A Dubai Cooking Class Experience for the Whole Family

Experience Gifts instead of Material Gifts

Are you looking for that certain special gift for your loved one's next birthday, anniversary, special occasion? Why not steer away from material gifts and opt for an experience instead? Whether it's an experience that the whole family can participate in or one that is designed just for the recipient to enjoy, an experiential gift will be a sure hit with lasting memories.

Keeping with my husband and my tradition of giving experiences instead of material gifts, this year for my birthday the men in my life selected a family adventure in cooking at Dubai's Top Chef. We have been to many cooking classes as a family over the years and they have all been a hit. Top Chef was no exception.

As always, the planning was all classified as "Top Secret." It is carefully thought out via a Whats App group consisting of Rob and the boys, titled "Mom's big 44 bday" (or whatever the occasion may be.) So as we got in the car to head out, the destination was still a mystery to me. The boys were super excited.   As we turned onto Jumeirah Rd, I saw the Top Chef sign and the pieces quickly came together.

Dubai cooking class experience at Top Chef

The Main Course

 Our Top Chef, Anthony, was waiting for us at the entrance and quickly led us to the kitchen so we could jump right in. After a quick wash of our hands, we were ready for the cooking to begin. Our first course was a barley risotto with seared salmon and parmesan foam.

The kids were totally keen to take charge of everything they were preparing. There was nothing off limits and they were instructed about food and health safety along the way. Chef Anthony was super patient with all of us and didn't dumb anything down to make it easier for the kids. We (me) had lots of questions for him about food sourcing in Dubai.  These included where to source the best ingredients in Dubai, his  favourite restaurants, and best chef schools. He also told us about famous chefs that come to Dubai to give courses, who has the most Michelin stars, how Michelin stars are awarded, and why French food tastes so good. As typical as in any kitchen, we did a lot of chatting while we cooked. It all added up to an engaging experience of tastes, smells, education, and conversation.

Dessert

Our dessert was a fabulous recipe -  chocolate tart with raspberry coulis . Yum! My little guy happily did most of the preparing of this part of the meal.

The Mocktail

The final component of the meal was our beverage. As our middle son is a lover of all the fabulous Dubai mocktails and smoothies out there, we let him finish things off with a watermelon, raspberry and mint smoothie. I didn't actually get to taste this as the boys begged me for my portion but I can only assume it was delicious.

After all the preparation was complete, we plated our food and sat down to a lovely meal together. It was delicious right down to the last morsel. We all thought it was one of the best meals we had had in Dubai.  To top it off we had a fun night going through all the highlights of the year that had just passed by. It was a perfect evening that I know set the tone for my 44th year ahead. I hope there are many more cooking experiences in the years to come! 

Enjoying our Results!

If you are interested in trying any of the above recipes we made at Top Chef, they are listed below. All recipes listed in this post belong to Top Chef.

Risotto, Chocolate Tart and Smoothie Recipes

WATERMELON, RASPBERRY AND MINT SMOOTHIE For 5 persons

 Ingredients:

250 gr watermelon

100 gr raspberries

20 gr mint

60 gr sugar

220 gr water

100 gr ice cubes

Preparation: 1. Cut the watermelon. 2. Blend the watermelon with the raspberry, mint leaf the ice, water, and sugar. 3. Blend until getting a smooth texture. Serve cold.

BARLEY RISOTTO WITH SEARED SALMON & PARMESAN FOAM 5 pax

Ingredients:

5 pcs salmon (140gr each)

300 gr barley

800 gr Chicken stock

2 pcs shallots, sliced

60 gr butter

150 gr Parmesan, grated

550 gr milk

40 gr butter

Preparation: 1. In a pan, warm the milk and add 100gr of grated Parmesan. 2. Blend and rectify the seasoning, transfer to a high container, and check the emulsion. 3. In a pan, sauté the sliced shallots, add 30 g butter and the barley. 4. Mix for a few seconds and add the strained chicken stock. 5. Boil until the barley absorbs all the stock, check if it’s cooked. If not add some extra stock. 6. Add the butter to the barley risotto and mix well then add the Parmesan cheese. Check the seasoning. Keep warm. 7. On a grill, sear the salmon to get the grill mark. Season and place the salmon in the oven at 50 C for 15 minutes.

Plating: 1. In a soup plate, place the barley risotto in centre. 2. Add on top the salmon. 3. Finish with the emulsion around and some edible flower or cress.

