Gourmet Abu Dhabi is back and this year’s event promised to deliver more than ever before thanks to the star presence of celebrity chef James Martin.

The Briton headlined the 16-day culinary festival, which kicked off on February 2, by hosting a  ‘for-one-night only’ celebrity dinner at the Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi Yas Island.

The exclusive dinner saw Martin prepare his internationally renowned British fare, combining traditional ingredients and cooking techniques with a modern twist, for up to 250 guests.

Martin, 37, star of popular UK television shows such as Saturday Kitchen which is aired in the UAE, also conducted a free masterclass teaching guests dishes they can recreate at home.

Martin, who burst onto the British culinary scene in the 1990s after his talents were spotted by fellow celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson, is just one name among 13 international masterchefs with 22 Michelin stars between them who attended the third year of this prestigious culinary festival.

Khaleejesque caught up with the star chef for an exclusive interview:

• What do you think of the UAE dining scene?

I first visited eight years ago and there were a few restaurants around but not to the extent there is now. It seems every three months you need to come back to see what’s new. It’s certainly one of the fastest moving places I have ever been to. There are many reasons why I keep coming back – the time difference suits me, the climate is really lovely and the people are very friendly and hard working.

• How do you think Gourmet Abu Dhabi has contributed to the phenomenal growth of the UAE’s dining industry?

Well it’s great to have a celebration of something that is so close to everyone’s heart. Food is such an important part of life and culture and having a food festival such as Gourmet Abu Dhabi is something in the calendar that cements that. It attracts chefs from all over the world and stimulates creativity and business ideas within the region. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what Abu Dhabi has to offer, as I was last there over a year ago.

• Would you consider opening a restaurant here yourself? You have said in the past you may consider Abu Dhabi as a location – why is that?

It is certainly something I would consider as Abu Dhabi is a combination of accessibility, hard working and well trained staff and an international demographic who appreciate good food.

• What is the attraction of working here for international chefs such as you?

Accessibility, great location, good teams of well-trained staff – I suppose the weather helps too! Can’t help but put a smile on your face as you step off the plane.

• How, in your opinion, has the UAE been able to market itself as an international dining destination?

I think the great thing about the UAE is the speed with which it develops; we’ve certainly noticed this in the UK – the increase in the quality of chefs and food in the UAE. I do believe that everywhere is playing catch–up to Japan. Not only do they have amazing history, experience and ingredients, their knowledge of what to do with it is amazing. It’s great we’re all moving in the right direction and people are really celebrating the joy of eating great food, which in turn brings respect to an industry that people used to look on very differently.

• A number of star names such as Gordon Ramsay have opened eateries in the UAE, but what is the difference between a celebrity chef and a well-renowned chef with an international reputation?

You can have both; the two terms aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. I hate the word celebrity chef – I see myself as a chef who just happens to be cooking on TV. When the whole thing dies down and the TV cameras look for the new smooth baby-faced chef I will be fine as I’m at my happiest in the kitchen.

• Why is it beneficial for a hotel to be linked with a celebrity chef?

I think it’s vastly important for hotels to look at new avenues in terms of dining and certainly a well-known chef can speed up the process in terms of attracting bookings and a new clientele, which in turn has a very beneficial effect on the hotel.

– Alice Haine. Image: jamesmartin.co.uk

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