Love Food Festival in Abu Dhabi 2017

Food truck mania as the world's greatest mobile gourmets drive into town Discuss this article

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I t will come as no surprise to regular readers that Time Out loves food. So the prospect of a touring festival with some of the world’s very best food trucks coming to Abu Dhabi and Al Ain has got us in a tizzy. Love Food Festival trucks will be in Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting and Golf Club from February 9 to 11 and Abu Dhabi’s Umm Al Emarat Park from February 16 to 18. This year’s line-up includes trucks that have made their way over from the US, the UK and Singapore. Pulling up alongside them will also be the finest of the UAE’s fleet. In addition, there will be a host of activities including outdoor film screenings, top chef cooking demonstrations, cultural activities and loads more foodie fun.

As usual, Time Out has gone scouring around to get you all the important details you need to know. Bon appétit!

The trucks stop here

We take a closer look at the mobile participants this year.

Born in the USA
Endless Summer Sweets

This food truck has been churning out a beloved American dessert since 2009. The husband and wife team behind Endless Summer Sweets opened their first permanent venue last year. It specialises in funnel cakes – a popular fairground food across North America. Variations on offer include strawberries with whipped cream, and pecan and caramel.

Maxcel Hardy
Charismatic chef Maxcel Hardy has had an interesting career in the food business. As a personal chef to clients including a top basketball player, TV stars and an author, as a celebrity caterer, he has worked his way around North America. A sneak peek at his menu showcases dishes such as low country chicken and waffles, shrimp po’boys and crab mac ‘n’ cheese.

Harlem Seafood Soul Truck
Bringing a soulful taste of Harlem to the UAE is Tami Treadwell’s eco-friendly mobile food kitchen. It serves up gourmet eats that include shrimp and grits, fish tacos and more po’boys.

Sabores del Sur

The name, fact fans, means “flavours of the south”, with Chilean Chef Guisell fittingly hailing from Santiago, in South America. We could tell you about the foodie journey that has taken Guisell from kitchen to TV screens around the San Francisco area. All you need know, however, is that she has been said to make “the best cookie on Earth”.

Sushi and Seoul
Fish from the back of a van? Some people are still unsure of the concept, despite the fact that we’ve been putting men on the moon and making cheese spray in aerosol cans for decades. Rest assured that this Orlando-based food truck has been pioneering the world of mobile sushi for many years.

Syrena Johnson
This New Orleans native describes herself as a “poster child for dreams come true”. Having survived Hurricane Katrina and winning prestigious culinary scholarships, Johnson has been working her way up a restaurant industry with a cooking style influenced by Southern, Creole, French and modern American styles.

The Peached Tortilla

Driving in from Austin, Texas, comes one of the best food trucks in the world. The team behind The Peached Tortilla have become known for the excellent tacos and burritos that highlight Southern flavours served with an Asian twist. Prepare your tastebuds for favourites such as the BBQ brisket, banh mi and pad Thai tacos and the Chinese barbecue sauce-spiked JapaJam burger.

Cool Britannia
Churros Bros

This family-run business from the UK specialises in cooked-to-order, traditional Spanish churros served with delicious Valor hot chocolate, trading from a beautiful and iconic Citroen H Van.

Crabbie Shack
Douglas Robertson-Ritchie has won plenty of accolades for his soft shell crab burgers, which are usually found being served along the harbour of his hometown in south east England. Deep-fried in a light batter, dressed with harissa, avocado, fennel and almonds or pickled cucumber, coriander and wasabi-lime mayonnaise, all in a brioche bun. Erm, yes please.

Donostia Social Club
In from the UK is this modified Citroen H Van that’s fully kitted-out and set up as a proper mobile tapas bar, serving food that is inspired by Donostia in the western Pyrénées. The relevence? Donostia is the Basque name for San Sebastián, a city famed for having more Michelin stars per head than anywhere else in the world. We’ll eat to that.

Made of Dough

Two food-obsessed friends from Italy and Spain (who are based in the UK) used their various culinary cultural heritages to create authentic Neapolitan pizza to become London Pizza Festival 2015 Champions. Their creations are Italian, with Andalucían influences, served from Raffaella, their very British Land Rover truck that's named after the infamous Italian showgirl and loaded up wih a traditional pizza oven.

The Bell & Brisket
Bel Shapiro set up The Bell & Brisket to champion the classic, old fashioned combination of salt beef, pickles and mustard, served street-food-style with a London twist. We hear the salt beef is moist and succulent and served with sharp, tangy pickles between bagels and finished off with blow-torched cheddar. See what we mean?

