Taste of Dubai 2012 was, surprisingly, the first-ever Taste of Dubai I've been to. This despite the fact that for two years I worked directly above the venue, peering down at all the people gorging their hearts out while I feverishly marked up page proofs and listened to my cranky printer drown the music floating up from what looked like a really fun food festival.
So I was quite excited at the idea of going this year. After a couple of hours of wandering around nibbling on dishes and desserts from Nobu, Gaucho, Toro Toro and Table 9 (check out the gallery below) and catching most of a cooking demo with Aldo Zilli, it was turning out to be a pretty pleasant evening.
That was until I saw Taste of Dubai's favourite celebrity chef - Gary Rhodes.
Surrounded by happy-snappy fans, Gary Rhodes was having animated discussions with the people milling around, posing for pictures, being the perfect host at his rather large stand. But sadly, Gary Rhodes was not on my list of must-tries at Taste of Dubai. And it had nothing to do with his food.
I need to backtrack a little. As someone who respects chefs, professionally I guess I respect GR (I'm abbreviating his name as Gary seems a little too familiar and Mr Rhodes... well that's not happening on this blog). He has done pretty well for himself and done well for British food. I've had a meal at Rhodes Mezzanine - his white tomato soup was clever and tasty, his pork belly crackin' (literally - the
skin was perfect!), his jam roly-poly left me pleasantly stuffed. There was probably a point in time when I was actually a fan.
Then came the infamous Rhodes Across India series - probably the only travel food show that has ever made me want to write a stinker of a letter to a TV channel. I never got round to it because I didn't trust myself to write one soon after watching any episode, they always got me so riled up. But time - as any chef would know - cools hot liquids. And so, with my blood no longer boiling I thought it safe to pen a post to GR to just get this off my chest. So here goes...
Dear Gary Rhodes
Ok, I'll admit, the abbreviation was extra petty so I've given up on it :)
There's no doubt being a chef is probably one of the hardest jobs on earth. It involves long hours, requires encyclopaedic knowledge and exists in a super competitive, high-performance and fickle industry - every dish you put out is a test of your capability... and your reputation. Which is why, as I said earlier, I respect the profession.
It's probably also why I found Rhodes Across India so aggravating. Because at the end of the day, it was disrespectful . Disrespectful to the chefs who took the time to teach you some of their favourite dishes and disrespectful to the culture that shaped their recipes.
As a chef, you more than anyone should know that the food of a country is shaped by everyday life in it - the methodology, the techniques and - obviously a sticking point for you - the amount of ingredients used in a particular dish are the way they are because that's how they work best!!
(Ok, breathe. Mentally delete the use of excess exclamation marks. And
Do you really think you came out looking like the more knowledgeable chef when you kept asking your hosts "Are you sure you want to add so much [insert random spice/herb/cooking grease here]?" or "Won't cutting the chicken make it lose its moisture?" or worse, being patronising and carrying out their instructions, then immediately following them with a smug aside to the camera along the lines of "if I had to do it I would do it differently, and of course better!"
Umm, if there was any doubt, no you didn't come off looking good.
Rhodes Across India, ironically - given the reason you did it was to learn to cook an Indian feast to celebrate India's independence from the British - just exemplified all the worst aspects of the white-is-right mentality.
As a chef, you should have done better. Yours is probably one of the most fascinating professions out there precisely because there's always so much more to learn. And since you were lucky enough to have reached a stage in your career to be handed these excellent learning opportunities on a silver platter, it's a shame you wasted them.
I've not seen the Rhodes Across Italy series but heard it was a vast improvement. I did watch a bit of Rhodes Across China and was relieved to see that the criticism, condescension and (the most annoying part) the constant questioning of the amount of ingredients used was more restrained. Apparently the Caribbean series has its cringeworthy moments... I haven't watched it and I'm not sure if I want to... which is a shame as I'd love to know more about Caribbean food.
Anyway, I've tried to keep this in the spirit of an open letter - opinionated maybe, but fair? I think so. An opinion fairly widely shared by those who have seen the series, at the very least.
Anyway, I'm afraid I wasn't really up to smiling and getting my picture taken with you at this Taste of Dubai Gary Rhodes. Maybe next time, just for the heck of it. (And let's face it, a picture like that accompanying this post could be seen as a stab in the back. And I guess with all the fancy knives lying in your kitchen, I'll stay clear of a knife-fight.)
I'm sure there's a good Rhodes/detour-inspired pun I'm missing here but to move back to the rest of the evening, here are my top nibbles from Taste of Dubai 2012 in picture form. Enjoy!
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