Dubai was fascinatingly different and not as surreal and cultureless as one might imagine. The architecture was stunning and street food very good and amazing value. Steering clear of the hotels and keeping to the street markets and back streets we found great grilled foods and home made falaffel & humous. We stayed in Sharjah next to Diera, of course the two dry states – as true francophiles we sorely missed a glass of wine with our meals, feeling the DT’s we polished off a bottle of rosé hours after our return!
There were many old friends working in Dubai from the UK but few stayed more than a year. Tourism and business is well facilitated but the traffic infastructure is already struggling with travel only possible by car. The pollution is appalling and there are just no pavements to walk around…….I have never seen so many Hummers in such a small space of time.
I only wished UK builders would work as fast – we overlooked a highway being built and as you might have guessed by the time we left it was completed and open.
The ski dome was incredible, I am scared to think of the environmental consequences but the snow was amazing and you had to touch it to believe it. But with no sun you had to limit this perfect skiing to just a few hours, but to ski in Dubai was an amazing experience.
London at 7.15 am found the Danciger family in the garden making a snowman helped by Romain & Gaulthier, kids of Pascaline & Yannick visiting us from the Reunion Island. Pascaline was one of our early managers in the Café Rouge days and Yannick was the chef at the legendary Bouchon Bordelais. Yannick after opening a couple of restaurants in this French island close to Mauritius took a year off to study plants & chemistry and has now developed a range of culinary oils that are revolutionary to the industry. (more on that story later)
Croissants in hand the entourage continued their snowball fights on the way to the bus stop where after a 30 minute ride we watched the melting snow before departing into three groups heading to school, work and tourists.
For me a breakfast supplier meeting was followed by a visit to the Bibendum annual tasting a unique and friendly affair and seriously well thought out tasting areas with some great wines and producers. A trip to our head office for a meeting with my vanishing chairman was followed by a tour of some fab restaurants.
That evening in our local gastro pub found Yannick on his knees proposing to Pascaline (after more than 10 years together) with the ring sitting in her dessert.
Later that night in the former home of our snowman we lit a fire, opened a vintage bottle of Bollinger, lit some cigars and looked at the immaculately clear blue skies. A typical day in the ‘small’ brother household.
Better than Santa Claus; Pére Lalande (Papy) visits us with Mamie from Perpignan in the South of France.
Papy comes bundled with presents from his garden and surrounding countryside. In true seasonality we received clementines from ‘le voisin’, noisettes from the local square and Cépes mushrooms from a secret location in a nearby forest.
A kilo jar (bocale) of dried trompettes de la mort was awesome. These little black mushrooms unfortunately called in English ‘trumpets of the dead’ dried by the tramontane wind and hot languedoc sun are simply delicious. They are earmarked with a cream sauce for Christmas day to go with the turkey!
We also received a jar of fig jam from his garden, some olives from his grove and hand prepared anchovies salted and kept in olive oil ~ a hard job to do filleting those little fish, a true labour of love.
The cheeses (camembert, reblochon, roquefort, crotin and gruyere) from the local fromagerie and he had made some rillette paté that he made using just pork, pork fat and salt & pepper; not an e-number in site!
Of course every visit has the humble sauccisson and lemons from his tree’s.
A true gastranomic Santa and perfectly timed to enjoy during the festive season.
á la prochain fois Papy et joyeuse noel………….
I was asked to chair the FDA’s recent conference in Birmingham on food provenance recently which was a pleasure since its a subject matter very close to my heart.
I chewed the fat on stage about provenance, sustainable fishing, the Jamie Oliver school effect, catering colleges and the state of food in Britain with michelin starred chef Nigel Haworth from Northcote Manor who was a bright and focused chappie who certainly knew his onions! It was obvious Nigel was ‘hands on’ and a true ambassadorial asset to the industry.
Another star of the show was James Kightley of the explodingly successful soil association. James who is a committed enviromentalist like myself is doing wonders with this charity bringing some focus to the on trade that the retailers have been enjoying. Doesn’t just everybody have a waitrose (+ sainsbury’s) free organic bag!
There were airport caterers, ocean cruisers, retailers (supermarkets in plain speak) and a range of restaurateurs and publicans. It was fascinating to see the fast osmosis of caterers between the different large on-trade groups – that must keep the suppliers on roller skates and suitably amused.
I enjoyed meeting Michael Michaud of ‘Peppers by post’ who enthused about his capiscums. Equally entertaining were food historians Mike Smylie (The Kipperman) and Simon Cooper (Court of the Silver King) who were soliciting the virtues of the humble herring and salmon in their own travelling museum along with a pantomine presentation as rich as the omega oil in their fish.
There was a veritable feast of produce and friendly faces (a few not so!) elequently organised by publishers dewberry redpoint.
Biggest smile of the day came from John Feeney (a larger version of me if you can imagine that) and the equally oversized (what do they eat up north?) David Grainger the chairman of FDA.
Those who partied into the night would have sampled celebrity chef Paul Merril and Food from Britains regional menu. I was impressed by the Tenterdon pinot noir that was tasting very well and would give most Burgundian wine makers a run for their money. Perhaps they should follow the champegnois who are busily buying up thousands of hectares in our warming southern part of the country.
If you see a FDA conference advertised in the future – go. It was worth the 100+ mile drive for me.