It is time for Dubai Food Festival! The culinary spectacle which kicked off last week brings together a variety of events to celebrate the rich tapestry of flavours in the city. One of these events highlights an exquisite collaboration between two culinary masters, Chef Greg Malouf and Chef Sonu Koithara.

Malouf, hailed as the godfather of Modern Middle Eastern cuisine, and Koithara, the mastermind behind Taj Exotica's culinary excellence, join forces for two unforgettable evenings on April 26 and 27 at Raia Rooftop Restaurant & Lounge, Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, The Palm Dubai. This exclusive four-course dining experience promises to tantalise the senses and redefine the boundaries of gastronomic delight.

Malouf's illustrious career spans Michelin-starred kitchens and the authorship of eight acclaimed cookbooks. With his ninth opus in the making, exploring the diverse cuisines of North Africa, the renowned chef brings a wealth of expertise and a passion for pushing culinary boundaries to the table.

Koithara, on the other hand, whose culinary prowess has been honed over 27 years of training under Michelin-starred luminaries such as Bruno Loubet and Jerome Tauvron, boats a clientele that includes the elite of the entertainment world - the likes of Naomi Campbell and Shah Rukh Khan. Excerpts from the interview:

Your expertise in modern Middle Eastern cuisine has earned you the title of the godfather of this culinary genre. How do you infuse traditional Middle Eastern flavours with modern techniques to create unique dining experiences?

Greg Malouf: I was born in Australia to Lebanese parents, growing up amidst the rich aromas and flavours of my mother's and grandmother’s kitchen. I was trained in Western cuisine and then after that experience in Melbourne, I went to Europe to continue expanding my knowledge and techniques. I flew back home and started focusing on Middle Eastern food in a contemporary sense, so I make it more architectural and added a few more layers to it. It’s basically Arabic or Lebanese food seen through my eyes because of my heritage. They’re mostly dishes from my childhood or from my travels, cookbooks and research.

I’ve realised over the years that Middle Easterners don’t readily accept attempts to modernise their cuisine, so this is a major challenge. You can’t just jump into it and throw molecular cuisine at them because they’d freak out, and I’d freak out too! So I’ve learned to tread gently. I am currently focusing on dishes that I’m so familiar with, and that I know will put a smile on most of the toughest crowds, because they have been accepted.

With your upcoming cookbook focusing on the cuisines of North Africa, could you share some insights into the flavours and ingredients that define this region's culinary landscape?

Greg Malouf: This is a two-year project, like all of my eight cookbooks. The journey begins in Morocco which is more defined and documented with Moorish/Spanish influences. Then onto Algeria, which is very much like Bedouin-based. And then Tunisia, which is influenced by Italy and France. There are common threads throughout each country; however, it's the regular dishes that distinguish the food cultures of each country. I wanted to have a look at it deeply and not to destroy the origin of the dish, but instead make them more accessible and attractive. Wanted to bring them out to 2024 and we’re hoping people would love it and learn from it as much as we are now, doing our research.

The weekend dinner promises a culinary symphony, where two master chefs with different influences collaborate. What can patrons expect from this unique offering, and how do your culinary backgrounds complement each other?

Greg Malouf: Chef Sonu and I are very different in our outlook on our cuisines. My expertise is on modern Middle Eastern cuisine and Chef Sonu has his own style and interesting techniques with Western cuisine. The best part about this collaboration is the challenges I give to his young team and the bolder challenges I get in return.

We’ll be referencing age-old recipes and using modern techniques to create something different, yet familiar for our guests. Everyone who knows me can expect that signature touch of hospitality, familial sharing and artful cooking at the heart of this dining experience, too. I’ll be cooking in the kitchen on both evenings, April 26 and April 27 and will personally interact with everyone.

The Dubai Food Festival celebrates the city's diverse culinary scene. In your opinions, why is it essential to highlight food culture in Dubai, and how does it contribute to the city's allure as a tourist destination?

Greg Malouf: Food serves as a universal social connector, embodying familial and friendship values regardless of geographical location. Around the globe, people gather around tables, sharing meals that bring them together. Dubai's Food Festival celebrates this communal aspect of dining, showcasing the city's rich culinary landscape. By highlighting food culture, Dubai not only celebrates diversity but also enhances its allure as a tourist destination. Visitors are drawn to experience the city's vibrant culinary scene and fostering connections through shared gastronomic experiences.

Sonu Koithara: The UAE is home to over 200 nationalities. Imagine all of that bringing their unique flavours and influences from home – that alone is worth honouring. From street food markets to fine dining establishments, Dubai's culinary landscape caters to every taste and preference, showcasing the city's dynamic spirit and multicultural essence. We’re more than just skyscrapers, and world’s first and biggest. There’s more to learn and love in this city we all call home.

As tastes evolve and food trends change, how do you stay ahead of the curve in adapting your menus to meet the preferences of today's diners while still staying true to your culinary identity?

Greg Malouf: I remain rooted in the cuisine I cherish, leveraging my deep knowledge and passion for it. With eight books under my belt and a ninth on the horizon, I continue to explore the boundless potential within classic Middle Eastern fare. To me, culinary innovation knows no bounds, akin to the realm of dreams—constantly expanding, even when one is awake. As a fervent dreamer, I draw inspiration from childhood memories and my journeys across diverse destinations. My culinary approach marries Middle Eastern traditions with Western techniques, enriching and evolving without compromising its essence. Each dish I create reflects not just a recipe, but a narrative woven from the tapestry of my experiences

Sonu Koithara: Adapting to evolving tastes and food trends while staying true to our culinary identity is a delicate balance that requires constant innovation and creativity. At Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, our menus are thoughtfully curated to reflect seasonal offerings, local flavours, and global influences, ensuring that we cater to the preferences of today's discerning diners.

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