CHOCOLATE TART 5 pax

Ingredients:

Pate Sablee 

125 gr butter

50 gr sugar

55 gr almond powder

1 pc egg

180 gr flour

Chocolate mixture

50 gr milk

150 gr cream

2 pcs egg yolks

35 gr sugar

110 gr milk chocolate

Preparation: Dough: 1. In a mixing bowl, put the butter and sugar. Add the egg and mix well. 2. Add the flour, almond powder, and cocoa powder. 3. Mix until smooth. Keep in the chiller for 30 minutes. 4. Spread the chocolate dough and fold the tart ring. Stick the tart shell with cupcake paper. 5. Cover the base of the tart with rice and bake in the oven at 160 degrees C for 15-20 minutes. Remove the rice. 6. Cool down and reserve.

Chocolate cremeux 1. In a pan, boil the milk and cream. Pour over the chocolate and mix well. 2. Mix the yolk with sugar. Add the chocolate mixture and mix well. 3. Pour the mixture in each tart and bake again at 140C for 6-8 minutes. Cool down.


Bon Voyage Baby Turtles

When I look back at the absolute best days of my life, they were all spent outdoors, in nature - one of these must have been last week, when Katie, her boys and mine were invited to EMEG. Have you ever been to the Emirates Marine Environmental Group?  It oversees an enclosed 25 square-kilometer beachfront Jebel Ali Sanctuary adjacent to the Palm, Jebel Ali. On that very same beach 60 baby turtles had broken free from their shells in the early morning hours. I don’t know how we were so lucky to be the ones to release them, to introduce them to their new home: the Gulf.

Before setting the newborn turtles free, Major Ali Saqr Sultan Al Suwaidi, President of EMEG, spoke to us about the importance of preserving marine ecosystems, particularly endangered species such as the sea turtle. He explained why it’s important to set the turtles loose several meters back from the water as opposed to directly into the water. Remarkably, these tiny creatures make a mental map of the beach as they scurry towards the ocean, breathing in the air and smelling the sand. This allows the females to return many years later, in the Hawksbill turtles’ case 30 years later to the very same beach where they hatched! Nature can be mind blowing sometimes!

EMEG staff patrol the beaches and look out for females nesting, stepping slowly and precisely among the mounds of eggs methodically buried. Females lay around 100 eggs every 2-3 years in a pyramid shape, alternating layers of eggs with a layer of sand. 80% survive to the hatchling stage, but only 10% are estimated to make it to adulthood.  The eggs are then placed carefully in deep holes, protected by plastic enclosures and again by a large fenced area. These precious eggs have numerous predators: foxes, birds and dogs. The struggles they will face are tremendous. Did you know that the temperature of the sand in which the eggs are laid, determines the sex of the turtle? Below 30C is predominately male; above 30C is predominantly female.

 

The incubation period lasts 60 days. Once hatched, they make their way up to the surface, where the EMEG volunteers gather them and place them in a large plastic container. They stretch their legs, clamber over one another and await their colossal journey. 

Firstly, each and every turtle has to be weighed and measured.

Precisely, when the sun is setting on the horizon, they will make their run!

One of the turtles started moving in the opposite direction, heading straight up towards the beach and centre. With a little, gentle encouragement, even he found the waterline eventually. Another seemed to exhausted to move, and what seemed ages to my youngest child, took his time to crawl towards the rough sea. I don’t think I have ever seen something so young. Have you?

To witness their miraculous track into the crashing waves, I couldn’t help but feel afraid and anxious for these tiny creatures. The instinct to rush, to fight their way down the beach and be covered by the giant ocean which offers dismal odds of survival is nothing short of remarkable. 

And then they were gone.... Bon voyage little ones!

 

This experience was of the unforgettable kind, not only for our children, but for us adults as well. We were able to witness one of nature’s miracles!


Step Out of Your Routine

Blue Souk, Sharjah

Blue Souk, Sharjah

Do you get stuck in the loop of routine? Work/school run, supermarket, kids activities, maybe a fitness class, and home. Wake up the next day and repeat. This is a common pattern that I think most of us fall into. It can be so draining without realizing it. And then the moment you break routine and make a change of pace, you feel completely rejuvenated. This is usually followed by the comment "Why don't we do things like this more often?" These activities are not usually grand in scale.  More often, they are small breaks from our typical routine that deliver a big impact in terms of excitement and novelty. 

