From biryani without rice to tartare made from carrot, a conference on innovation in food is encouraging its participants to reimagine classic food. The Food Innovation conference which will see more then 150 international experts from around the world, began with a unique dinner for its guests on Monday evening.

The main course of the evening was fish biryani made out of quinoa — a seed which is classified as a whole grain and is often described as a superfood. Brainchild of Asma Khan, World Food Programme Chef Advocate and star of Netflix series Chef’s Table — the biryani was a way of reimagining how food will look like when its main grain is exchanged.

“We are restricting what we eat to a limited number of grains and a little bit of vegetables,” said Asma, speaking to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the conference. “Since we are stripping our diet of everything, we need to innovate. Not that we need to think of crazy things to eat, but we need to find ways to use things like millets and quinoa instead of our normal grain. It's about retraining the way that we eat.”

She explained that switching from rice to quinoa could have a huge impact on the food system. “To grow one kilogram of rice, it takes 3,000 to 5,000 litres of water,” she said. “To grow 1kg of quinoa it takes just 500 litres of water. Quinoa can also tolerate water with salt in it. It's also more robust and more nutritious.”

Innovative menu

Another innovative dish on the menu was the carrot tartare. Usually made with stake, tartare is a French dish of raw ground beef served with onions, caper and mushrooms among other things. According to the chef, the carrot tartare was prepared exactly how a meat tartare is prepared.

“The dish was unlike anything I had ever eaten before,” said Yusuf C., a guest at the event which took place at the Museum of the Future. “Not just the tartare, but every dish served during the evening made me think about the way I eat. I have mixed feelings about the dishes themselves but the idea was to make me reconsider my choice of food and the evening was successful in doing that.”

In addition to these dishes, the evening’s menu went all out to pay homage to sustainable food production. During the reception, guests were served shucked oyster from Dibba Bay drizzled with lemon and zaatar vinaigrette, while the dessert incorporated fresh locally grown fig as well as Hatta Sidr honey.

Food innovation

During the two day conference, experts will discuss various topics including innovative solutions to the problems in food systems. One of those attending the event is Tatiana Malvasio, co-founder of Kilimo, a marketplace of water in Latin America. Kilimo works with farmers, allowing them to sell to sell their unused share of water to corporates so they can achieve their water neutrality.

Coming to the UAE for the first time, Tatiana said she was curious to see how farms in the UAE work. “I want to see how farmers in this arid region grow their plants,” she said. “I am looking forward to field visits were I can interact with farmers further. I know the Middle East has a lot of water problems. Hopefully, in the future, Kilimo will be able to expand here.”

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