Fancy a food-filled holiday? Try designer dining in the Maldives

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Tom Kitchin worked closely with chefs at the resort.
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Kitchin is a Scottish celebrity chef known around the world.
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Kitchin's culinary creations are a feast for the eyes.
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The resort is as breathtaking as the food.
Updated 28 November 2017
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Fancy a food-filled holiday? Try designer dining in the Maldives

BODU HITHI, The Maldives: A gentle breeze blew past as we huddled around our communal dining table while the waters gently lapped against the support pillars of the boardwalk restaurant we were in under a starlit sky. The conversation flowed easily, even if it was among strangers, as is wont to happen in such an idyllic setting, especially when accompanied by good food.
And the food we were indulging in was very good, to say the least. That was not surprising considering it was created by Tom Kitchin, the acclaimed chef running successful Michelin-starred restaurants in Scotland, who was responsible for this pop-up dinner experience at five-star luxury resort Coco Bodu Hithi.
You would not have guessed he had just landed a day prior, and apparently headed straight into the kitchen from the welcome pier after the long flight and speedboat transfer. “I always like to drop myself into different cultures and places and see how things work. It’s nice to take yourself out of your own comfort zone as a chef,” he said, explaining the genesis of the pop-up during a chat the next day.
Living up to his reputation for serving “honest food,” each dish in the four-course set menu was packed solid flavors, even if it looked like Michelin star-worthy art on a plate. A light starter of heritage tomato salad topped with poached langoustine and served with a delicate but delightful tomato consommé proved a worthy start to a meal in which Kitchin’s signature approach of letting the ingredients do all the talking was obvious.
When asked about how he translates his culinary style from Scotland to a Maldivian island, he explained: “It’s about keeping it lighter and fresher. I’m using a lot more olive oil, for example, and just cooking to the climate. I’m bringing the techniques that I normally use and combining it with the produce from here.”
This was evident in the second course, a fillet of John Dory served with courgette flowers and stuffed aubergine, and drizzled over with a light curry sauce, which added a local twist. “When I came here, I literally just went into the walk-in fridge, looked at what was available and tweaked the menu accordingly,” he revealed.
Even the main course of rack of lamb was given a Mediterranean inflection with its accompaniments of artichoke, tomatoes, olives and garlic. But the dessert course is where island ingredients really shone, in a nostalgia-tinged coconut ice cream sandwich perfectly complemented by tropical fruits served in the style of retro melon balls, with a garnish of sliced fresh coconut and candied pineapple adding that gourmet touch.
While curly-haired Kitchin may not be around on the island to cook these delicacies himself beyond the two-day pop-up, the good news is these signature dishes remain on the menu at fine dining restaurant Aqua, with the local kitchen team stepping up to cook the dishes.
In fact, being able to participate in this knowledge-sharing was one of the highlights for Kitchin. “For me, it was really rewarding to see the guys in the kitchen embrace what I was trying to do… They were so enthusiastic, taking notes, taking pictures, looking things up online,” he said. “In your professional life, when you’re able to start inspiring people, that’s one of the most beautiful things.”
Lucky for guests that the kitchen team lapped up the opportunity to cook with an award-winning chef as going forward, the resort will continue to offer more gourmet experiences. Whether it is celebrity chef pop-ups — Kitchin may be returning to source a richer variety of local produce — or culinary master classes, it is all part of the luxury all-villa property’s ongoing mission to bring Michelin-star chefs and next-level fine dining to the island.
According to Antony Paton, group general manager of Coco Collection Resorts, of which Coco Bodu Hithi is a part, “it’s all about experiences now. Of course people love to do things like seeing local islands, going fishing and so on, but they get excited about something different (such as) seeing a celebrity. So to get someone like (Kitchin) to come here and come up with these unusual dishes is great, as food is so important in a place like this.”
Kitchin agrees, saying: “Customers who come to a destination like the Maldives usually pay a lot of money for a luxury experience, and hotels are realizing they have to offer different things to add to the experience. I definitely think this is becoming more of a trend these days.”
The Maldives, with its cerulean seas and powder white beaches, needs little to sell itself further, especially when its natural beauty is perfectly complemented by resorts such as these, featuring luxurious accommodation in contemporary pool villas that maximize those unbeatable views, a plethora of activities that make the most of the setting, and personalized service.
With gastronomy as an essential part of the mix in a luxury destination such as this, Coco Bodu Hithi ensures that no gourmand is disappointed, even when no celeb chefs are at hand, with its offerings of modern Mediterranean haute cuisine at over-water restaurant Stars, fresh sushi and sashimi at Tsuki, and elegant seafood at Aqua.
So yes, you might come to the Maldives for the incomparably idyllic setting, but in the case of Coco Bodu Hithi at least, you may well end up staying for the epicurean experiences.
Prices for villas at Coco Bodu Hithi range from about US$950 to US$2,400, depending on size and season. The resort is located in the Male Atoll, a 40-minute speedboat ride from the airport. Visit www.cococollection.com for more information.