Tribe Vibe has decided to break our daily routine at least once a month. We are going to spice things up by uncovering something interesting we have been meaning to check out but had previously not made the time to do. This month it was my turn to pick and I chose to visit the Central or Blue Souk in Sharjah (I had never been and Nicole and Carmen had not been in over a decade). The Blue Souk has been on my list as a place to see for four years now but I guess I have just been too busy. For four straight years. (I hope you detect the sarcasm.)  My main excuse can be expressed in two simple words - SHARJAH TRAFFIC. That is enough to scare the bravest away. But rest assured, after visiting myself, I can almost guarantee, the traffic is not that bad (at least at 8am.)

I'm just kidding, the traffic was nowhere near this bad :-)

I'm just kidding, the traffic was nowhere near this bad :-)

Carmen, Nicole , and I headed out after dropping the kids off at school. With all the organizing and arranging of schedules, the thing we forgot to do was check the time it opened. We left Mirdif area at 8am and the Souk didn't open until 9:30am. We were not sure if we would be able to fill our time there waiting for it to open. As it turned out, our excess of time turned out to be such a blessing. It was a beautiful sunny day and because of the early hour, the building was deserted. This gave us the freedom to casually roam in and out of the building, look in all the shop windows, and take photos on a whim without having to dodge any shoppers. When does this ever happen? It turned out to be the perfect time to go.

The souk consists of two large buildings connected by bridge walkways. There is a very obvious reason why it is known as the Blue Souk. Can you put your finger on it? You guessed it-all the extensive blue tile work on the exterior of the building.  There is also a beautiful fountain on display at the entrance.

Islamic geometric design is something that I have fallen in love with since moving to the Middle East. I could spend hours looking at it. The Blue Souk has so many examples of repetitive pattern work. I was in my happy place.

I will admit, I did no research before going and therefore the Souk was not what I was expecting at all. I was picturing it to be more like the Old Souk in Dubai - outdoor based. The Blue Souk is nothing like that. It is more like a shopping centre. This left me feeling a bit disappointed but on the upside there was A/C which makes everything a little more tolerable in the summer months in the UAE.  The entrance was impressive with the pièce de résistance being a spectacular geometric cut-out design filtering light into beautiful patterns everywhere. Fabulous!

As for the shopping, well, it was typical of a souk. Lots of gold, abaya and kandora shops, rugs, scarves, sports shops, toy shops, souvenir shops...you name it. Always an adventure looking for tressures.

But the most fun we had was picking out watches for each other at a very exclusive shop. Switzerland,  you better step up your game because there is a new watch maker in town ;-) 

If you get a little hungry there is a small selection of snacks you can pick from but keep your expectations in check. If you are seeking cotton candy, a slushie, and a gumball to satisfy your hunger, then you are on track.

All in all, we spent about three hours at the souk and left feeling like we had been on a mini vacation. It is so good to force yourself out of the routine and take the opportunity to see things in your city that you keeping putting off. How many times have we left a place saying "I wish I had done that." Take the opportunity now while you can!


Get Your Art On

alserkal avenue

Have you been to Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz, Dubai? Al Quoz is known as a very industrial area of the city but it is also home to a very hip and vibrant art scene. Tucked inside the industrial zone is the gem Alserkal. Here you will find art galleries, local theatre, architecture and design shops, trendy ventures, gourmet chocolate makers, and few places to eat. In order to boost a sense of community, Alserkal is giving night tours of their galleries every Wednesday evening during the Holy month of Ramadan. The tours, known as Alserkal Lates, are given at 8:30pm and 9:30pm and last about one hour. My family and I went not knowing what to expect and ended up having a great evening.

Nadi al Quoz was  serving a casual Iftar which, with three hungry boys, was exactly what we were looking for. Lucky for us we arrived 1/2 an hour early to enjoy. The food was great. 

Alserkal Ramadan Nights

The tour started right outside Nadi al Quoz under the sign Nadi Nights. Our guide was ready and waiting so at 8:30pm,  Alserkal Lates of the galleries began.

Our guide led us through four galleries throughout the evening. She gave brief but thorough explanations of each exhibit. The artwork and buildings veried with each stop. It was such a cool experience to have access to very industrial buildings and unique pieces of art. Perfect for a casual night out.

