On Saturday evening, against the backdrop of a dusky Dubai sky and a twinkling Burj Khalifa, we had an intimate tete-a-tete with Australian chefs and Masterchef Australia judges Gary Mehigan, Shannon Bennett, Matt Moran, Manu Feildel and George Calombaris, as part of Dubai Food Festival 2016.
In a merry mood, they let us in on the Masterchef Series 8 competition, their impressions about Dubai, cooking experiences and the food industry.
“Date honey, rose water, different varieties of dates, those small limes with intensity, and lamb from Salalah,”
– Shannon Bennett on the 5 ingredients he’d take back home with him from Dubai.
Gary, likewise, enjoys the Arabic food: “You know – what I love about Arabic food is that it’s very clean. I like the subtle use of spices and different breads and nuts – lots of fragrant, simple flavors.”
While the chefs are no strangers to Dubai, George admittedly felt like a tour guide, suggesting places to visit and sites to see to his colleagues, having been here multiple times.
The chefs had a back-to-back schedule to keep with demos and appearances at the Food Festival, and a gala dinner they prepared for a few hundred lucky guests.
We asked Shannon how Dubai Food Fest has been so far:
“Incredibly busy, and it’s made me realize how big Dubai is. The festival itself is so diverse in its offering – all the food trucks, the high-end, the beach shack. The educational side of the festival is pretty amazing too.”
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Masterchef sneak peeks
When asked, the judges didn’t shy away from teasing us with juicy little bits from filming Series 8 back home.
Gary confirmed that the food they eat on camera is cold, since the clean-up crew clears the cooking stations and the contestants record how they thought the cook went before the tasting. When the judges need to taste something hot, they do it off-camera at the cooking benches.
Shannon said, regarding the current series:
“There is an immense amount of highs. I have my work cut out for me since there are so many competitors this year that are wanting knowledge ferociously.”
Gary confided that this year’s contestants will surprise and thrill with the competition at a higher bar than seen before.
“Every year, we reset thinking that we’re not going to get the same quality of contestants as last year- because they were exceptional. We have to remind ourselves that these are home cooks and they go through an incredible transformation from amateur to professional,” he said.
[Are you excited? We are. ]
About the food industry and cooking
George, while playful and mischievous, told us quite seriously that the way the Press Club came to be successful was “putting up good food with integrity.” Words to put some stock into, chefs.
While George talked about fresh ingredients and conviction, Gary told us, in addition to exceptional food, what he thinks is changing in the food industry in Dubai and around the world:
“The big change in food over the last 18 months or so is just to have affordable experiences and fun. You want to buy into an experience. If you go to George’s restaurant, you want a bit of what George is all about, you know what I mean? It’s the same with food trucks.”
Have you visited Dubai Food Festival yet? Tell us what you thought of the demos in the comments below.
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