 


Ramadan offers ‘golden opportunity’ to get in shape, say Saudi fitness experts

The holy month of Ramadan is the perfect time to get into shape. Photos show clockwise from top: Sohaib Mubarak, Rayan Bashawri, Mashael Fagerah and Reham Kamal. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 43 min 3 sec ago
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Ramadan offers ‘golden opportunity’ to get in shape, say Saudi fitness experts

  • Many Muslims take advantage of the holy month of fasting to keep fit
  • For fat burning, it is better to work out an hour before breaking fast, since the insulin level is low, but for building lean, toned muscles, it is better to work out two hours after breaking fast because the insulin level is high

JEDDAH: Saudi fitness experts have urged Muslims to use Ramadan as a “golden opportunity” to start a new healthy lifestyle.
The holy month of fasting is the perfect time to get into shape, say some of the Kingdom’s top trainers.
With regular exercise, Ramadan can offer a new start for many worshippers both spiritually and physically. RK Fit gym owner, Reham Kamal, told Arab News that working out while fasting was healthy because the body used stored fat as energy, resulting in more fat burning.
The 32-year-old Saudi coach recommended low- to medium-impact workouts while fasting to avoid dehydration and advised trying calisthenics, a form of exercise consisting of a variety of movements which work large muscle groups, such as running, standing, grasping and pushing.
Kamal said: “Ramadan is a great opportunity to lose weight. We shouldn’t eat too much when breaking our fast. Sadly, in our culture, people take this month as an opportunity to fill the table.
“They aren’t seeing the golden opportunity to get into shape, because fasting has numerous health benefits, not only weight loss. It promotes blood-sugar control by reducing insulin resistance, increases growth hormone secretion, which is vital for growth, metabolism, weight loss and muscle strength, and aids weight loss by limiting calorie intake and boosting metabolism.
“For fat burning, it is better to work out an hour before breaking your fast, since the insulin level is low, but for building lean, toned muscles, it is better to work out two hours after breaking fast because the insulin level is high,” she added.

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The holy month of Ramadan is a new start for many, both spiritually and physically.

Exercising while fasting has benefits: It promotes blood sugar control by reducing insulin resistance, increases growth hormone secretion which is vital for growth, metabolism, weight loss and muscle strength, and aids weight loss by limiting calorie intake and boosting metabolism.

Mashael Fagerah, 35, owner of House of Agility, a studio offering high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and circuit training, said: “You can do everything you normally do during fasting especially if you are used to working out. But if you are a beginner, I would recommend starting carefully with low-impact training.”
She told Arab News that many Muslims took advantage of Ramadan to keep fit.
“Whether before iftar, before sahoor or between them, if you have the time for a workout just do it,” added Fagerah. “At the end of the day, it is better than doing nothing.”
Saudi personal trainer and co-founder of Swish bootcamp, Sohaib Mubarak, 29, said it was important to choose the right kind of fitness regime. “When you haven’t had anything to drink or eat your body is low in fuel and dehydrated. Therefore, performing high-intensity training would harm your body and your health.
“Also, studies show that the difference in results is insignificant between exercising in a fasted or a fed state,” he added. 
Mubarak recommended low-intensity cardio for a short period of time. “That is 60 percent to 70 percent of maximum heart rate. By doing that you won’t sweat much and get dehydrated.”
He said people often wrongly related not eating to weight loss, when infact they should focus more on maintaining a healthy lifestyle rather than watching the weighing scales.
“In my opinion Ramadan is like any other month, because losing weight and having a good shape is about changing your eating habits and lifestyle for life not only for one month. One month is not enough to create a tremendous transformation. It’s all about consistency,” Mubarak told Arab News.
Saudi fitness trainer and owner of B. Bros gym, Rayan Bashawri, 27, stressed the importance of listening to the body’s needs and capabilities.
“So many studies have been done about fasted training or training on an empty stomach, and it shows different thoughts depending on what kind of athlete you are or what kind of sport you are doing.
“But my opinion is to listen to your body and do what feels right for you. It’s not healthier to do fasted training but it’s not bad for you either. You can reach your goal either way,” he told Arab News.
The number of people taking out gym subscriptions often shoots up during Ramadan.
Bashawri said: “Right after Ramadan is the time when people travel, and it’s a beach season as well, so obviously everyone wants to look good. The ages of those hitting the gym at this time of the year are from 18-30.”
Fasting was a great opportunity to lose weight, but Bashawri noted that staying up late and sleeping during the day was not ideal. He also warned people not to over-exert themselves if exercising during fasting as it could cause injury and dehydration.