Uwe Micheel calls the UAE home – and after 25 years of living in Dubai, the German chef has expert knowledge of the foods and flavors befitting such a cosmopolitan society.
Last month, his cookbook, Flavours of Dubai, took second place at the 22nd Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in the Best Chef Author category – essentially judging it to be the second-best new cookbook in the world.
The international culinary awards were held in China, and Micheel’s book, his second, was lauded for being one of the few in English to showcase and teach Emirati cooking.
The chef – who is director of kitchens at the Radisson Blu Hotel Dubai Deira Creek, president of the Emirates Culinary Guild and assistant vice president of the World Association of Chefs Societies – says receiving the award was "humbling", given the size and quality of the competition.
His book was chosen from thousands of new cookbooks from 211 countries in 88 categories. In the Best Chef Author category alone, 755 books were submitted.
Flavors of Dubai, Micheel says, is a mix of traditional Emirati recipes alongside treats of his creation that use regional ingredients.
"The concept of the book is the same as what I have in my restaurant," he says, referring to the Emirati restaurant Aseelah, in the Radisson Blu Hotel Dubai Deira Creek.
"Half of our menu is traditional Emirati home food, and the other half is made with sustainable ingredients from the region – things like camel burger. So ingredients from here, but modern dishes.
"I call it Dubai yesterday and Dubai today."
To better understand the dishes of "Dubai yesterday", Micheel went straight to the source, asking Emirati friends if he could visit their homes and cook with their mothers and grandmothers.
"For many years, when visitors and guests in the hotel asked me where to get local food, I didn’t have an answer," he says.
"Normally, we send them to Lebanese or Persian restaurants, which have nothing to do with Emirati food. That’s why I started to try to find out about local cuisine. That’s why I asked to step into real Emirati kitchens. This is the way to learn – and I wanted to learn."
Together with the traditional Emirati and modern recipes using Arab ingredients, the book also provides a historical insight into Dubai’s culinary metamorphosis and a taste of local culture.
From pictures of the camel market and shopping for groceries in Al Rashidiya, to information on the many varieties of date and mango trees, Micheel included everything he felt was essential to understanding the flavors of the UAE. The Emirati recipes are traditional and emblematic of local cuisine. There is a wide selection – from harees and luqaimat to traditional ouzi and a modern take on Arabian lobster.
"The recipes that use ingredients from the region are more of a fusion," says Micheel.
"For example, I have a recipe for a chicken roulade, which I filled with nuts and dried fruits and combined with a freekeh risotto, and I added smoked eggplant to it. All the ingredients on the plate are from here, but it’s a modern dish."
There are more than 90 recipes, all of which are easy to understand and suitable for the average home cook. There is even advice on how to avoid ingredients that are no longer sustainable, such as hammour and kingfish.
Micheel says the book is doing better than he had hoped.
"I wasn’t expecting it to sell so well because it’s not easy now to sell cookbooks – people are going online for recipes," he says.
However, a cookbook, he maintains, offers so much more than just recipes to follow.
"Any cookbook in the world is there to inspire you, to give you ideas and then you start to do your own thing," he says.
"You are meant to get inspired by reading a book and looking at the pictures and reading the stories of the writer. You learn you try new things, you find what works together, what flavors work together. You work from the heart. Then you cook."
• Flavors of Dubai costs Dh150 and is available from Souq.com, Jashanmal, the Dubai Duty-Free and Aseelah restaurant. It will also be in bookstores across the UAE by the end of this month