The kids really enjoyed it as well. The hour time frame was the perfect length for them. At times they were very interested in the discussion and at other times not so much. But with the casualness of the evening there was no stress that they were not entirely focused 100% of the time. Often, all the adults would be gathered around our guide discussing one piece of art and I would see the boys sitting a few metres away, not listening, but completely engrossed on a different piece. Both valid ways of taking in the art. 

The streets of Alserkal are interesting on their own. It's really fun to walk up and down and see the shop signs, street decoration,  and window art. You can't believe you are in Dubai.

As the night was coming to an end I was thinking how perfect it had been. And then... it got better. Our guide thought it would be a good idea, for our final stop, to take a tour of the local chocolate factory. Who could argue with that?!

Alserkal Lates is such a nice way to spend a Wednesday evening during the Holy month of Ramadan. They have put a huge effort into making this area of Dubai feel like it has a sense of community. Oh ya, and did I mention the cost per person? Free! You heard me, free.  I highly recommend making an effort to check out this special place.


My Dubai Doughnut Experience

Our Ship for the evening

Our Ship for the evening

What do you prefer? A “product” gift or an “experience” gift? For me, hands down, it’s always the “experience” gift. I've been the giver and receiver of many such gifts ranging from tickets to music, sporting, and theatre performances, cooking classes, quad biking, sky diving simulators, birthday's in the desert... All super fun and very memorable. As Mother's Day approached, it was not the thought of lavish gifts or flowers I was thinking about, it was what fun adventure Rob and the boys had planned. Like all of Rob's presents, my gift always starts with a clue. This Mother's Day clue was "I hope you are in the mood for doughnuts tonight." Can you guess what is was? I immediately made the assumption that we were going to learn how to make doughnuts. I even went as far as to tell friends that my gift was a family lesson on how to make and glaze doughnuts. As the evening came closer, I could detect the humour that our three boys were finding in my assumption. I quickly got the feeling that doughnut making was not what was planned for our night out. So what was it? I started in on Rob and the boys with slightly panicked ramblings of  “can I wear this? Will I be cold? Will I be hot? How long will we be gone for?” It came to departure time and still not a hint of what was in store. After ten minutes of driving I still had no idea which made the boys laugh with excitement all the more. But as I saw Dubai Creek park approach I quickly put it all together. "Are we going on one of those orange floating doughnut things!!!" I was answered with a unanimous "Yes!!" This has been on my list of things I have wanted to do for four years now.  Yippee for me, tonight was the night.

We pulled into the parking of Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club and quickly made our way to the docks beside the Boardwalk restaurant. Four large orange doughnut rings with bbq's in the centre were tied up waiting for customers. We were met there by Kumar who gave us the quickest of quick steering, bbq'ing and safety explanation. He dropped our two cooler boxes filled with preordered meals and drinks into the doughnut and told us to hop in. That was it, we were off.

One very excited mom!

We left the dock at about 6:15pm for our 90 minute tour. For me, this is the perfect time for almost anything in Dubai- you have the beautiful low hanging golden sun in the sky which you get to literally watch fall into the night. And then voila, the lights of Dubai lit up the city profile. Spectacular. 

The beauty of Dubai's creek.

We were really excited to get the bbq'ing underway. At this point no one had mentioned yet the extreme heat the bbq was emitting in our close quarters. It was pretty warm. But whatever, we pretended it was nothing. Then the manoeuvring of opening the packages of raw meat to be cooked began. It is quite small quarters, so things are not as easy as they may seem to be. Everything was set so I quickly opened the very hot BBQ lid. OUCH, ouch, ouch we all started shouting. Red hot sparks came flying out from the charcoals landing on our bare skin. I don't just mean a few, I mean a lot. The idea of the leisurely bbq we had imagined quickly turned into a rapid cook and closing of the bbq. We did however find a way to steer the doughnut so the wind was blowing the sparks away from us instead of into us but it still wasn't great. Lets just say we cooked our meat rapidly, shut the lid and didn't go near the bbq for the rest of the evening. The cooler was also filled with salads and dessert but with the space limitations we ended up eating everything seperatly- firtst the fries, then the meat, then the salad, and then the dessert. Within twenty minutes our dinner was pretty much done and dusted which left the majority of the evening to take turns steering our ship around the creek. It ended up being the perfect outcome as that was the best part of the whole experience.

The cooking experience.

