So you want to learn how to make beautiful pasta and craft incredible Middle Eastern treats? (While eating too?)
Dubai has a host of fresh culinary ‘schools’ where you can take a cooking class to enhance your kitchen skills. The What’s On team test some of the best.
01. Solo Italian Restaurant & Bar
The class: When it comes to flexing muscle in the kitchen, this writer is usually pretty content swiping ‘order’ on Deliveroo. Luckily, the Italian cooking course at Raffles’ brilliant restaurant Solo is set up perfectly for lazy cooks. Head chef and teacher Doxis Bekris takes care of a few steps in the process, such as preparing the quantities and laying out utensils required for the first dish. Working in pairs at gas stoves, the chef demonstrates each stage of the recipe sharing simple knife skills such as how to slice garlic, and how to create the perfect crispy chicken skin. We finish off the two-hour lesson with a sophisticated, and very grown up, meal together in the restaurant.
The chef: The co-author of several cook books including Famously Mediterranean, Doxis is as talented as he is passionate about teaching aspiring chefs the secrets of his trade. “I’m not here to show students over-the-top dishes,” he says. “I’m here to help you make delicious yet simple Italian dishes that you can make easily at home.” It’s his down to earth demeanor and his hilarious kitchen stories that make learning here fun.
Donned with a chefs apron, the Solo team demonstrates how to cook an impressive three-course Italian menu. On the agenda today: creamy squash risotto with Parmesan; pan-roasted chicken with sage jus; and for dessert, a tasty twist on apple pie that’s as easy as, erm, pie, to make.
The verdict: Solo may be the destination for foodies, but anyone interested in Italian cooking should try a class here.
Raffles Dubai, Dubai, Sat 11.30am to 2pm, Dhs300 with soft drinks (minimum of four people need to be booked in). Tel: (04) 3149720. Taxi: Raffles Dubai. solodubai.ae
02. 1762 Stripped
The class: 1762’s new spot in JLT has a new food lab offering special cooking classes. For our intimate session, we’re told that we’ll be making all of our three-course meal the “correct” Levantine way.
The chef: Jordanian Maisa’a Meqdadi was a civil engineer until four years ago, and is now a professionally trained chef. Maisa’a first got into teaching classes after hosting friends for makeshift cooking tutorials and still hosts cooking classes at her own home. She’s incredibly knowledgeable, with a skill for precision-based cooking, but the patience and personality to entertain you with Arabic myths to accompany a dish.
The food: First up, fattoush. Chef Maisa’a has us dicing capsicum, radishes and mint like we always knew they were supposed to go in. Then we began creating a beautiful dressing out of pomegranate molasses, lemon juice and garlic. The baked kibbeh was mixed with cracked wheat kneaded so thoroughly we should have forgone the gym that morning, and was peppered with oriental seven-spice mix and pine nuts. But suckers for anything doused in cream, our favourite was the umm ali – a delicious mess of almonds, dried apricots, flaky pastry, vanilla and cinnamon, drowning in condensed milk and cream.
The verdict: This was our absolute favourite cooking class. The organisation and preparation was seamless, and the fact that we got to sit down together at the end for a three-course meal was just a bonus. The only thing that worries us now is that no restaurant fattoush will ever stack up again.
The One building, Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Dubai, Wed 10.30am, Dhs300. Tel: (800) 1762. Taxi: One Building, JLT. 1762.ae
03. Talise Cafe
The class: When it’s a health kick you want, it’s hard to beat the kitchen of Chef Gabi, executive wellbeing chef for Talise. We attend a raw food class to learn how to make a tasty yet nutritious vegan breakfast. However, other healthy options are available on request, and while it’s an instructive class, she also offers lessons that are more hands-on.
The food: Chef Gabi takes us through the simple process of creating a vegan bircher muesli and accompanying green juice, taking time to explain the health-boosting properties of each ingredient: flaxseeds for healthy fats, steel cut oats for energy, banana and apple for healthy carbs and antioxidant boosting berries and persimmons. She also teaches us how to make a morning green juice with green papaya, parsley, lemon, celery and pineapple, to get your body detoxing and your skin glowing.
