The celebrity chefs pampering palates in the Gulf

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Sultan’s Steakhouse, Riyadh. (Supplied photo)
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Pierre’s Bistro & Bar, Dubai. (Supplied photo)
Updated 06 June 2019

The celebrity chefs pampering palates in the Gulf

  • Saudi Arabia is joining other Gulf countries in taking the leap into gourmet culture
  • Dubai is attracting a steady stream of celebrity chefs, with other regional cities hot on its heel

RIYADH: Celebrity chef culture seems to be everywhere these days. People are obsessed with big-name restaurants and world-class luxury dining, and Saudi Arabia is no exception.

With at least two Michelin-star chefs opening restaurants in the Kingdom, and yet more making their entry with pop-up outlets and concept restaurants, Saudi Arabia is joining other Gulf countries in taking the leap into gourmet culture.

Several options for upscale dining and premium food are already available in Saudi Arabia, including Asian fusion powerhouse Nozomi, Turkish meat haven Sultan’s Steakhouse, and landmark restaurant The Globe.

Pop-up restaurants, open for a month or so, are a great way for restaurateurs to test the waters for a permanent location.

Three world-class restaurants are already slated to open pop-ups during the upcoming Jeddah Season: Nobu, Signor Sassi and Nusr-Et. 

Open for 45 days and offering a limited menu, the concept will help decide whether or not to open permanent locations in the Kingdom in the future.

Successful pop-ups of international restaurants have already seen success, such as those of Urth Caffe, Nozomi and SALT.

“A huge part of entertainment culture in Saudi Arabia is going out to eat,” Faisal Abdulrahman, an aspiring Saudi chef, told Arab News. 

“People love restaurants here, and they’re willing to pay a lot of money to eat at the right one. Someone call Gordon Ramsay up. I’m sure he’d be right at home here.”

Celebrity chefs are a TV favorite worldwide. Even before TV and the internet raised celebrity chefs to new heights, Emeril Lagasse and Julia Child were dominating the airwaves with their cooking shows in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Food Network is considered one of the most popular and highly rated TV channels in the world. 

In the Middle East, those looking for more localized fare can look to cooking channel Fatafeet (Arabic for “crumbs”), or the cooking segment of MBC’s “Sabah Al-Kheir Ya Arab” (“Good Morning Arabs”).

The craze has continued online: Social media accounts dedicated purely to food are some of the most popular on the internet. 

Take Buzzfeed’s Tasty, which boasts more than 100 million followers across all its social media accounts, or contender Tastemade, with roughly half that number of followers but quickly gaining traction. 

Baby spinach and grilled shrimp (left) and squid pasta at Nobu. (Supplied photos)

Even videos that do not feature actual cooking can go viral. A video of Nusr-Et Steakhouse owner Nusret Gokce sprinkling salt sassily over a steak went viral and netted him the nickname “Salt Bae.”

Chefs who have achieved worldwide fame will often use it to open restaurants, mostly in upscale neighborhoods in wealthy countries and metropolitan cities.

In recent years, Dubai has found itself attracting more and more celebrity chefs, with other cities in the region hot on its heels. 

Kuwait City, Riyadh, Bahrain and Doha have all seen celebrity chefs interested in opening venues.

Dubai has already attracted the likes of Ramsay, Masaharu Morimoto, Alain Ducasse and Thomas Keller.

Riyadh has caught the eye of Noboyuki Matsuhisa, and in Bahrain you can find a restaurant from none other than Wolfgang Puck.

With new restaurants opening all the time, Dubai is quickly becoming an epicure’s dream come true.

Gateau at  Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. (Getty Images)

Ramsay, for example, is a household name. Famous not only for his Michelin-star food (he has 16 stars altogether), he is also well-known for his TV shows such as “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Kitchen Nightmares.” 

The former, an actual restaurant in Las Vegas where the show is filmed, has a second branch in the recently opened Caesars Bluewaters Dubai resort. 

Ramsay has a second restaurant, a branch of his casual eatery Bread Street Kitchen, at the Atlantis resort on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah island.

He has been extremely vocal about his love of Dubai. He was one of the first celebrity chefs to open shop in the Gulf, with Verre at the Hilton Dubai Creek in 2001.

Though Verre has since closed down, his two other restaurants in Dubai keep him coming back often. 

“I fell in love with Dubai 18 years ago when we opened up at the Creek,” he told the Euronews TV channel in April. “It is a foodie city for me, highly competitive, great market.”

Gordon Ramsay plating a beef wellington. (Supplied photo)

Ducasse is another hall-of-famer, with 21 Michelin stars, second only to Joel Robuchon’s 31. Ducasse’s restaurant miX Dubai, at the Emerald Palace Kempinski, spreads over three floors and can seat 400.

Dubai hotels are a favorite location for most celebrity chefs looking to open a restaurant in the city, as few restaurants outside hotels are permitted to sell alcohol. But not all chefs see this as a deterrent.

