Jan 23, 2013

Sushi tasting session at the Creekside Sheraton

When you are invited to a sushi tasting session at the Creekside restaurant in the Sheraton hotel, it's difficult to decline.  I enthusiastically RSVP'd myself and a friend for this afternoon filled with sushi related fun! The Sheraton sushi master, Chef Rikko greeted us with excitement as media and guests gathered at the demo station in the restaurant.  His charismatic personality and warm demeanor immediately grabbed our attention, as we sat "all ears" waiting for the sushi demo to begin. 
Chef Rikko explained to us the importance of seasoning the rice and demonstrated the meticulous technique used in this ancient Japanese culinary art form.   From evenly spreading the rice on top of the nori, to elegantly and evenly placing the filling in the center, then to perfectly forming and cutting the rolls, we received a crash course in sushi 101 from a skilled sushi master in the UAE. He even recruited a volunteer to participate in the demo, Ms. Lena Terlaare, the editor and Chief of Good Housekeeping ME. She was brave to face the sushi test against chef Rikko, and he applauded her for her efforts.
After getting the inside scoop on the art of sushi making, we were curious to try all of the unique creations they had made for us on this special day. The menu was extensive, and we made sure to bring our appetites, because when Creekside Sheraton restaurant does food, they do it the right way. The counters were lined with every type of roll you could imagine as well as this beautiful food art display.
With items such as the Sweet Escape consisting of mango and the special "creekside" sauce as well as the Spicy Tempura Maki, there is something that appeals to almost every palate.  But these two were my particular favorites.  The balance of mago and savory sauce in the Sweet Escape was exactly what I was craving!  In contrast the crispy tempura maki which was coated on the outside with tempura batter and then deep-fried and topped with spicy tuna was one of my all time favorite flavor combinations.
Chef Rikko was one of the kindest and most personable chefs in town.  He individually thanked us all for attending the tasting, and apologized for not presenting us with real flowers, but instead he gave us all a beautifully cut carrot flower.  It was prettier than any "real"flower I had ever received, and he was thoughtful enough to color coordinate it with the signature Sheraton napkins.   
 Before, the sushi at Creekside rseaturant was only available as part of the legendary Creekside Seafood buffet, but now these lovely little rolls are available a la carte as well.  With 11 types of maki rolls as well as their famous Creekside salad and sashimi selection, you can't go wrong with prices ranging from AED 30-AED 90.

Jan 20, 2013

Italian cuisine in Islamabad, The Real Deal!

When I was approached to consult on a new restaurant concept in Islamabad, I immediately jumped at the opportunity! It was a life long dream to work and connect with the country of my parents origin, but to engage on the culinary level was even more exciting. The project lasted about 3 months and required me to create the most authentic Italian experience on this side of the globe.  However, to me it wasn't necessarily about just presenting good food, it was about raising the culinary bar on the standard of cuisine that is served in the region.  
I worked closely with the chefs to develop a menu that best represented Italian cuisine, but it was also balanced enough to appeal to the local pallet. There were many challenges along the way, and by the end of my time there we had the perfect formula that proved to be a winning combination for success. 
The first step was to come up with a menu for the launch party.  We gave ourselves a date of December 16th 2012 and had a couple weeks to perfect the style of the event as well as the food items being served.  Chef Imran, Chef Giulio, Chef Amin, and I all worked as a team, with everyone contributing in their own way for the best culinary experience Islamabad had ever seen.  We had everything from Caprese on a skewer to Bresaola on a crostini and of course the most delicious pizzas and pastas in town.   With a guest list of over 200 people, the Zigolini team prepared a feast for the anxiously awaiting patrons, who really did bring their appetites.
We sourced the best of local and imported ingredients, and made use of all possible resources including an artisan buffalo mozzarella cheese factory (Ciao Formaggio) in Islamabad producing some wonderful dairy products that are usually tricky to find in this country.  I also found another supplier for a fantastic local Goat's Cheese with which I created the salad below right, an almond crusted goat's cheese with marinated beet root, mixed greens, sliced red onions, and a balsamic reduction. Everything in this salad was sourced locally (minus the balsamic vinegar), and it proved to be a popular item with all the guests. 

A launch party just wouldn't be complete without a red carpet laden with media and models to meet and greet the many expected guests.  When Islamabad Marriott does an event, they do it in style.  There was no expense spared when it came to executing this high end soiree.  With the Italian consulate as the chief guest for the evening along with other diplomats and foreign dignitaries, it was a media frenzy.

A few more delicacies here are the home-made ricotta and herb stuffed tortellini with veal pancetta and cream sauce.  This was THE hit of the night as well as on the regular service menu.  The guests did not stop raving about these gorgeous little parcels of deliciousness, and the fact that they are available on the regular Zigolini menu made it even more exciting to receive the positive feedback!  That ensured the guests would be making  frequent trips back for more.....

