Lifting up Emirati cuisine with Andrew Cullen, director of retail brand development at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
As the Director of retail brand development at the Dubai World Trade Centre, andrew cullen looks after the Seven Sands Emirati Cuisine brand, which opened in 2015. At the time there were a handful of restaurants offering Emirati food, very rare in the casual dining category. Now, three years later, the Emirati dining scene is evolving. Here, Cullen looks at the culinary scene in Dubai and asks if now is the time for Emirati cuisine to emerge?
As recognition grows for Emirati cuisine the question needs to be asked, what is next? Perhaps Emirati cuisine needs to take its inspiration from the international market. I have lived in Dubai since 2011 and watched the rapid growth of Peruvian food, a regional cuisine from Latin America which is now a global phenomenon.
Peruvian cuisine has only recently developed and the cuisine is based on the combination of produce available and influences over the centuries. When the Spanish conquered the Incas, they brought with them their Arabic heritage and African influences.
Peru has the second largest ethnic Japanese population in South America. The cuisine developed from this was Nikkei, a Japanese Peruvian fusion best identified today by the Nobu brand.
When we compare the current rise of Peruvian cuisine with Emirati cuisine we can see that there is a long way to go but the potential is present. Emirati food needs to come out of the home kitchen and find its place in the spotlight.
At Seven Sands the majority of our dishes
are traditional, but we also like to innovate. If a dish uses local ingredients or techniques we are happy for it to be part of our Emirati cuisine.
Emirati cuisine needs more exposure within the UAE itself. I have visited JBR hotels posing as a tourist looking for somewhere to eat local food and was directed to Seven Sands as an Emirati and Arabic restaurant on several occasions. However, most concierge employees suggested Lebanese restaurants as local food. Education is the key here.
It would be good to see new Emirati cuisine based concepts being developed and launched rather than another new burger or pizza joint. It would also be good to see more restaurants elevating the cuisine like Mezlai in Abu Dhabi.
Hotel chains in Abu Dhabi have already signed up to Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority’s Emirati Cuisine & Hospitality Capacity Building Program, through which all four-star and five-star hotels in the capital will feature and promote national dishes. This example needs to be followed throughout the UAE.
As a fan of local food I would like to see it more widely available and as a restaurateur I see the potential that has yet to be fully explored.
The last piece of the puzzle will be developing the right ambassadors for Emirati cuisine. Someone who embodies the cuisine and culture and who can communicate it to a greater audience.