof.
From the luxurious to the local, 2010 saw even more emphasis being placed upon food origins. This was due in part to Noma, the three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Denmark, shooting to the top of the San Pellegrino Best Restaurant in the World list. Rene Redzepi's team use only Nordic ingredients, many of which they forage for themselves. Chefs all over the world were quick to pick up the mantle and menus soon brimmed over with dishes featuring handpicked leaves, berries and bulbs. Now the first mouthful of a dessert flavoured with sea buckthorn might not be a pleasant one, but the knowledge that the ingredient was handpicked should help wash the rather bizarre taste away.
Here in the UAE, sourcing locally grown produce is an altogether more difficult endeavour, but things are improving. The launch of Dubai's first farmers' market in April was a landmark event and offered customers the opportunity to not only buy locally grown, freshly picked ingredients, but to talk to the farmers responsible for growing them. Now that the weather has cooled, the markets are held every Friday on the terrace of Baker & Spice restaurant in Souk al Bahar.
As imports go, the arrival of La Petite Maison in Dubai was one to celebrate. The restaurant opened fewer than three months ago and has already proved to be a hit, with crowds drawn in by the Mediterranean fare and lively modern bistro feel.
Once again, Gourmet Abu Dhabi set the standard for food festivals in the Emirates. The 15-day culinary extravaganza featured guests who really did have (Michelin) star quality, with the likes of Claude Bosi, Alain Passard, David Muñoz and Charlie Trotter taking to the stage.
For the iPhone-owning home cook, 2010 was the year of the food app: Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Gordon Ramsay all launched digital cooking guides. Despite the speed at which they were downloaded, these apps didn't seem to affect the popularity of the traditional cookbook, though. Jamie's 30-Minute Meals was the best seller of recent years and has sold more than a million copies since September.
In restaurant cooking, meanwhile, the love affair between chefs and lesser-known cuts of meat remained as passionate as ever, with ingredients such as lamb belly, oxtail, cod and veal cheeks continuing to make sense in terms of both flavour and economics. This is a winning formula if there ever was one, and a fitting mantra to bear in mind as 2010 draws to a close.
To look forward to in 2011:
The Ivy
The UAE's version of this iconic London hotel is due to open at Jumeriah Emirates Towers in the spring. We look forward to spotting celebrities whilst enjoying a classic fish cake supper.
Vineet Bhatia restaurant in Abu Dhbai
Details are not yet set in stone, but when he was last in Dubai the master of modern Indian cooking was happy to report that he was looking to open a restaurant in Abu Dhabi in the coming year.
Jones the Grocer
There is good news for fans of this gourmet store and cafe: Jones the Grocer will launch three more sites in 2011, two in Abu Dhabi (in Khalidiya and Al Raha) and one in Dubai (Al Manara). In the relatively short time that Jones has been open in the UAE, the cafe has become renowned for its fresh deli food, use of artisan producers, great coffee and, of course, its cheese room, meaning that expnasion can only be a good thing.
Gourmet Abu Dhabi
Now in its third year, Gourmet Abu Dhabi 2011 will deliver sixteen days of epicurean delights and is promising masterclasses, dinners hosted by top chefs and the attendance of Bruno Menard, Claudio Sadler and Tetsuya Wakuda amongst many other culinary masters.
Jamie Oliver
The opening of the UAE's first Jamie Oliver restaurant, Jamie's Italian, in Dubai Festival City is a hotly anticipated one. Unfortunately, the launch date has been pushed back, but we should all be able to tuck into rustic Italian fare with a Jamie Oliver twist in the next few months. Whether the man himself will make it over for the grand unveiling remains to be seen.