‘The Taste’ comes to the Middle East

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Updated 24 December 2014
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‘The Taste’ comes to the Middle East

Move over Master Chef Australia. The Middle East now has a culinary TV series of its own. The Taste is an American cooking-themed reality show that has gained much popularity since its launch in January last year. The show has its various international versions, in countries such as Canada, France, Columbia, Indonesia, Russia, Spain, China, Australia, Germany and has now arrived in the Middle East. The show is the brainchild of two world renowned chefs Anthony Bourdain, best known for his globetrotting taste show “No Reservations” and British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson. The judges on the original show are Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson (both serve as producers as well), French chef Ludo Lefebve and Brian Malarkey, in addition to award winning Marcus Samuelsson, who joined in the second season.
The show recruits different levels of cooks, from amateur cooks to professionals and guides them through challenges to test their limits. Each season begins with a blind taste testing challenge and each judge is blindfolded to decide how worthy the dish is. If the judge chooses green then the cook joins the judge/mentor’s team, if not, then the contestant is eliminated until there are 20 contestants left, divided into four teams. Each contestant is put to the test and they fight to win the $100,000 prize. The judges play double duty mentoring each contestant. The challenges can vary and are difficult to achieve.
These include ingredients such as leftover vegetables, fish bones, unusual body parts such as cow tongue, and other interesting concepts. One blind spoonful can change everything for a contestant.
The theme differs every week and all 16 contestants must compete in a team and face individual challenges. Each mentor chooses the best dish to be served to a guest judge and the winning team gets a private session with the guest judge. Individual challenges are not observed by their mentor judge and have a time limit of one hour. The judges then taste each of the contestant’s dishes not knowing who’s who and decide which dish tastes best and which must be eliminated. Each cook is to serve a dish within one hour’s time. With each tick of the clock, the contestant is put to the test to be quicker, smarter and more in tune with their instincts for perfecting the challenge at hand.
The Taste will air on Egypt’s Al-Nahar channel. The judges on the show are Egyptian chef Alaa El Shirbini, specializing in authentic Egyptian dishes, and chef Anissa Helou, one of the top Syrian cookbook authors, specializing in Mediterranean, Middle East and North African cuisines, also considered one of the 100 influential females of the Arab World in 2013. There is also famous Lebanese American chef Bethany Kehdy, also an author specializing in Middle East cuisine. And last but not least, the youngest of the judges/mentors, Saudi chef Mona Mosly, a graduate of London’s prestigious Le Cordon Bleu, who trained in one of Saudi Arabia’s most prestigious establishments “Laylaty Group”.
Mona is one of the first Saudi chefs who burst into the Kingdom’s culinary scene. She is the youngest and one of the first official female chefs in the country. The show was looking for a mentor from the Khaleej area and Chef Mona was more than qualified to judge due to her past work experience and training in locations such as Paris’s exclusive “The Plaza Athénée” and Laylaty Group restaurants Toki and Byblos.
“It was quite interesting to participate in the show ... because I’m both female and a Saudi chef. I had a lot to say and my experiences helped in critiquing and advising my team members. I’ve always watched cooking shows growing up and now finally I’m part of one and am judging it too. I had a lot of fun during the show and I learned to let go of my teachings such as the method of cooking, cutting vegetables and so on, and judge according to taste alone. I love to watch and learn from the contestants.”
The Taste offers what no other show does, cooking up dishes from scratch without previous knowledge of what is to come, unfamiliar ingredients and varying methods. The end results are always the test — one spoon for the win. The contestants of the show come from all walks of life, joined by their love for cooking. There are those who are professionally trained, and others who are simply passionate about cooking. They will be put to the test and only one will prevail over others and win the ultimate prize. Stay tuned and watch the first episode of “The Taste” on Al-Nahar channel on Dec. 26, Friday. The show will air every Friday and Saturday evening at 9 p.m in Saudi Arabia.

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Saudi artists draw inspiration from Islam

Updated 4 min 39 sec ago
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Saudi artists draw inspiration from Islam

JEDDAH: The work of Saudi sculptor Wafa Alqunibit is on display in a Jeddah art gallery. A small glass box holds objects that have the appearance, shape and texture of dates. Only they are wrought from metal and glint silver and gold.
Alqunibit concedes that art can sometimes be a taboo subject in Saudi society, but says her work has its place.
“I do this to promote and represent our culture and religion as I belong to a very religious family. We have our freedom and we have open minds and I just wanted to portray this image to the world,” she told Arab News.
Her Instagram feed shows other examples of her art, including sculptures featuring the distinctive ringed and slightly curled horns of the Arabian oryx, and videos of her carving, sanding and sawing using machinery that can be seen in any carpentry or masonry workshop.
But her journey toward the arts — specifically sculpture — has not been straightforward.
“I went to Portland (in the US) to complete my doctorate in human resources. But I ended up changing my major to arts and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and they accepted me as a painter.”
But her professors thought she had different strengths — with one telling her she was born to be a tough person.
“At first I thought he was referring to me as an aggressive person, but later when I started sculpting I found out what he meant.”
She uses her work to communicate with people, especially those who misunderstand Islam, and recalled living in the US at a difficult time for Muslims.
“I took support from the arts, to tell people what we really are and now my artwork is displayed in so many galleries and I have been given the title of religious artist.”
Another artist taking inspiration from culture and religion is 26-year-old author Allaa Awad, who has taken the 99 names of Allah and turned them into poetry.
Her debut work, “Ninety-Nine: The Higher Power,” includes poems about purity, mercy, blessings and peace.
“I have encountered many people in life. They have a negative concept about life and God and I just wanted to turn that around and put my own perceptions of what I think God is, who He really is and how we should perceive Him,” she told Arab News.
She also experienced a struggle in her artistic journey, like Alqunibit did, but in a different way.
“The difficulties that I faced were getting the names on point, because a lot of them are very similar to each other. The best part was how people reacted to it on a spiritual level and how they were able to relate to what I had to say, rather than what online research had to say.”