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Sun 2 Dec 2007 04:00 AM

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Season’s eatings

Caterer takes a look at what's on offer at the region's hotel F&B outlets this festive season and how chefs are coping with the heavy workload the period brings.

The festive season is the busiest time of the year for hospitality, and it is no different in the Middle East, especially this year, when Christmas and Eid al-Adha fall very close together. For hotel outlets, this is also an important time of year in terms of revenue.

Throughout the region, most hotel outlets are focusing on Christmas rather than on Eid, but one exception is at the Mövenpick Hotel & Resort Al Bida'a in Kuwait, where the focus will be on celebrating Eid. Although the hotel is decorating the lobby area with a tree and gingerbread house, Eid specials include holiday packages, an Eid brunch and musical entertainment. There will also be Eid decorations in all of the restaurant areas.

We have created three different celebrations to cater to individual requirements.

The Mövenpick Tower & Suites Doha is also promoting separate events this year.

"We believe that our target group is different for these three major events [Eid, Christmas and New Year's] especially in Qatar where people are very religious and quite conservative. As a general rule, those that celebrate Eid don't celebrate Christmas so we have created three different celebrations to cater to these individual requirements," said Lamya Sebti, public relations & communications manager.

In contrast, most hotels in the UAE are focusing on Christmas. The Fujairah Rotana Resort & Spa is offering no special Eid offers, while the Fairmont Dubai is taking a more comprehensive approach, with 29 separate promotions, from pre-cooked take-home holiday feasts of turkey and yams to hampers and special spa offers. However, there are no Eid-specific offers.

At most hotels, the malls, lobbies and food venues will be decorated with as much Christmas-themed red and gold ribbons, bows, trees, Santas and inflatable snow domes as can be mustered. Choirs, giant gingerbread houses and stockings will also be in abundance. At the Fujairah Rotana, Santa will be arriving by camel on Christmas Day; while the Hilton Deira Creek is hosting a school choir and life-size gingerbread houses.

However, for the back of house staff, Christmas is a time for round the clock work. Le Thai My Huyen began work as the Mövenpick Dur Dubai's new head pastry chef in November-and has been working non-stop to create Christmas pastries almost since the day she started.

"This is the busiest time of year," said Huyen, "We have been working 24 hours a day to prepare." Huyen and her team will hand-make and decorate thousands of gingerbread Santas and snowmen, along with chocolates and cookies. "We are having a new drive to get everyone involved and give their opinions on new [pastry] products. We have tastings and people give their opinions."

In addition to making yule logs with chestnut filling and cookies, Huyen will also be teaching chocolate cooking classes throughout December.

Kirsten Lange, public relations manager, Mövenpick Hotel & Resort Al Bida'a, agrees that Christmas is hardest on the pastry team. "Definitely the creativity of the pastry chef is tested during the festive season as he has to create so many sweet items such as mince piece, Christmas cake, Stollen and chocolate log. Eid sweets are even more elaborate with a wide selection of fruit and nut filled pastries and deserts."

According to Fairmont executive chef David Hammonds, preparations leading up to the festive season are the busiest.

"The pastry department began in earnest creating Christmas cakes, mince pies, festive shortbread cookies, ginger bread houses and Christmas puddings for the host of festive offerings at the hotel."

Definitely the creativity of the pastry chef is tested during the festive season as he has to create so many sweet items such as mince pie.

In Dubai, New Year is a time for caviar, foie gras and champagne.

The Hilton Dubai Jumeirah plans to get through 3kg of caviar, 30kg foie gras and 600 bottles of champagne. The Fairmont Dubai plans to get through 1000 bottles of champagne, 5kg of caviar and 50kg of foie gras.

However, hotels outside Dubai do not use nearly as much of these luxury ingredients. The Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza anticipates high champagne sales over New Year, but does not plan on using much foie gras. Khalid Bseiso, assistant director of food & beverage said that caviar is hardly ever requested.

Similarly, hotels in Qatar use only small amounts of caviar and foie gras. At the Mövenpick Hotel & Tower Doha, they have ordered just 3.5kg of foie gras and 500g of caviar for the season.

Many hotels are also adding to festive spirit with charity drives during this season of giving. The Mövenpick Bur Dubai will be attempting to create the region's largest Christmas stocking-filled with donations for charitable causes.

The Fairmont Dubai is collecting donations at three Teddy Bear Tea events for Special Needs Families, a Dubai based organisation committed to the welfare of special needs children.

The Radisson SAS Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek is hosting a Gingerbread house decoration event for children and will be donating the proceeds of the event to the Dubai Centre For Special Needs.

For New Year's Eve, chocolate is a big theme this year, as is the beach. The Fairmont will have two epicurean rooms set up-a Caspian Room, featuring caviar, salmon and vodka-and a Chocolate Haven room showcasing multi-tiered desserts and chocolate fountains. The Hilton Jumeirah plans a beach-side ‘big bang' till the wee hours; while the Fujairah Rotana will be ushering in the New Year with an all night party, followed by cocktails at sunrise.

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