My colleague Mathilda pointed to a man in chef’s uniform sitting in the media room (our domain as of now) of Dubai World Hospitality Championship and suggested that it might be a good idea to get a quote or two from him for the next press release. I went over, and we got talking. I just wanted to get a couple of quotes and get on with my work. My very limited knowledge of the hospitality world meant that I had no idea about the identity of the man I was sitting opposite to.
Chef Charles Carroll turned out to be incredibly easy to talk to. After the usual niceties about being a part of the DWHC, he pointed to a curtained-off part of the aisle and said, “In a few minutes you will see some very fine food made by some of the most talented chefs in the world. Would you like to go and see that?” Of course I would – I don’t say ‘no’ to food and clothes as a matter of principle. And this is not Vasant Bhavan or even Calicut Paragon we are talking about – we are talking about the finest food made by WORLDCHEFS Dreamteam, a handpicked team of the world’s best chefs who have come with the sole intention of wowing the culinary connoisseurs of the UAE.
Chef Charles took me to the aisle and thanks to him, my humble persona not only got to see the food at close quarters, but also to taste it beside a seven-time winner of Culinary Olympian award who offered me a crash course on enjoying good food – to savour the nuances of flavours, to feel the different textures, to experience how each variation complements the other to create a symphony of pure gastronomic delight… I could see his disappointment that I am able to taste most of the spread because of being vegetarian, but he was gracious enough to find out the veggie fare and lead me there.
I tasted a dish made of variants of beet, on a bed of what tasted like Arabic coffee – a hint of cardomom and mint on coffee, a slice of apple and many other subtle flavours which added up something as new as it is interesting. The humble beet that brings a collective frown on my family’s face has so much to offer!
Chef Charles took me next to his colleague who showed me the process of ‘popping’ white chocolate on a gadget that looked like a cross between a decorative water ionizer and the ‘goblet of fire’ in Harry Potter. Out of it came fumes that might have been from dry ice. Spray choclate into the liquid inside (-365 degree farenheit, apparently) and it comes out resembling a popcorn. The ‘poplate’ was added to a delicate-looking dessert, and some passion fruit sauce poured – and lo behold! it was a dessert unlike any I had ever tasted.
The chef who demonstrated the awesome show for my sole benefit was looking expectantly at me as I tasted it, and when he saw the relish written clear and large on my face, his own lit up… And I realised that all artists, regardless of how huge they are in their respective domain, derive their pleasure from others’. Creativity thrives on appreciation, always. Lesson learned.
Then came the delicate chocolate eggs, each filled with a different concoction of flavours and textures, and guilt kicked in. Guilt at having broken the ‘controlled eating’ I have taken up (I don’t call it dieting)…guilt at eating such exotic chocolate that would have thrilled my boys…and guilt that I am eating all of this finest fare when a huge majority of children in the world are rummaging through bins looking for food… And it was only a day earlier that my colleague Siham had told me about her stint in Lebanon where she watched people doing exactly that – rummaging through garbage bins for food. She opted out of her UN posting there in Lebanon because she was beginning to lose hope in humanity.
Yes, my world is a tortured one. And just as rich in many ways.
I carried the little custom-made tray to the media room where I assuaged my guilt by sharing the chocoeggs with my colleagues, adding to Liz Cook’s (another Apco colleague) conviction that I’m a compulsive food-sharer. A whole lot of us dug into the chocolate, and I felt a whole lot better.
Back to Chef Charles Carroll. It was only this morning, as I was looking him up on the net to find out his credentials for a press release that I knew how impressive a profile he has. There was no pomp or show in the way he talked, or in the way he guided me to the sanctum sanctorum and offered me an incredible culinary experience well knowing that I was a novice.
However, what clinched a blog post on him were his earnest insights into the need for sustainability and total utilization of resources. He told me about how the WORLDCHEFS Congress, of which he is the Committee Chairman, is thinking about ways to incorporate the message of saving resources and making sustainable choices right from the school level, through to chefs and end-users. “It’s no longer a problem for our grandchildren – it’s our problem now,” he said, and we discussed water wastage, farmer subsidies and all the rest until my deadlines beckoned me, and the ice-carving he was judging called out to him.
I walked back to the media room thinking about something else he had said, “An angry chef cannot make good food.” I’m planning to print that out and get it framed for my kitchen.
P.S. I hate my habit of leaving behind my mobile phone – I could neither click a picture with him, nor with the food. Grrr…. @ self!