The chef: Chef Gabi has been with Talise Nutrition since 2007, ensuring that guests have access to healthy, organic, plant-based meals. Before that she managed a vegetarian fine dining restaurant in her home country of Germany. She’s a cookbook author too, and an expert on diabetes, as well as offering obesity consultations.
The verdict: The best thing about this class is that it makes healthy eating seem a lot less daunting than it is. The ingredients are high quality but simple, and Chef Gabi’s warm attitude to wellbeing really makes you want to replace that morning coffee and Danish pastry with something a little greener.
Talise Cafe, Mina A’Salam, Madinat Jumeirah, Al Sufouh, Dubai, daily 7am to 8.30pm. Tel: (04) 3668888. Taxi: Mina A’Salam, Madinat Jumeirah. jumeirah.com
The class: A bespoke cooking experience at LAO, the Vietnamese restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah. Classes are held on Tuesdays from 11am to 2pm and cost Dhs850 per person (minimum of three participants per class).
The food: We began our culinary journey with a tour of the hotel’s organic garden, snipping fragrant herbs to be used in our appetiser – mouth-wateringly fresh prawn spring rolls. Our main course was pan-seared seabass coated in galangal, turmeric and dill, followed by a blissfully tropical dessert – grilled banana, tapioca and homemade coconut ice cream.
The chef: Head chef Mai Nguyen made us feel right at home in her kitchen, serving us cups of green tea and kitting us out in professional-looking aprons and caps before patiently taking us through the three-course menu. She showed us the (slightly icky) art of peeling and deveining raw prawns, and helped us assemble our spring rolls so they looked as beautiful as they tasted. Her top tips? Use the most fresh, colourful ingredients you can find, and be sure to taste as you go.
The verdict: It felt more like a private demonstration than a full-blown cooking class, as many of the ingredients had been pre-prepared to save time. But that was perfectly OK with us, eager as we were to sample the goods. Helpfully, you get the recipes to take away with you, so you can attempt to recreate the dishes at home.
Crescent Road, The Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, Tue 11am to 2pm, Dhs850. Tel: (04) 8182222. Taxi: Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah. waldorfastoria3.hilton.com
05. Top Chef
The class: A step-up from the beginner’s classes, the Culinary Art class promises a gourmet menu and culinary flair. Be warned, Chef Thibault describes this as an “advanced” class.
The food: We’re handed the lofty goal of pumping out a three-course menu, full of concepts we can’t pronounce, in two and a half hours. The starter is a mushroom veloute with truffle essence, foie gras and croutons; for mains, a ricotta tortellini, and an apple tatin for dessert. Everything here is made by hand.
The chef: Thibaut Bertin is an executive chef. The Toulon-native worked at At.mosphere before joining Top Chef.
The verdict: While we’re unlikely to cook with these ingredients every week, it’s fun to experiment. The result? Each course was delicious. We would’ve liked a bit more guidance with proper cooking practices – knife-handling in particular – and the class felt a bit rushed.
Villa 196, Beach Road, Dubai, Dhs475, Tel: (04) 3855781. Taxi: Near Mercato Mall. topchefdubai.com
06. One for little chefs
Fairmont The Palm wants children to start honing their culinary skills early. Their Little Chefs – Big Ideas! cooking classes invite children aged between ten and 14 along to an after-school programme teaching them the basics of cooking. They’ll learn about nutrition, international cuisine, and will also be allowed to have some messy fun in the kitchen with new pals. Each week will feature new dishes and new cuisines, led by a range executive chefs. And yes, kids, you get to eat your masterpiece – and more importantly, lick the spoon.
April 23 to June 25
Fairmont The Palm, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, Sun 4pm to 6pm, Dhs1,500. Tel: (04) 4573457. Taxi: Fairmont The Palm. Fairmont.com/palm