Whether times are good or bad, people need to eat. And though the downturn is forcing consumers to tighten their belts that can only be good news for Taste of Dubai, the gourmet showcase whose second edition runs four days from Wednesday.
The event aims to showcase the city's best food, and each restaurant serves up sample portions of three signature dishes that visitors can try out from as little as Dh20. In addition, consumers can interact with celebrity chefs such as Gary Rhodes, James Martin and Philippe Gauvreau, take cooking lessons or simply kick back with some shisha.
Event director Victoria Crick, of organisers Turret Middle East, tells Emirates Business that exhibitor numbers are up on last year, and that she's hoping for more visitors. "I'd say the show has about doubled in size. We have 22 restaurants and one lounge this year, as compared to last year's 14, and 52 exhibitors in our marketplace section, as compared to 20."
Some 10,500 visitors attended last year's event and Crick hopes to cross that number this year. "Obviously the slowdown will impact us, if not I'd probably worry," Crick says. "But Taste of Dubai stands out because there's no other event like it in the UAE. It's not your average concert or sports event – here, you can come in and chill out and socialise with your friends over some great food and drinks for a fraction of the price of a jazz concert. Which matters when people weigh up their disposable income."
For the exhibitors, it's direct marketing at its best. "As a free-standing restaurant operation, we're on our own when it comes to marketing – we can't count on hotel advertising or inhouse guests. So it's a great opportunity to put our names forward in the marketplace and show what we can do to the right people, but also to understand what they want," says Chris Lester, Executive Chef at the Rivington Grill. The restaurant is the first Caprice Holdings outlet to open in the UAE.
Also new is a sushi lounge by Momotaro, which offers the chance to try fine Japanese food and beverages. "Momotaro fully opened in late October. It is still in its infancy; any exposure to our newly created brand at this stage is welcome," says Robert Schmitz, Chief Operating Officer, Hotbrands International, which runs Momotaro.
The Emirates Golf Club is using the event to showcase its Le Classique restaurant. "There has often been a misconception that Le Classique is a restaurant open to members of Emirates Golf Club only, which is not the case. In addition, Le Classique re-opened in late February after undergoing a six-month refurbishment, so we want to let all culinary enthusiasts know that we are open for business again," says Russell Hanson, Director of Food & Beverage at Emirates Golf Club. He says Le Classique attracted over 1,000 visitors over the four days last year.
Matt Pickop, Executive Chef at Gordon Ramsay's Verre, says the event certainly drove business to his restaurant last year. "It had quite an obvious impact on bookings for a few months after, so we're looking forward to that this year, but we're also exhibiting to build on relationships with existing customers, many of whom have told us they will see us there."
In one of the new events, Pickop will go head to head in a sort of Ready Steady Cook-style show with Paul Lupton, the head chef at Gary Rhodes' Mezzanine. Each receives a bag of ingredients and must cook a three-course menu, with the audience deciding who makes the best dishes.
The Spinney's Cookery School offers visitors the chance to attend a free masterclass with a top chef. "Attendance is free, but limited to 24 people on a first come, first served basis," says Crick. These cannot be booked in advance, but must be registered for on site. "We want people to have the real visitor experience, not to have additional expenses," she says. "It's real value for money we want to emphasise."
A taste of the event
Restaurants serving up their house specials include Zuma, Benjarong from the Dusit Thani; Café Chic of the Le Meridien Dubai, Empire, from the Monarch Hotel; Magnolia, Madinat Jumeirah; and Verre, Hilton Dubai Creek.
Top celebrity chefs including James Martin, Gary Rhodes, Vineet Bhatia and Osama El Sayed will be performing in a continuous programme of live demonstrations alongside Dubai's own top talent at the Mark Wilkinson Chef's Theatre.
Drinks and more
A daily programme of tutored tastings at the MMI Beverage Theatre offers the chance to expand your palate with new sensations
A mouthwatering array of gourmet products on sale, with many opportunities to try before you buy.
Junior visitors can also have fun experimenting with food in a specially designed – and supervised – kitchen.
Priced from Dh50 for standard entry to Dh300 for VIP access, including Dh150 worth of food and beverage, welcome drink, meeting with the chefs and more. They are available at boxofficeme.com and at Spinney's, Virgin and Hallmark outlets.
The event runs from 7.30 to 11.30 pm every day, with two extra morning sessions from noon to 5pm on Friday and Saturday. More information at tasteofdubai09.com