We were rocketing around and around the creek at a snail's pace, taking in all the views and enjoying listening to my iphone playlist (I highly recommend bringing music if you decide to try this.) We spent the evening watching the sun drop out of the sky (my favourite thing to watch in Dubai) and the city begin to light up in the night. The doughnut's big orange canopy lit up with twinkle lights adding to the ambiance. I took the opportunity of having my boys in such close quarters with nowhere to run to take tons of selfies with them. I never take selfies so it was a learning experience for me as I continuously cut off heads, reversed the camera, and had trouble locating us in the viewer. But I have some photos of the boys and I that I wouldn't otherwise have, so another gift to myself for Mother's Day. The best part was that we had a chance to talk, laugh, learn to captain the big orange doughnut and in general just relax and enjoy being together. It was so perfect!! I loved every minute of my perfect Mother’s Day experience!

Fun taking selfies and using filters for the first time :-) The beautiful skies of Dubai.

Thoughts

  • go at sundown. The colours of Dubai changing from day to night are beautiful.
  • bring your playlist, it adds so much to the relaxation of floating around.
  • don't go thinking you are entering open water, you just cruise at very low speeds around the bay.
  • to reserve contact BBQ Donut

My 1/2 Day Walking on the Creative Side

Feeling Inspired

When was the last time you painted? Sculpted? Wrote a story? At what point in our life do we shelve the love and joy of creating, in any medium, for all the day to day tasks that seem more important but give less happiness? It’s strange to think that I have a background in art and design but taking time to explore my creativity is something I almost never give myself permission to do. I feel almost guilty when spending time creating with no real goal (ie, not for work or fun with the kids.) I’m not sure how I boxed myself into this mindset but this year I vowed to make an effort to nurture my artsy side and spend time feeding my creative energy. I set some goals to help keep me on track, mainly focusing on photography, writing and back to my roots of architectural design. But I’m happy to say, this week I also took the plunge into a creative space I’m not that comfortable with- fine arts.

Starting to get the feel of how the paint works

Starting to get the feel of how the paint works

Last year I was lucky enough to meet the super talented Australian born, Dubai based, artist Jessica Watson-Thorp. If you love colour and texture in artwork than you will love Jessica’s beautiful pieces! Somehow in her very busy schedule of exhibiting both internationally and locally, Jessica found time to offer a series of workshops for women, exploring different fine art mediums. I decided I would seize the moment and sign up for her ½ day class on watercolours.

Creative juices were flowing

Part of the beauty of Jessica’s classes is that they are in her home studio allowing you to be surrounded and inspired by her vibrant artwork. She gives you free rein to wander and explore her work space. I found it super exciting to see her many shelves of squished paint tubes and bottles, jars of well used brushes, sculpting knives, and paint splattered drop clothes. Colour everywhere. You instantly feel that you want to be an artist!

As each participant arrived, they repeated the same statement after their introduction “I used to love, love, love painting/drawing but I have not picked up a pencil or paintbrush since I was a child.”  I kept thinking, “at what point do we not allow ourselves to do the thing we like doing, and why?” Anyway, enough thinking, the class was about to get started (another thing I love about Jessica’s class is that she starts on time!) We all gathered around her table and set out on our watercolour journey. The morning flew by as we learned different techniques, chatted with each other, and mostly got lost in our own world as we watched the paint colours swirl, blend, and bleed into each other. All the while, a fabulous playlist played in the background. It was brilliant.

Jessica walking us through different tecniques

As our pieces dried we all headed to the kitchen and sat together for a beautiful vegetarian lunch. This was our time to get to know one another and share a snippet of our personal story. With such a diverse group, it was super interesting to hear stories of past/current careers, home life, and travels. It was a great break to recharge our batteries before heading back to put the finishing touches on our pieces.  

Finished pieces drying 

Finished pieces drying 

As time wound down on the workshop, we took time to appreciate and reflect on what each other had produced but more importantly to admire our own individual creations. I left the workshop feeling inspired and happy, excited to share everything with my husband and children. At home, they were all keen to know more about what I had learnt and each talked about what they liked to do in “art.” It kept making me think “why don’t we do this more often?!”

Check out Jessica's beautiful piece behind us. Love it!

Check out Jessica's beautiful piece behind us. Love it!

 

If you are interested in exercising your creative muscle but feel nervous to sign up for a class, I can absolutely guarantee one of Jessica’s workshops is the place to start. You will have a great time.