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What’s cooking on the telly?

By Rachel McArthur


Move over Ready Steady Cook, as the UAE’s very own Star Chef is set to air this month. Fatafeat TV, the region’s first free-to-air 24-hour cooking channel, is currently holding auditions for anyone who would like to serve up their culinary delights, live to the nation.

“In today’s world, we’ve forgotten the kitchen. It’s all about convenience now,” says Youssef El Deeb, director of Takhayal Entertainment, which runs Fatafeat TV. “So we are introducing Star Chef, and we’re looking for individuals to audition right now. Look out for the promos on Fatafeat TV – we want all ages to apply; anyone who is really passionate about cooking.”

Over the past couple of years, reality television shows have become increasingly popular in the region. And Star Chef, an American Idol-style competition, will cash in on the trend by pitting amateur chefs against each other for the chance to be the Gordon Ramsay or Gary Rhodes of the UAE. At the end of each weekly show, viewers will vote for their favourite cook, sending the winner through to the next round.

“The final star chef will win their own show on the channel,” says El Deeb, who adds that the TV contest will be less about reality show friction – à la Gordon Ramsay’s hit TV series Hell’s Kitchen – and more about finding a chef with a winning personality and persuasive cooking style.

“The show won’t causes stress: no politics, no economics and no religion. We won’t make our reality shows depressing. It’s about bringing out the best in people.”

The director is also keen for more Emirati individuals to get involved. “We’re living in the Emirates, and we’re doing business in the Emirates. We are guests in a country, so I would love to know what Emiratis think about food,” he says. “My message to them is, if you have a passion for cooking or eating then you should learn to cook, or become a food expert. Through my years of experience, I am yet to find a food critic that can speak Arabic. Find me one tomorrow, and I’ll sign them. And to my knowledge nobody is writing about Emirati food. Why is that?”

Star Chef is just one of the new programmes that will air on Fatafeat TV to celebrate the channel’s one-year anniversary. Since its launch on December 26, 2006, the channel broadcasts only 20 per cent of regional content, with the rest acquired from abroad. However, with the rising popularity of the channel, more Arabic programmes are being introduced. “This year, you’ll meet a chef called Andrew who will reinvent the Arabic kitchen,” El Deeb explains. “I mean, Arabic cuisine doesn’t change – change for us is scary. But Andrew is reinventing the recipes in his own way. He’s Egyptian but was born in Canada, so he’s going to appeal to a wider audience.

“We’ve also got a new show with Egyptian star Karima Moukhtar who’ll be meeting up with newlyweds in their kitchen to give them advice about married life and cooking.”

Fatafeat TV has also purchased the rights to the UK’s Channel 4 show, Cook Yourself Thin, a series that proves that you can drop a dress size in six weeks and still stuff your face. “To me, it’s the opposite of The Biggest Loser. It’s a great show,” he adds. “But we’re going to localise it. It’s a fantastic idea.”

El Deeb says that it’s all part of a wider plan to remain the number one food network in the Middle East. “We’re upping the Arabic content, because we want to reach a bigger Arab audience. They are the ones that buy are products.

“Every market in the world has a successful food channel, and we’re the first channel to launch in the Arab world. We’re looking to solidify our position. We want Fatafeat TV to be the best at what it does.”

Popular Arab reality tv shows

Superstar (Future TV)

The Middle Eastern American Idol

Al Rabeh Al Akbar (MBC)

Arabic version of US’s The Biggest Loser, where teams battle their bulges on TV

Al Wadi (LBC)

Arabic version of the UK’s The Farm, where celebrities survive ranch life

World Bellydance Championships (LBC)

Similar to the US’s So You Think You Can Dance, but dedicated to bellydancing

Mission Fashion (LBC)

Ten models and 10 designers compete to win contracts in their field

Star Academy (LBC)

Version of the French singing contest