The Cheeky Italian
These UK-based guys give traditional Italian dishes a cheeky spin, straight from their 1970s Citroen Hy van. They’re known to have knocked out dishes like meatball calzone fritters with gooey mozzarella. Their herby fries with marinara and mozzarella sauce have a fan following of their own.

The Cheese Truck

“The Cheese Truck has reached new heights in the art of melted sandwich fillings.” That’s what our pals at Time Out London said about this exciting culinary wonder from the UK. Showcasing and celebrating British cheeses, the founder specialises in the humble but irresistible grilled cheese sandwich with a touch of flair. English cheddar, Emmental with onion, anyone?

The Crema Caravan

The UK-based team inside this retro Renault van deal exclusively in crema Catalana and crème brûlée. And we’re glad they do. There’s nothing that beats the classic creamy, rich vanilla dessert with blow-torched, burnt-to-order sugar tops.

The Other Side

Who doesn’t love a bit of fried chicken? And these guys from the UK know how to do it really, really well. Like when it’s double-breaded for extra crunch, topped with honey butter that's been smoked for four hours and served between a potato bread bun. Ironically, these heart-stopping meals are served from a converted ambulance (which is clearly no longer in service).

The Roadery

If there’s one food trend that’s yet to make in-roads in Abu Dhabi, it’s nose-to-tail dining. And The Roadery are about to unleash their creativity with the “forgotten” cuts of meat from a beautiful 1979 Renault Estafette van. They work with the best of British small farm food producers and wild foraged ingredients and have a focus on ethical production, while serving up unique, seasonal dishes.

From the East
Bjorn Shen

We’re not just saying this because the notorious chef writes a column for Time Out Singapore, but this is the sort of culinary visit we’re most excited by. Brash, spontaneous and with oodles of style. Those oodles come in the shape of noodles, such as the famous Chiang Mai curry. Shen is the culinary driving force behind the hip Artichoke restaurant.

Kerbside Gourmet
Good food for a good cause is the idea behind this Singaporean favourite. Labelled “inspiring” by Time Out Singapore, it has a socially enterprising side to it and promises fine-dining at street level. Sample dishes like the classic chilli crab bun by founding chef Luan Lin.


Okay, we’ll admit it, Kway Guan Huat Joo Chiat Popiah is not the catchiest name. But after one bite of the hand-twisted popiah it serves you will forgive the lengthy name and will be back in line for more. Best described as a kind of giant fresh spring roll meets a wrap, a popiah is a favourite eat across Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia.

Shen Tan
Chef Shen Tan ditched her corporate suit for the foodie life to lead a wave of Mod Sin (Modern Singaporean) chefs, serving up lamb char siew, fish curry pasta and a beef rendang pizza. It is the nasi lemak Malay rice dish, however, which makes Tan hugely popular in Singapore’s food truck circles.

Local talent
Burger Itch

The home-grown, gourmet concept serves its dishes from a vintage food trailer. It aims to please with just four variations – the house, the Burger Itch, the chicken and the veg.

Desert Chill
A childhood memory of running out to the ice cream van every time they heard its sweet chimes inspired the Furlong brothers to start their own truck in 2008. And it's been a chilled-out mobile shop experience ever since.

FATTA is a gourmet food concept which takes layers of ingredients to build amazing dishes. The passion grew to have a range of dishes that target different tastes across the UAE community including vine leaves and eggplant ‘fatta’ served with yoghurt and crispy bread, sprinkled with toppings such as pomegranate seeds and pine nuts.

FrostBite Ice Cream
Looking for a new take on your standard ice cream cone? Frostbite's molecular gastronomy concept freezes different natural ingredients into its ice cream. Some of the creative experiments include snowflake surprise – a white chocolate soufflé filled with melted white chocolate and topped with its signature ice cream and dulce de leche.

Raw Coffee Company

These guys have been brewing cups of joe since 2007 and have played a pivotal role in the coffee culture in the country. Known for brewing speciality cups of Arabica coffee, the company prides itself on delivering the perfect cup to every customer.

To achieve that melt-in-the mouth perfection, the guys at Shmokins’ smoke their secret-spice-rubbed meat joints for anywhere between 8-12 hours over charcoal and chunked hickory wood. Order the beef ribs with corn and 'slaw for the full experience.