Chef Amin and the rest of the Zigolini team managing the "real" brick oven and the constant stream of pizzas  made to keep the eager guests at bay.  Between Chef Giulio, Chef Imran and myself, we were able to perfect the pizza dough recipe with imported Italian flour, olive oil, yeast, and sea salt, fermented at room temperature for 10-12 hours, these pizzas had just the right consistency.
We couldn't have the perfcet Italian meal without the perfect Italian desserts.  Panna Cotta and Tiramisu made with imported cheese and cream were as authentic as it gets. The talented chef Prabhat (pictured above left) who's origins are Sri Lankan, is skilled in the art of European dessert making.  We worked out the exact proportion of gelatin to cream for the panna cotta and even topped each one with a touch of silver foil for an added touch of elegance.  The Tiramisu was made with whipped cream and mascarpone cheese layered between sweetened esspresso dipped ladyfingers (sans rum).  These gorgeous little dessert cups were topped with white and dark chocolate straws and chocolate covered amaretti cookies. 

The Zigolini launch was a success and I am proud to say that I was part of the process.  It could not have been done without the hard work of the Marriott Islamabad team.  The attention to detail is what made this event the talk of the town.  There are no other establishments in Pakistan that can produce this level of authentic cuisine, so I can safely say that I accomplished what it was I set out to do.  We have rasied the standard of cuisine in the region and now the Marriott can add another restaurant to it's already successful list of eateries in this landmark city.

Jan 15, 2013

Park Hyatt Boasts "Bistronomic" French at Traiteur

Bistronomic is an original term that offers a modern-day take on traditional French favorites with all of the charm of a classic bistro, and Park Hyatt knows no better way than to do that in the most elegant of settings.  Walking into this restaurant, my senses were immediately heightened.  We were able to peak into the pristine kitchen at Traiteur and watched as the chefs meticulously prepared the evenings meal.  Park Hyatt has always been one of my favorite hotel destinations in Dubai because of it's location and serene ambiance.  Now that I have dined at this French friendly outlet, it's safe to say Park Hyatt remains in the highest of hotel ranks.     

The very friendly Chef Simon Wipf came over and greeted us as we made ourselves comfortable in front of the open kitchen.  The beautifully designed restaurant made it difficult for us to find the "perfect" place to sit, as they were all great choices. We opted for the table with the best view of the chefs hard at work.  Chef Simon and I chatted for a bit about cuisine in the region, which made me really understand his passion, and I knew that if he was able to speak in such detail about the gastronomic culture here and abroad, he was going to deliver something with just as much passion on the plate.

To begin we enjoyed a selection of starters, Chef Simon had recommended a few House Specialties. Pictured below are the Pan Seared Scallops with Crab Meat Tortellini and Sunchoke Puree, the presentation alone was breathtaking and after taking the first bite, I wished I had ordered one all for myself so I wouldn't have to share it.  It was delicate and flavorful, and the perfect teaser before we indulged in the rest of the dinner courses.  Everything came together in perfect harmony, and at the end I realized, it was better to just enjoy the little taster, and save myself for the rest of the delectable meal.
Next up was the Terrine of Foie Gras served with a pear and elderflower chutney and of course toasted Brioche (is there any other way to enjoy Foie Gras!) Chef Simon shared some of the technique he used in the preparation of this rich and decadent dish.  As you can see pictured below the distinct layers of the rich liver pate which glazed with a red wine reduction for an enhanced flavor and visual appeal .
Now, this next course Chef Simon insisted we try, Butter Poached Lobster with Minestrone Vegetables and Fresh Tarragon, how could anyone say No!  The salty minestrone broth was the perfect compliment to the  juicy pieces of lobster.  The tendrils of tarragon delicately placed on top added that extra aromatic touch of love that brought out the natural sweetness of the succulent shellfish.
After eating our way through the first couple of courses, I have to admit, I wasn't as full as I thought I would be.  Chef Simon was very strategic when he recommended certain menu items to us.  He wanted us to have the full on "Bistronomic" experience, and therefor made sure whatever we ate prepared us for the Grand Finale!  This hearty roasted lamb rack with coco bean ragout and grape mustard was the pinnacle of this dinner.  A perfectly cooked piece of meat nestled on the buttery beans was a the perfect meal. The ratio of fat to meat in this lamb was balanced enough to impart a lot of flavor but it was not overwhelmingly heavy either.  The lamb was cooked to a medium temperature and had just enough char on the edges to round out the dish.
Accompanying this fabulous lamb dish were these crunchy Duck Fat Fries.  I jokingly told Chef Simon that heaven to me would be to swim in vat of duck fat, and he agreed that it is one of those items that proper foodies are just fanatic about.  As a food connoisseur and industry professional, there are not enough menus featuring the use of this decadent ingredient. It's probably better for my health, because they are simply irresistible.
After indulging in some of Chef Simon's best, dessert was a no brainer.  Although the menu consisted of some classic french items such as Crepe Suzette and Raspberry Macaron, we opted for the modern approach to french dessert with a twist and ordered the Lavandar Creme Brulee with Cassis Sorbet and Pistachio Biscotti. The fusion of ingredients in this perfectly executed Creme Brulee was too good to be true!  The silky smooth texture of the custard just touched with the floral scent of lavender underneath the crunchy bruleed sugar was the perfect way to end the meal.  Infact I don't think it even needs the sorbet or pistachip biscotti at all.  The Creme Brulee on it's own was heavenly!

If you haven't ventured over to Park Hyatt Dubai or have been contemplating visiting Traiteur, please DON'T wait any longer.  An experience like this is one of a kind in Dubai as there are too many pretentious French places in the city, but none that really consider the guests overall experience which includes price and ambiance.  Traiteur has it all! With gorgeous views of the creek, a beautifully designed interior, and food that is worth every Dirham.