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Taste of Dubai, Plus Giorgio Locatelli Spills the Beans

It’s time for the annual Taste of Dubai food festival at Dubai Media City this weekend, where 26 of the emirate’s restaurants take stalls each serving up mini tasting dishes of signature recipes. FooDiva always makes a point of visiting this festival every year – it’s a great way to sample cuisine from so many restaurants to help decide whether you’d like the full-blown dining experience.

At the same time, visiting celebrity chefs like Gary Rhodes who religiously turns up every year, along with Taste newbies Giorgio Locatelli, Nobu,Fernando Trocca, Michelin-star consultant chef for Zafran Atul Kochhar, Aldo Zilli (other than launching his new vegetarian cookbook Fresh & Green, is he sussing out a restaurant here?) and regulars Richard Sandoval and Vineet Bhatia will don their chef whites weaving culinary magic in cooking demos, as well as teaching us a thing or two in hands-on masterclasses. If you’re a Food Network fan, check out TV personality Aarti Sequeira’s take on Indian cuisine.

Italian Michelin-star chef maestro Giorgio Locatelli is a frequent visitor to Dubai, last here in October for white truffle season at his restaurant Ronda Locatelli at Atlantis, and back in town at the weekend for the LitFest, and of course Taste. I never fully appreciated Giorgio’s tremendous knowledge and passion for Italian cuisine, as well as his sense of humour, until I interviewed him last year (also very evident in his two books by the way), so am glad I was able to pin him down this week. Here’s a snippet of our chat…trust FooDiva it’s worth the read…

1. Are you planning to open any new restaurants here in Dubai?

Everyone wanted us to make a Locanda here [at Atlantis] which is our main traditional style restaurant and I refused to because I thought the market wasn’t ready to accept that at the time. I don’t like restaurants that are empty and I have never had a restaurant that was empty. But one day if I do, I will close it and change it. I think Dubai is now ready for Locanda, so we are looking very seriously at putting one here. 50-75 covers. People are starting to understand that an Italian restaurant does not have to have pizza, or does not have to have stupid music. We are talking to the Royal Mirage, but they do have an Italian-style restaurant called Olives that serves food all day with pizza – now what they want is a serious business. Food is all about conviviality and enjoyment. I am not putting this place [Ronda] down, it’s very popular and it’s easy. But if you want a nice meal with good wine and a romantic dinner you don’t want to come here with kids everywhere. It’s a celebratory restaurant for the family. We are talking to the team [at Royal Mirage]. It’s not sealed and done yet, but we do have to get on with it. I have had invitations from Emaar and some others to have a look at their properties. The idea is that we will enter the new restaurant like we do with Ronda. Ivan, my assistant comes every month and tests the temperature, not that we don’t trust the people here, but they need us.

2. In the LitFest cooking demo and also in your books you emphasise your passion for using local produce. You also mentioned you’ve visited Mazaraa the local, organic farm near Abu Dhabi. How much if any of your produce at Ronda is locally sourced?

None because of the quantity – but perhaps some carrots! We feed 500-600 people a day and it’s not possible even though it’s worth looking into it. A lot of the fish is from the Gulf when we can get our hands on it. Our aim is to get what we do in London, where we deal with the fisherman directly, but it will take time. They [Dubai] should stop building and make some gardens. The next step is to transform this area with an outdoor space to grow our own herb garden. The quality of the produce coming in is going up on a monthly basis. Before there was a terrible problem with customs, for instance olive oil was opened and because it was too expensive and they didn’t know what it was – they thought it was some kind of drugs!

3. What direction do you think Italian cuisine is taking – any trends?

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