Taqado Mexican Kitchen

Taqado goes the extra mile to ensure its food is authentic. Meats are marinated for 24 hours, ingredients are sourced locally as well as from Mexico and every menu item is made from scratch. Look out for the 1952 Silver Streak Clipper Airstream and grab yourself a big, beefy burrito.

Hit up this local food truck for a taste of something, well, local. The delicious barbecued meals include a tasty camel burger with all the trimmings, plus what they claim are “the best fries in the UAE”. We suggest you test those out for yourself, yalla.
Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting and Golf Club: Dhs45 (adults), free (under 12s). February 9-11. Thu Feb 9, 5pm-midnight, Fri, Feb 10-Sat, Feb 11 2pm-midnight. Umm Al Emarat Park, Abu Dhabi: Dhs50 (adults), free (under 12s). February 16-18. Thu Feb 9, 5pm-midnight, Fri, Feb 10-Sat, Feb 11 2pm-midnight.

In Conversation

London-based Italian chef Aldo Zilli will be hosting a series of live demonstrations at this year’s Love Food Festival. Time Out catches up with the award-winning celebrity chef, restaurateur, food consultant and adviser to talk love, life and,
of course, the world of food.

TO: This will be your first time in Abu Dhabi, what are you most excited about?
AZ: Well, I’m excited to see first-hand what Abu Dhabi is like in the food world. I have heard so many great things about it. There are lots of great chefs opening restaurants here. So it is an interesting prospect, you know? As chefs we always look for opportunities, so you never know...

TO: Yes, we certainly do have some fantastic restaurants here. From what you know, how would you say the food scene in Abu Dhabi compares with other cities? 
AZ: Because it is such a multi-cultural place, there is a fusion. So you’ll find, say, Italian ingredients being used to make dishes from other cuisines. And that’s amazing. Chefs get inspired to work with different ingredients. And that is what I love the most about this job, even though I am traditionally an Italian chef.

TO: Tell us about your involvement with Love Food Festival Abu Dhabi. What can we expect to see?
AZ: I am going to be doing two cooking demonstrations a day. One will be a pasta masterclass and the other will be a fish masterclass. I will be showcasing some great techniques… It will be Italian food at its best [chuckles].

TO: Can't wait. Food festivals like these have become so popular these days. Is there a particular role they fulfill?
AZ: You may not know this, but I was one of the first creators of Taste of London. When I first came up with the idea, I had four restaurants. And I thought, sometimes, people want to eat a little bit from different restaurants. They don’t necessarily want to sit down in one place. And that is what inspired me.

And it’s the concept of sharing. When you go to festivals, you see families sharing different things. Someone’s bought something from one spot, the other person from another. And they all come together and it becomes a conversation. It’s almost like the Chinese, they sit around a table and share each other’s food. The sharing concept really works.

Food festivals are for everybody – young, old, for families. It’s a great experience and they are informative and educational too. We need to have a better understanding of food. After all, we are what we eat.

TO: Well said. As someone who’s run a string of successful restaurants, what are your thoughts on the food truck concept?
AZ: It’s big in London at the moment. It is probably the most inexpensive way of starting up a restaurant. If you’re going to open a restaurant, start with a food truck – you can put it anywhere. I think it is a great idea, I wouldn’t mind doing it myself actually, as a pop-up.
We’re very lucky we have the concept of pop-ups nowadays. In my day, there was a lot of work involved in starting a restaurant -- it was a nightmare. With a food truck, if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, nobody is going to be worried about it.

TO: True. If we may switch gears to where it all started for you, what led you to your passion for food?
AZ: I am the youngest of nine children. We were poor, and so food was at a premium. I always used to help my mum in the kitchen so I could eat. Growing up in that environment, that is where it stems from. My mother had to cook three meals a day, for nine children and one husband, and for her it was like running a restaurant. It was at the age of 11 that I started helping her in the kitchen. That is what inspired me and has made the person I am today.

TO: Do you recall the first dish you cooked?
AZ: Yes, I made gnocchi. And I will be sharing it with you guys at the festival.

TO: Now that you play the role of adviser and consultant to a lot of new restaurants, what is your advice to them?
AZ: My advice is to do your homework. In the restaurant business the work has to come first, you can’t open a restaurant because you are passionate about doing this and doing that. You can be cooking fantastic food, but that doesn’t mean you are going to fill a restaurant. You have to be prepared to work all hours of the day. And you have to have a connection with it. If you are detached from your own restaurant, why will customers come?

