Billed as the first in the Mideast, truffle auction raises over $17,000 for charity

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White truffles from Alba are one of the rarest, most prized — and most expensive — things in the world of gastronomy. (Shutterstock)
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Truffles are pictured before the international auction for truffles at the Grinzane Castle in Grinzane Cavour near Alba, northwestern Italy. (Reuters)
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Truffles are pictured before the international auction for truffles at the Grinzane Castle in Grinzane Cavour near Alba, northwestern Italy. (Reuters)
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Italian chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo holds a set of truffles weighing 850 grams during the international auction for truffles at the Grinzane Castle in Grinzane Cavour near Alba, Italy. (Reuters)
Updated 15 November 2017
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Billed as the first in the Mideast, truffle auction raises over $17,000 for charity

DUBAI: White truffles from Alba are one of the rarest, most prized — and most expensive — things in the world of gastronomy. The annual charity auction in Alba, where they come from, is an 18-year-old tradition that was brought to the Middle East for the first time earlier this week.
An initiative of the Italian Restaurant Consulting Group, the Middle East edition of the World Alba White Truffle Auction aimed to put the region on the global culinary map, while contributing to a cause.
Historically, the auction has been held at Grinzane Castle in Alba, Italy — the home of the hyper-seasonal mushroom — and has only traveled to Hong Kong and Philadelphia in previous years. This year, the event was held simultaneously in three locations, Alba, Hong Kong and Dubai, with all three locations connected through satellite.
“We succeeded in bringing this auction here because we believe we have the right kind of people here, who are willing to spend for a cause, and also, there’s a good understanding of what truffles are, and their value,” said Aira Piva, general manager of Italian Restaurant Consulting.
Three truffles were auctioned off in Dubai n Nov 12 to an exclusive invitee-only audience of VIPs from across the GCC. The winning bidders not only get to own their own mushroom, but they also get a bespoke dinner in Dubai’s top restaurants, including Gary Rhodes’ Rhodes W1. The truffles, which started from a weight of 200 grams, were sold for AED 19,000 ($5172), AED 21,000, and AED 25,000 each.
All the proceeds from the Dubai auction go toward the Al Jalila Foundation, a non-profit established by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, which plans to use the resources toward research of childhood diabetes and their “Road to awareness” campaign.
The showstopper of the evening was a rare signature truffle, weighing 450g, which was auctioned across all three locations in a simulcast, with the winning bid being taken out by Hong Kong for the second year in a row. While it was hoped that Dubai would break the world record this year, it was pipped to the post by Hong Kong, which held on to its distinction of being home to the highest bidder who bought the truffle for €75,000 ($88,443)
As Piva summed up, “truffles are very ephemeral, they are just about pleasure when you eat. Using it for charity adds a new level, gives it substantial meaning — to take something that is usually used for pure enjoyment, to help save a life.”
What is a truffle?
Truffles are particular kind of subterranean mushroom, usually found close to tree roots. The Ascomycete fungus is a species of tuber, and there are two kinds used in gastronomy – black and white. White truffles (or Tuber magnatum) are the rarer variety which cannot be farmed or manufactured, and are only found during a very short season between October and November, mainly in the Piedmont region of Italy.
According to Massimo Vidono, the go-to person for chefs and restaurants across the region when sourcing truffles, “truffles are a true gift of Mother Nature. You have to look for them, using specially trained dogs or pigs — some seasons you find lots, some seasons you don’t. That’s what makes them so special.”
Their unique flavor and aroma can only be described as umami and is available in high-end Italian and contemporary fusion restaurants as a seasonal menu item – with high price tags to match.


Recent appointments in Egypt show rise of women to high political office in Mideast

The appointment of the women ministers may help to assuage disappointment about the make-up of the rest of the — all male — Cabinet.
Updated 21 June 2018
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Recent appointments in Egypt show rise of women to high political office in Mideast

  • Recent appointments in Egypt are the latest example of the rise of women to high political office in the region
  • “The men’s monopoly has been broken,” the Jordanian National Commission for Women declared in a celebratory statement which also praised the prime minister’s “clear position”

CAIRO, LONDON: The appointment of two more female ministers this month to the new Egyptian Cabinet means women now fill eight out of 34 positions, the highest number in the modern history of Egypt.

