Gourmet Abu Dhabi delights diners

The adage may be too many cooks spoil the broth, but when the capital's restaurants invited some of the world's top names into their kitchens for Gourmet Abu Dhabi, the results delighted.

The Indian chef Atul Kochhar cooks a sea bream dish in Ushna's kitchen, in Abu Dhabi's Souk Qaryat al Beri.
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ABU DHABI // By his own admission, Jean Hurstel was wary of the prospect of welcoming Yannick Alléno into his kitchen.

Mr Hurstel, 31, trained under the likes of Alain Passard and Alain Ducasse, and Bord Eau at the Shangri-La Hotel, the restaurant where he is now head chef, and is recognised as among the best in the country.

But Mr Alléno is one of the greats. His Paris establishment, Restaurant Le Meurice, has three Michelin stars and is lauded by gastronomes and critics the world over.

"I'd seen him in the magazines," said Mr Hurstel, "but never met him before - so of course I was nervous to start.

"He is a chef who is at the top of his game, so this was a great chance for me to learn.

"I asked lots of questions and watched him carefully. He told me that I should go into the restaurant and eat my food as a customer would - course after course.

"That way you discover whether or not the dishes on the menu are in symphony with each other."

The four-day friendly takeover was part of Gourmet Abu Dhabi, which began on February 2 and ends on Thursday. Over those 16 days the capital has been graced by the presence of international chefs, from acclaimed classic cooks to rising stars of molecular gastronomy.

These "Epicurean Promotions" have gone down well with the dining public, with most selling out well in advance. Perhaps more surprisingly, given the notorious territoriality of chefs, they are popular with the hosts, too.

Amrish Sood, the executive chef at Ushna, the modern Indian restaurant in Souk Qaryat al Beri, invited Atul Kochhar to cook in his kitchen.

Mr Kochhar is regarded as one of the pioneers of modern Indian cuisine. In 2001, he became the first Indian chef to win a Michelin star for his Tamarind restaurant in London. He won a second in 2007 for Benares, also in London.

"His style is similar to ours," said Mr Sood, "so we thought he was the right person to help put our ideas and views across."

And he enjoyed the experience. "We learnt from Atul's cooking techniques, from his approach to ingredients and from his style of working."

Sasi Ganesan, the restaurant's manager, was no less effusive. The event, he said, raised Ushna's profile and brought in new customers.

Mr Hurstel echoed this view, saying the visit had been an opportunity for diners to "taste something different or visit the restaurant for the first time".

For the duration of Mr Alléno's visit, Bord Eau replaced its entire menu with one devised by its guest chef.

Ushna took the opposite approach, offering all its normal dishes alongside Mr Kochhar's.

"People often come to Ushna to eat a specific dish, the murgh makani for example," said Mr Sood. "We didn't want them to be disappointed if it wasn't available."

Darren Andow, the executive chef at Yas Island Rotana, hosted the Frenchman Vincent Pouessel at the Blue Grill steakhouse.

Mr Pouessel is the executive chef at the one-starred Aureole in Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, which is known for its American-style food with French influences. Mr Andow chose to serve a cut-down version of the Blue Grill's normal menu alongside Mr Pouessel's.

"We didn't want to alienate our regular clientele," he said, "so we kept the steaks on and ensured that all the pricing was in line with the current menu, giving people a chance to sample food cooked by a Michelin-starred chef, at a reasonable price."

Among the diners doing that were Isobel Suter and her husband. They eat out regularly in Abu Dhabi, but visited Blue Grill for the first time to sample Mr Pouessel's menu.

"The food was fantastic," she said, "but I was also really impressed with the venue. Because of the event, we have discovered a new place to dine and know that it is worth making the effort to drive out to Yas Island for."

Mr Andow admitted hosting an outsider had been "a learning curve".

"We let them get on with things," he said, "but at the same time they had to abide by our rules and respect our regulations."

At Ushna, Mr Sood is already looking forward to next year. "Working with different chefs is always inspiring," he said. "It helps us to keep learning and to understand the cuisine better.

"Each evening Atul and I would sit down and talk about what we'd done during the day and how we could improve".