For the UAE’s foodies, one world-famous chef is no longer enough to make a memorable meal. Instead, “four hands” dinners are increasingly taking over kitchens in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The name refers to two renowned chefs teaming up to create set menus together, often pairing unique flavours, ingredients and techniques they have built their names on as individuals to create a show-stopping collaboration.
Four hands, two chefs, one unforgettable meal – so the idea goes.
In the UAE, four hands dinners are nothing new, though over the years appetites have grown from one-off events to bespoke menus spread across weekends at some of the finest restaurants in the country – with a tantalising array happening this month alone.
On November 8 and 9, diners at one Michelin-starred Ossiano will be treated to a collaboration between head chef Gregoire Berger and celebrated Spanish chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, of two Michelin-starred Mugaritz. It will mark French chef Berger’s fourth four hands of the year.
Additionally, Atlantis The Royal’s executive pastry chef Christophe Devoille will pair up with chef Paul Occhipinti, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France award winner, for a four hands afternoon tea in The Royal Tearoom on November 4 and 5.
On November 3 and 4, chef Gaston Acurio, creator of La Mar, will join forces with chef Dabiz Munoz, the master behind SteetXO, which will soon open its doors at One&Only Zabeel.
Atmosphere is also getting in on the trend with an eight-course four hands dinner by Michelin-lauded French chef Arnaud Dunand Sauthier and Atmosphere’s chef Eka Mochamad on November 7 and 8.
Burj Al Arab will host two experiences this month. The first, served on November 15 and 16, is a collaboration between Italian Michelin-lauded chef Nino Di Costanzo and Jumeirah executive chef Andrea Migliaccio at Ristorante L' Olivo at Al Mahara.
The second, to run on November 28 and 29 at Al Muntaha, welcomes German Michelin-lauded chef Daniel Gottschlich and head chef Saverio Sbaragli.
Throw in an Italian-themed collaboration at Trattoria on November 9 and 10 (chefs Omar El Ajmi and Ciro Sicignano) and diners really are spoilt for choice.
But why are the UAE’s best chefs so keen to team up and – more importantly – what’s in it for diners?
‘The UAE’s food scene is evolving’
According to Berger, the trend has grown alongside the country’s culinary prowess.
“I’ve been living in the region for over a decade and I’ve seen how the culinary landscape has changed over the years,” he says. “Four hands dinners and collaborative dining concepts have been on the rise in recent years.
“It strengthens the region’s authority on the global stage, with carefully thought-out collaborations with globally recognised and celebrated chefs. The culinary world has its eyes on Dubai, there is a lot more interest than ever before.”
Devoille, who is gearing up for his first four hands offering, agrees. “Since the world came out of the global pandemic, the region from a global perspective has been receiving more and more attention,” he says.
“The chefs here have committed to a collective goal to showcase the culinary scene here, and a way of doing this is through the four-hands dining experience, bringing globally recognised chefs to host these with.”
A ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience
For Berger, the introduction of the Michelin Guide in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as well as the arrival of Mena’s 50 Best Restaurants, has also set the bar and motivated industry leaders to go above and beyond to host “never-before-seen dining experiences”.
“For diners, we are providing novel opportunities for them to experience new flavours and culinary adventures, especially when two chefs create together – but it's much more than that,” he says.
“Through four hands, we express something different and we give diners a special moment that they will remember forever.
“To attend and experience a four hands dinner is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. These unique showcases are not often repeated with the same chefs.”
For Devoille, four hands provide a new way of exploring food. “When two chefs unite, perfectly matched within one setting, multiple things are fused including culture, vision, mindset and produce,” he says.
“When it comes to food enthusiasts, they like to explore and challenge their taste buds and four hands does exactly that. It's important to note that these are not initiated to make money but to create new experiences and draw in a new audience as well, so they see what the venue is about.”
In September, Tala Bashmi, chef patron of Fusions by Tala in Bahrain, joined chef Andrew Lee of Hakkasan Abu Dhabi for a four hands dinner across two nights, blending the Middle Eastern and Cantonese cooking styles they are famous for.
And it was in this meeting of culture, vision and produce that the magic lay for both chefs and diners.
“Our different culinary flavours complemented each other – who would have thought that Chinese and Middle Eastern food would work so well together?” says Bashmi. “We meticulously planned a 10-course collaboration to offer the best of both worlds for a unique dining experience.”
And for Lee, the collaboration certainly won’t be his last.
“After the remarkable success of our collaboration with chef Tala, we are enthusiastically looking ahead to offer our guests more thrilling and innovative experiences,” he says. “We firmly believe in the power of collaboration to elevate the dining experience and it's something we are actively exploring.”
Sourcing the world’s best ingredients
As well as creating memorable experiences, four hands dinners also allow diners to experience the finest ingredients from all over the world. Often, visiting chefs will bring their own ingredients from their home regions, meaning UAE diners can feast on authentic dishes that burst with provincial flavour.
“Deciding on where ingredients are sourced from is an important stage of the menu creation process,” says Berger. “When we create a new menu, chefs will explain what ingredients should be included based on what they use and like to work with.
“We always go to the origins of most ingredients to find the perfect produce. For example, we have been able to source very specific rice from Spain to use in the upcoming four-hands. It can be anything, from a specific type of trout egg, or even a specific type of fish.”
For his own coming four hands menu, Devoille has worked tirelessly to find the best ingredients he can.
“We have been discussing at length what produce we will bring from the two areas to Dubai, and how we will introduce these to our guests,” he says. “Paul will be bringing fresh rose petals from Greece, buddha hand citrus from Nice, and even lemons from the Amalfi coast in Italy.
“It's been incredibly exciting to collaborate, share ideas and come up with a concept that will amaze diners, and have them reimagine dining through a new experience.”