Restaurant mogul Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, better known by his moniker Nobu, has plans to open one of his world-famous hotels and restaurants in Riyadh. The outlet could become one of the Saudi capital’s hottest spots if the plan materializes.

Arguably the best chef in the world, Keller opened two of his world-famous Bouchon bakeries in Kuwait and one in Dubai in 2017. The bakery has remained in Top 10 restaurant lists in Kuwait. 

The bacon is halal and no alcohol is used in any of the food, proving that the limitations do not affect Keller’s mastery of his craft.

Fine dining in the Middle East is not restricted to restaurants, as Michelin-star chef Gary Rhodes has demonstrated with his luxury cinema dining experience. ThEATre by Rhodes is an upscale dining experience available in VOX cinemas in the UAE, Bahrain and now Saudi Arabia, with a location in Riyadh and more scheduled to open as cinemas open across the Kingdom. 

Featuring plush recliners, a butler service and award-winning food, cinema-goers can skip the normal popcorn and hotdog in favor of foie gras, lamb fritters, knickerbocker glories, and movie-inspired signature mocktails such as the Incredible Hulktini or the Theatre Mojito.

If the Jeddah Season pop-ups are successful enough, more celebrity chefs might be tempted to open shop in Saudi Arabia, or perhaps they will be lured by the new culture of entertainment, tourism and openness.

Or perhaps, as Abdulrahman said, the next celebrity chef to go global will be from Saudi Arabia. 

“Let us see what happens when the planned culinary school opens up here,” he added. “A world-famous Saudi chef — if I really hope for anything, I hope it’ll be me, or at the very least, I hope it happens in my lifetime.”


Lefaucheux revolver ‘Van Gogh killed himself with’ up for auction

Updated 3 min 57 sec ago

Lefaucheux revolver ‘Van Gogh killed himself with’ up for auction

  • Van Gogh experts believe that he shot himself with the gun near the village of Auvers-sur-Oise north of Paris
  • The seven-millimeter Lefaucheux revolver is expected to fetch up to $67,000

PARIS: The revolver with which Vincent van Gogh is believed to have shot himself is to go under the hammer Wednesday at a Paris auction house.
Billed as “the most famous weapon in the history of art,” the seven mm Lefaucheux revolver is expected to fetch up to $67,000 (€60,000).
Van Gogh experts believe that he shot himself with the revolver near the village of Auvers-sur-Oise north of Paris, where he spent the last few months of his life in 1890.
Discovered by a farmer in 1965 in the same field where the troubled Dutch painter is thought to have fatally wounded himself, the gun has already been exhibited at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
While Art Auction, who are selling the gun, say there is no way of being absolutely certain that it is the fatal weapon, tests showed it had been in the ground for 75 years, which would fit.
The Dutch artist had borrowed the gun from the owner of the inn in the village where he was staying.
He died 36 hours later after staggering wounded back to the auberge in the dark.
It was not his first dramatic act of self-harm. Two years earlier in 1888, he cut off his ear before offering it to a woman in a brothel in Arles in the south of France.
While most art historians agree that Van Gogh killed himself, that assumption has been questioned in recent years, with some researchers claiming that the fatal shot may have been fired accidentally by two local boys playing with the weapon in the field.
That theory won fresh support from a new biopic of the artist starring Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate.”
Its director, the renowned American painter Julian Schnabel, said that Van Gogh had painted 75 canvasses in his 80 days at Auvers-sur-Oise and was unlikely to be suicidal.
The legendary French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere — who co-wrote the script with Schnabel — insisted that there “is absolutely no proof he killed himself.
“Do I believe that Van Gogh killed himself? Absolutely not!” he declared when the film was premiered at the Venice film festival last September.
He said Van Gogh painted some of his best work in his final days, including his “Portrait of Dr. Gachet,” the local doctor who later tried to save his life.
It set a world record when it sold for $82.5 million in 1990.
The bullet Dr. Gachet extracted from Van Gogh’s chest was the same caliber as the one used by the Lefaucheux revolver.
“Van Gogh was working constantly. Every day he made a new work. He was not at all sad,” Carriere argued.
In the film the gun goes off after the two young boys, who were brothers, got into a struggle with the bohemian stranger.
Auction Art said that the farmer who found the gun in 1965 gave it to the owners of the inn at Auvers-sur-Oise, whose family are now selling it.
“Technical tests on the weapon have shown the weapon was used and indicate that it stayed in the ground for a period that would coincide with 1890,” it said.
“All these clues give credence to the theory that this is the weapon used in the suicide.”
That did not exclude, the auction house added, that the gun could also have been hidden or abandoned by the two young brothers in the field.
The auction comes as crowds are flocking to an immersive Van Gogh exhibition in the French capital which allows “the audience to enter his landscapes” through projections on the gallery’s walls, ceilings and floors.
“Van Gogh, Starry Night” runs at the Atelier des Lumieres in the east of the city until December.