‘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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Pakistan injects Rs. 17bn to keep crashing airlines afloat

Updated 50 sec ago
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Pakistan injects Rs. 17bn to keep crashing airlines afloat

  • Continuing liquidity crisis in Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) may lead to grounding of the fleet
  • Rs 17 billion bailout package will keep PIA afloat only for another two months

ISLAMABAD: The semi-state-owned Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was approved Rs. 17.02 billion by the government in the form of “sovereign guarantees” and other financial aid — a second bailout in the space of six months, the PIA spokesperson confirmed to Arab News on Tuesday.
PIA, a profitable airline which became a burden on the country’s already stressed exchequer, has been dying a slow death for years.
“The government did agree to park the interest till we get some respite,” but since the approved document has not been shared with the airline management, Mashood Tajwar, the struggling carrier’s general manager and official spokesman, was unable to provide further details.
PIA had amassed a colossal debt of $3.33 billion (Rs. 406 billion) up from last year’s $2.92 billion in July, and the fresh bailout from the economic coordination committee headed by Finance Minister Asad Umar is part of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s plan to attempt nursing the airline back to health before considering privatization. Khan also holds the ministerial portfolio for aviation division.
The outgoing government tried to privatize the airline but met legal hitches and criticism over its attempt to sell what once was a national asset and pride of the country.
The national flag carrier has a new chief executive and president appointed by the premier. Umar is optimistic that under the “energetic and enthusiastic” retired air marshal Arshad Malik, PIA will “experience a turnaround.”
Tajwar clarified that the latest injection or “support” is not necessarily all bailout. He told Arab News that the approval empowers the airline to “borrow from banks” against guarantees from the Ministry of finance. Of the Rs.17.02 billion, Rs.10 billion is sovereign guarantee and a further Rs. 40.8 billion has been allocated in the form of cash for PIA by the ministry.
However, continuous foreign loans taken by the airline have added to its woes and made its situation worse. PIA immediately owes $125.84 million to foreign lenders.The sharp decline of Pakistan’s currency has made debt servicing harder and devaluation further affected the previous financial support package by the government.
In May, the apex court objected and barred the airline from changing livery on its planes to the country’s national animal, the Markhor (the screw horn goat), part of its rebranding and repositioning strategy. The decision resulted in further loss to PIA.
The airline has suffered through operating financially unsustainable routes, grounding of aircraft because of technical problems, overstaffing, incompetent employees, union strikes, inadequate fleet, and wrong strategies. The open sky policy of the government allowed foreign airlines to take a large chunk of PIA’s business, further driving the struggling carrier into the ground.
The airline competition is so fierce that it would take several years before signs of a break even surface, said the spokesperson. PIA is in dire need of strategic planning and quick revenue generation if its management hopes to ward off privatization in the future by the government which is currently optimistic it can help to resurrect it.
But aviation Industry expert Tahir Imran told Arab News that when the airline witnessed a decline in its losses some years ago, it made the fatal decision to increase its passenger capacity by inducting larger aircrafts instead of enhancing its flight frequency by purchasing smaller more efficient and economical aircrafts. This, he said was the final nail in PIA’s coffin.