News From : DagangHalal.com (25 Feb 2016)
Tables and stores in the UAE are serving premium fine foods that are newly halal-certified, and the trend is here to stay, say experts.
Manuel Polin presents us three very broad meat ribbons threaded on a pick. While I try each undulation separately, a friend eats the trio together, but our squeals of astonishment equal each other’s. I can taste duck and beef and mystery, while my pal claims a backdrop of salt and smoke. Polin, Speciality Chef at Segreto, identifies the ribbons of meat as duck speck, goose salami and “salmonated beef” and declares solemnly, “They are all from my part of Italy, and they are all halal.”
At the Fairmont Dubai, I pounce on newly joined Executive Chef Tuomas Heikkinen because I rank him highly and he is the friendliest soul to come out of Finland, but mostly because the oxtail and venison stews he served at Raffles’ Christmas feast (his last job) are vivid gustatory memories. I want to know what other exotic and specifically Scandinavian meats he wants to see halal-certified.
Massimo Vidoni is popularly known as Truffle Man, but I am tempted to give him many monikers when I study his new product portfolio. Long a popular purveyor of gourmet foods like truffles and caviar, Vidoni is now working with Italian manufacturers to make their operations – and their food products – halal-certified, and he is supplying them to Dubai’s finest restaurants.
The enduring food anecdotes from Jerome K. Jerome’s classic, Three Men in a Boat tempt me to make a contextual relabelling of these guys as Three Men Pushing the Boat. They are in the vanguard of this trend introducing the UAE to new, premium and luxurious halal foods and their efforts need to be applauded.
The emergence of halal fine foods not only means that discerning diners can now enjoy products that have hitherto been unavailable but more importantly that everyone can savour the exact same tastes without compunction and in full compliance of Islamic dietary laws. “In this market, it certainly makes sense to ensure that as many dishes as possible can be enjoyed by the maximum number of clientele,” says Heikkinen.
Vidoni’s Italtouch now gets halal products specially produced in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of the Italian Alps. He supplies cured goose breast, cooked goose ham, goose salami, free-range deboned lamb ham and salmonated beef to several premium restaurants, Taste of Italy by Heinz Beck and gourmet store Eataly.
Alongside Italtouch, the growing roster of suppliers for speciality halal products include Classic Fine Foods, Transmed, Repertoire, Chef Middle East and Promar, with a joint portfolio ranging from corn-fed chicken and grass-fed lamb to quails, guinea fowls and Cecina de Leon – a smoked and dried cut from the hind leg of beef cattle.
While many premium halal products are available at Spinneys and Waitrose, several are served at speciality and fine dining restaurants, notable among them Dubai’s Solo and Bushman’s.
“In this market, it certainly makes sense to ensure that as many dishes as possible can be enjoyed by the maximum number of clientele.”
-Tuomas Heikkinen, Executive Chef, Fairmont Dubai
Chefs are of course grateful, but patrons are even more so. How long have we waited to eat Alpine goose salami that follows a 600-year-old recipe, or beef that is marinated and slow-cured just as it was salmon?
It definitely takes two to tango, and discerning chefs are making demands for more halal products to make their way to our shores and plates. “I think food producers have really risen to this challenge and recognise the huge market for high-end halal products,” says Heikkinen. “More ingredients are entering the market – almost on a weekly basis – and this gives us a lot of space to innovate and keep creating new dishes and menus.”
So how many new products fulfil requests and how many originate as suggestions from source? “Most suppliers are happy to take on our suggestions, while others like to feature the latest fashionable items,” he explains. “We work together closely with our suppliers to ensure we are among the first to hear about new products that enter this market.”
Polin says several halal ingredients used in the Segreto kitchen reflect his personal quest for perfection. “Authentic products mean I can fulfil my wish to deliver every dish as close as possible to the original taste. For example, imported Italian beef bresaola did not comply with the taste of the original, so I removed it from our menu.” He emphasises it is quality, above all, that truly makes the halal cut, which also opens discussion on why halal products often cost more.
“I believe in paying more to get fully certified and consistently good halal products,” says Polin.
Heikkinen thinks these costs can be attributed to many regulations in relation to creating and serving halal food. “For example, the preparation area and the equipment need to be completely separate and labelled. There is big risk of cross-contamination, and much care has to be taken to ensure the operations are 100 per cent-compliant.”
It’s about quality
But the cost is more than matched by consumption. Vidoni has several private clients and some of his halal products are in great demand because of their premium quality. “Not all meat is the same, even if it is from the same cow,” he says. “Likewise, there is a world of difference between meat from a lamb that returns to its pen at night and from another that lives wild. The taste of a cold cut depends on several factors: type of wood, quality of smoke, and type and length of process.
“There is a big difference between mass-produced and artisanal foods, and halal foods are no exception. You cannot place an amethyst alongside diamonds and expect miracles.”
Polin is excited about another element that he believes will help customers enjoy new tastes without breaking any rules and it is halal wine. Spanish firm Halal Wine produces a variety of wines that are halal-certified – its own Vincero brand has 0.0 per cent alcohol.
Coming back to food, Vidoni says even a small sliver of lamb ham makes some of his Arab clients gush because it is the essence of an Eid meal. Polin is now serving hare and Heikkinen is waiting for reindeer to get halal-certified. I am hankering for some gnu. What about you?