An aerial view of Taste of Dubai would provide an interesting snapshot of what is essentially the city's most elaborate picnic, complete with colourful throws strewn over the grass, food stalls dishing up tasty bites, chefs holding cooking demonstrations, makeshift stalls selling culinary knick-knacks and musicians providing a backdrop of live performances. Now in its 11th year, the annual festival will take place at its usual Media City Amphitheatre location from 4pm today – and from noon to midnight tomorrow and Saturday.
The party starts at 9.30pm on Thursday evening with a 90-minute performance by Sister Sledge featuring Kathy Sledge, who will take to the stage to belt out classics from the 1970s and 1980s, such as We Are Family, Lost in Music and He's the Greatest Dancer. Some of the other performers this year include Mark Zitti ei Fratelli Coltelli, 4TheMusic, Salha and DJ Darryl Rees.
Those who want to flex their culinary muscles can cook alongside celebrity chefs in the Al Ain Farms and Kibsons Cooking Challenge, featuring Taste of Dubai regulars Sanjeev Kapoor, Reza Mahammad, Jenny Morris, Jun Tanaka and Eric Lanlard, who will be joined this year by children's nutritionist and cookbook author Annabel Karmel. The half-hour sessions will take place every hour on all three days, and visitors can sign up 30 minutes before each challenge begins. The chefs will assign and then judge each dish, providing participants with a set pantry of ingredients. The winning person or team will get a hamper filled with kitchen equipment and grocery items.
Other big-name chefs can be found at the Italian Pavilion, a new addition to the festivities this year. Wander by for a meet-and-greet with Michelin-starred chefs Silvia Baracchi, Marco Bottega and Paolo Gramaglia, as well as one of the only award-winning female chefs to come to the UAE, Maria Grazia Soncini, who oversees operations at La Capanna di Eraclio restaurant. The chefs will demonstrate their stellar skills as they cook live in the pavilion. The space will also host a range of acrobatic pizza artists, and fresh pasta, gelato and mozzarella makers. On Saturday, this will be the venue of the Best Italian Pizza in the UAE competition, in which 10 pizzerias will compete for the title, while to the visitors go the spoils.
Also new to Taste of Dubai this year is the sinful-sounding Butter Kitchen, hosted by French chef Charles Soussin and cheesemonger Francois Robin. The duo will conduct workshops on how to use butter to enhance the flavours of everyday dishes, from starters to desserts. The dairy specialists will also demonstrate how to prepare savoury flavoured butters, such as seaweed butter and citrus-infused butter.
As always, the real stars of the show are the dishes themselves, 100 of which you can sample from the 23 restaurants that will set up shop at Taste of Dubai. The list includes fine-dining venues such as Nobu, Ronda Locatelli and Bread Street Kitchen, as well as popular Indian (Jodhpur Royal Dining and Carnival by Tresind), Asian (Shanghai Chic and Royal Orchid), Italian (Cucina Mia and Rossovivo Pizza), French (Couqley and Aubaine) and Spanish (Salero) options. A range of not-as-common cuisines are also on offer from Ayubowan (Sri Lankan), Le Petite Belge (Belgian), Kiza (Pan-African) and Sonamu (Korean).
While the sample menu (right) has a dozen must-try dishes, we are also quite intrigued by the sound of the smothered Belgian fries from LPB, green onion seafood pancakes from Sonamu, goat-cheese-stuffed peppers with a fruit leather chutney from Jodhpur and key lime lollipops from Key West. Let the clambake begin.
For more details about timings and tickets, visit www.tasteofdubaifestival.com