Summer up-skill: 5 new hobbies to try in the UAE

If you’ve been wanting to try your hand at cooking, acting or designing, take advantage of the summer lull to learn a new hobby

Attend Talk & Tastings sessions by Mirzam Chocolate. Courtesy Mirzam Chocolate
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There's no denying it: the annual temperature-­induced summer slowdown is about to engulf us. If you're staying in the UAE for the duration this year, rather than holing up in front of the television and bingeing on box sets, why not make it your mission to learn a new skill instead?

Hone your cooking (and eating) abilities

Hone your baking skills this summer with ChefXChange. Courtesy ChefXChange
Hone your baking skills this summer with ChefXChange. Courtesy ChefXChange

It matters not whether you’re a novice who wants to build confidence in the kitchen, a competent cook wishing to extend your dinner-party repertoire, or a semi-professional intent on sharpening those skills – cooking might just be the perfect indoor occupation. It’s relaxing and rewarding, and you end up with something delicious at the end of it.

There are several ways you can make 2018 the summer of the home-made souffle (or salad, or ceviche). You could go the Julie & Julia route and systematically work your way through a cookbook, perhaps choosing a specific subject matter or cuisine to focus on – Vietnamese food is all the rage right now.

Alternatively, ChefXChange ( is a culinary hub that allows you to search for professional chefs and caterers in the UAE who best suit your needs – think a buffet for 150; private dinner on a boat; or ­a Mexican- themed party. Many of the chefs offer cooking classes as well, so you can, for example, learn to prepare pasta from scratch with chef Francesca, try your hand at homemade sushi with chef Adel, or bake with confidence, aided by chef Nouel, all from the comfort of your own home.

Attend a Talks & Tasting session at Mirzam Chocolate. Courtesy Mirzam Chocolate
Attend a Talks & Tasting session at Mirzam Chocolate. Courtesy Mirzam Chocolate

If you've got a keen interest in food and drink, but would prefer to watch and learn while doing a little eating along the way, the Talks & Tastings sessions being run by Dubai artisan chocolate-makers Mirzam Chocolate ( from now until September, are worth checking out. Topics being covered at the weekly events include a focus on single-origin coffee with sampling and information, classes dedicated to making vegan chocolate, date and chocolate chip cookies, as well as presentations by a number of local food specialists.

Try your hand at amateur dramatics

Perhaps you’ve always harboured a desire to get up on stage, but haven’t acted upon it until now – or maybe the idea is entirely new to you. Either way, improvisational theatre could be the thing that sets this summer apart.

Improv sessions at The Courtyard Playhouse. Courtesy Tiffany Schultz
Improv sessions at The Courtyard Playhouse. Courtesy Tiffany Schultz

For those who are unfamiliar, improv is theatre that is created at the moment it is performed – we're talking off-the-cuff ad-libbing, rather than learning lines. While it's a training technique ­commonly used by actors, ­anyone can benefit from immersing themselves in the world of improvisation.

Tiffany Schultz, co-owner of performing arts training centre The Courtyard Playhouse in Dubai (, explains: "It encourages quick-thinking, positivity, flexibility, real listening and communication, teamwork, awareness of subtle queues, playfulness, and being open to new ideas and possibilities."

The Courtyard Playhouse is holding a trio of improv taster sessions over the next couple of months, with the option to attend one of the workshops or sign up for all three. For anyone looking to take themselves firmly out of their comfort zone, meet new people, become more confident when speaking in public and have some fun while doing so, this foray into amateur dramatics could be just the ticket. And who knows, you might even discover a hidden talent at the same time.


Read more:

Gourmet food at 35,000 feet: ideas for creating your own on-board meals

A fresh take on fruit and vegetables

Tips for staying hydrated and energised this summer


Learn a new language

If you’ve ever bemoaned giving up studying French at high school, wished that you had a better grasp of the lingo when holidaying in Spain or Italy, pondered that getting to grips with Cantonese would really benefit your career, or simply thought that since you live in the UAE, it seems only right to know a little Arabic, make this the summer that you right those wrongs.

The benefits of learning a new language in adult life are myriad. Doing so improves cognitive function, particularly in relation to our memory and ability to multitask. Studies have also found that keeping our brains agile and active in this way can help guard against dementia. Not only that, it increases our awareness of proper sentence construction and grammar, ultimately making us better, more efficient writers when using our own mother tongue.

There are numerous ways in which you can become a polyglot. If you’ve already got a basic understanding of a language, you might find that spending 20 minutes or so a day reading a foreign language newspaper online is enough to spark ­memories. Immersing yourself in the spoken word by way of a podcast or two will also help no end.

There are plenty of choices available, but for those focusing on Spanish, French, German or Italian, News in Slow ( is an excellent option, doing exactly as the title suggests and relaying current events at a speed that's digestible for most beginners.

For something more structured and supported, interactive apps such as Duolingo and Mango Languages offer highly rated results and plenty of flexibility in terms of level and progression rate. If you're inclined to study the ­traditional way, look up the website SkillDeer ( and you'll find an array of different ­classes in the UAE.

Take up knitting

No longer thought of as the preserve of the older ­generation, knitting is right up there as an on-trend pastime – and with good reason. Studies have found that regularly picking up knitting needles and becoming immersed in the world of knit one, purl one is not only hugely therapeutic, but also can help distract from chronic pain, as well as reduce stress and blood ­pressure levels.

James McIntosh, the creative force behind Knit and Nibble, an upcoming cookbook and knitting guide, explains: "A lot of the benefits of knitting are simply due to the fact that it is a mindfulness-based practice, requiring you to just be in the present and concentrate on, one stitch at a time."

James McIntosh is about to publish Knit and Nibble cookbook and knitting guide. Courtesy Anders Beier Photography
James McIntosh is about to publish Knit and Nibble cookbook and knitting guide. Courtesy Anders Beier Photography

As McIntosh also points out, the great thing about this particular hobby is that it doesn’t require a large monetary investment: all you need to get started is a couple of knitting needles, a ball of yarn and a knitting guide or YouTube tutorial, and you can be on your way. What’s more, you can knit practically anywhere and at any time.

While many enjoy knitting as a soothing solitary activity, should you prefer a more inclusive approach, you can always make contact with a knitting group, such as UAE Amiras, who hold regular meetups, host events such as charity knit-a-thons and provide plenty of support to fellow knitters online.

Get interior design savvy

Do you collect fabric swatches on your travels, happily spend hours searching for the perfect shade of paint, devour ­design-related television shows, upcycle, freecycle and recycle furniture with glee, and are never happier than when revamping your home (either mentally or in actuality)? If so, perhaps it's time to take your passion project a little bit further.

Full Circle Design (, a Dubai consultancy that conducts short interior design courses, aimed at both hobbyists and those who are just starting out in the business. Sharon ­Conneely-Donaldson, who founded Full Circle Design with her husband, Peter Donaldson, says that they pride themselves on getting excellent results from students thanks to a rigorous but friendly approach, and she recommends that those interested start with their ­structured, hands-on ­Residential Interior Design Level 1 Course.

Running over four weeks this summer, the programme, which is ideal for beginners, covers topics such as the impact colour can have on interiors, how to create briefs and mood boards, and the specifics of living room, ­dining room and bedroom design, among other subjects. You will learn more about focal points, and how to select the right materials, lighting and accessories.