What better way to recognise the city's culinary achievements than at a seven-course dinner designed and prepared by some of the world's top chefs? Gourmet Abu Dhabi, the gastronomic festival that has, for the past 10 days, seen the city's kitchens host the likes of Alain Passard, Claude Bosi and Régis Marcon, is now in its final furlong. The Awards Gala Dinner, which took place at the Al Raha Beach Hotel on Monday night, gave the city's cooking fraternity a chance to be recognised among their peers as well as the industry's elite.
First, though, it was down to the business of eating. Appetisers were served al fresco from a series of cooking stations on the terrace. Tartare of salmon, strawberry and wasbi by Claude Bosi (the two-Michelin-star chef and owner of Hibiscus restaurant in London), baked leg of rabbit with parsley and Périgord truffle by the German chef Martin Fauster, and smoked oyster with coconut soup by the Spanish chef David Muñoz were some of the morsels that took the edge off the guests' appetites before the ballroom dinner.
Visiting master chefs were invited on to the stage to open the proceedings. More Michelin stars you are unlikely to see again in one place. Meanwhile, the nominees were tucked away in the kitchen, helping to prepare dinner. First up was a mouthful of grilled lobster with lemon grass, grilled shallots and Asian citron served on betel leaves, cooked by David Thompson, the owner of Nahm restaurant in the UK. Tangy and fresh, it woke up the taste buds with a jolt before the brochette margaridou, one of the three-star French chef Régis Marcon's speciality dishes, a creamy mushroomy bite of veal served with morel mushrooms.
After the tian of king crab and lobster with scallop ceviche (from the cuisine of the Australian chefs Greg Doyle and Grant King), it was time to hear the results of the voting, which, we were told, had been carried out by both the public and an industry panel. Ten categories covered hosting, cooking and regional and international cuisine. It is testament to the city's growing culinary scene that several new venues were represented. Host of the Year was Marie Irene, from Ushna, the Indian restaurant at the Souq Qaryat al Beri. And Pastry Chef of the Year - a newly introduced award - was Avril Dsylva from the Yas Island Rotana.
The big wins of the night, though, were shared between a small clutch of hotels. Restaurant Chef of the Year was awarded to Jean Hurstel from Bord Eau, the Shangri-La hotel's much-feted French restaurant. And Restaurant of the Year was clinched by Sayad at the Emirates Palace. Wearing the biggest smile on his face was Gary Robinson, who won Executive Chef of the Year for his work at the Shangri-La Hotel. "I'm flattered and thrilled," said the Scottish chef, who worked for the Prince of Wales for seven years before moving to Hong Kong and then joining the Shangri-La in April 2009. "But I don't take credit for this in its entirety," he added. "I have a marvellous team of chefs whom I must also thank. The restaurant scene in Abu Dhabi is getting stronger all the time, so I'm thrilled to be voted above my peers."
Achievements in regional cuisine were also recognised. Regional Cuisine Chef of the Year was won by Hassan Assaf from Al Mawal at the Hilton Hotel. And Regional Cuisine Restaurant of the Year went to Diwan L'Auberge at the Emirates Palace hotel. Awards distributed, four courses remained, including vesuvius of rigatoni from the cuisine of the Italian chef Alfonso Laccarino, and, perhaps the highlight, veal with four spices and celeriac mousseline cooked by the great French master chef Alain Passard. The wafer-thin pink slab of meat with a piquant dressing and served simply with mash was followed by saddle of lamb en croute with fennel mousse prepared by the German master chef Heinz Winkler. Thankfully, as Mubarak al Muhairi, the director general of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, which organised the event, pointed out, several weeks remain until the Abu Dhabi Triathlon, which will give everyone a chance to work off their feast.
Gourmet Abu Dhabi runs until Friday. For more information, go to www.gourmetabudhabi.ae. @Email:email@example.com