Hala Zayed is the new health minister while Yasmine Fouad takes over as environment minister. Both women replaced men and join culture minister Inas Abdel-Dayem, tourism minister Rania Al-Mashat, Nabila Makram (immigration minister) Ghada Wali (social solidarity minister), Hala El-Saeed (planning minister) and Sahar Nasr (minister of investment and international cooperation).
The appointments by Egypt’s new Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly have been welcomed as forward thinking by social and political commentators.
Dr. Magda Bagnied, a writer and professor of communication, told Arab News: “I believe whoever planned for those eight effective ministries was looking forward for the future of Egypt since they are all interconnected in some way, and having females leading them is a leap forward.
“A country’s rank and status is measured by the role of women. The higher the number of leadership roles for women, the further the country is considered to be on the road to development.”
Four out of 15 new deputy ministers are also women and women now hold 15 percent of the seats in Parliament.
The rise of women to high political office in the Arab world is by no means restricted to Egypt.
Jordan also has a record number of women ministers after Prime Minister-designate Omar Razzaz appointed seven women to the 29-member Cabinet sworn in last week.
“The men’s monopoly has been broken,” the Jordanian National Commission for Women declared in a celebratory statement which also praised the prime minister’s “clear position.”
The appointment of the women ministers may help to assuage disappointment about the make-up of the rest of the — all male — Cabinet.
Twenty-three members of the new Jordanian Cabinet have been ministers before and 13 were members of the outgoing government that was brought down by popular protest.
Rawan Joyoussi, whose posters became one of the defining images of the protests, said: “I was hoping that women would be empowered and I am happy with that. But as far as the composition of the rest of the government is concerned, I think we have to play our part to create the mechanisms that will hold the government accountable.”
In the UAE, women hold nine out of 31 ministerial positions, and one of them, Minister for Youth Shamma Al-Mazrui, is also the world’s youngest minister, appointed in 2016 when she was only 22.
This makes the UAE Cabinet nearly 30 percent female, which is higher than India, almost equal to the UK and far ahead of the US, where Donald Trump has just four women in his Cabinet.
The general election in Morocco in October 2016 produced 81 women members of Parliament, accounting for 21 percent of the total 395 seats. The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), which won the most votes, also ended up with the highest number of women MPs, 18.
Though elections in Saudi Arabia were open to women only in 2015, it ranks 100th out of 193rd in the world league table of women in national governing bodies, slightly above the US at 102nd place.
A policy briefing from the Brookings Institution think-tank in Washington says that one of the best ways for a country to ease economic pressure and boost productivity is to increase female participation in the workplace and in political life.
“Introducing diversity through gender parity will benefit economic growth and can help Arab countries to generate prosperity as well as the normative and social imperative of change,” wrote analyst Bessma Momani.
Yet in some parts of the Middle East, female representation seems to be going backward.
In 2009, four of Kuwait’s 65 MPs were women. In 2012 there were three and in 2013 only one. In 2016, 15 women stood for election to the 50 open parliamentary seats (the other 15 are appointed). Only one, Safa Al-Hashem, who was already an MP, was successful.
Qatar has no women MPs or ministers at all.
Egypt’s appointment of two more women ministers does not have the appearance of tokenism. The new Health Minister, Hala Zayed, 51, has a solid background in the field as a former president of the Academy of Health Sciences, a hospital specializing in cancer treatment for children.
She was also government adviser on health, chairwoman of a committee for combating corruption at the ministry she now heads and also has a Ph.d. in project management.
Similarly, Yasmeen Fouad, 43, the new environment minister, has four years’ experience as a former assistant minister in the same department, where she was known as “the lady for difficult missions,” and liaised with the UN. She is also an assistant professor of economics and political science at Cairo University.
Egypt’s first female minister was Hikmat Abu Zaid, appointed minister of social affairs in 1962 by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who dubbed her “the merciful heart of revolution.”
Now there are eight like her, demonstrating that in the Middle East, “girl power” is on the rise.