TO: You’ve written books, judged TV shows, made guest appearances on programmes and even hosted your own TV documentary – do you get any time to yourself? What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
AZ: I have a 10 year old and an eighy year old, and I spend all my free time with them. We cook, we walk, we play, we do all sorts of things. My family is as important as my business, and I understand that now, with my second family. I have been lucky to get
a second chance and I am taking it.

TO: Cooking with your kids sounds like you've made a full circle from where you first started.
AZ: It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Cooking with my kids brings back all the memories. My children are so connected and so engaged when we are together. We talk, we discuss everything at the table.

TO: You’ve also been a great champion for healthy eating, especially for children. Tell us how you manage to strike that balance?
AZ: Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring. As chefs we’re always looking to build flavour. I think by using seasonal food you can’t go wrong. It tastes better, it is inexpensive and it is healthy. That's what I concentrate on most, seasonality. Secondly, when I cook I think of colours, I think of what is available and I think about flavour. Flavour for Italians is very, very important. It has to be strong; everything has to be well-seasoned.

TO: Given that it’s the Love Food Festival and we’re a few days away from Valentine’s Day, we have to ask, what is the most romantic meal you’ve cooked or have had cooked for you?
AZ: As a chef, you don’t get Valentine’s Day off [chuckles]. It is probably the busiest night of the year for us. But last year was one of the few years I was actually off, and was able to cook for my wife. I made her probably the best lobster dish, and oysters, and a chocolate and strawberry soufflé. It probably won’t be repeated because I will be working this year, but at least I’ve done it once [laughs].

TO: And our last question… Some people will judge the calibre of a chef on how well they can cook an omelette. What dish would someone have to perfect to impress Aldo Zilli.
AZ: A fish soup. As you can tell, I love seafood [chuckles].
Catch Chef Aldo Zilli's live demonstrations twice a day at the Chef Stage at Love Food Festival Abu Dhubi.

Also at Love Food Festival 2017

Bedouin Tent Chill-Out
Stop for a quick break in between your unlimited-courses-meal and soak in some local culture in the Bedouin tent. Sip on Arabic coffee, chomp on a few dates and enjoy traditional Emirati hospitality before you head back out. Ladies can get a henna design on their hands.

Chef Stage

Rub shoulders with award-winning celebrity chefs as they share a laugh and their secret culinary tips, and dazzle the crowd with live cooking demonstrations. Aldo Zilli, Suzanne Husseini, Andy Bates (pictured), Nicola Smith and Akmal Anuar are all set to impress over the three-day festival.
Only at Love Food Festival Abu Dhabi.


A dedicated Kid’s Zone will keep the young ones busy with activities like face painting, a bouncy castle and other fun games. Grown-ups can enjoy the song styles of traditional and contemporary music artists from the UAE. Hit up the main stage area to witness the best in local emerging talent. There'll be enough room should you feel like busting a move – a great way to work up an appetite for a second round of those grilled cheese sandwiches

Food & Drink Market

Stroll through this pop-up stall area of passionate, local vendors selling artisan products like cakes, raw honey, coffee and other sweet treats.

Reel Food Film Festival

While it does provide instant gratification, there are more ways to expand your knowledge of food than just polishing off a bunch of plates. Catch a range of food-focused documentaries, short and feature films that will be screened at this open-air cinema, and fill your mindalong with your tummy.
Only at Love Food Festival Abu Dhabi.

More Food.
More Festivals

Truckers DXB
The rolling food truck festival will be pulling up in the city for a day in between its stops in Dubai. Founded with the aim of promoting home-grown food concepts, 40 truckers are expected to make their way over to the verdant grounds of Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Foodies can dine at Calle Tacos, The Shebi, Sir Loin & Sons, Yumtingz and Gobai amongst others. Live performances, local vendors selling crafts and jewellery and fun activities are other highlights. Feel free to carry along your mats and blankets to this one.
February 17, 5pm-11pm. Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Flavors Festival Abu Dhabi 2017
Celebrate in the cool spring breeze at this 10-day food festival that boasts over 150 vendors – food tents, food trucks and local businesses. Some of the names to look forward to are Raclette DXB, Churros Café, Parata Guys, Saj2Go, Barbacoa, Extreme Burger and Monkey Cookies. Comedy acts, live cooking demonstrations, kids’ activities and entertainment workshops will all add to the chilled-out, fun vibe at this food festival.
March 30-April 8, 2pm-midnight. Umm Al Emarat Park.

By Will Milner and Vanessa Fitter
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

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