For this chef trained in prestigious French establishments, the metropolis built in the middle of the desert that is home to 3.5 million inhabitants, 90% of whom are expatriates, did not seem like an obvious career choice.

At the helm of the STAY by Yannick Alléno, crowned with two stars by the famous Michelin guide, the young chef from Montluçon (center of the France) is now delighted to have "taken the risk".

"Dubai is still in the early stages but is well on its way to becoming one of the best destinations in the world to eat," he said.

With more than 13,000 restaurants and cafes representing more than 200 different nationalities, the emirate has always praised the diversity of its offering, although none of these establishments has so far been awarded the three stars, the supreme distinction of the Michelin guide.

French chef Renaud Dutel prepares a dish in the kitchens of the restaurant STAY by Yannick Alléno, on July 7, 2023 in Dubai © Karim SAHIB / AFP

But with the arrival in the last two years of renowned gastronomic guides such as Michelin, Gault and Millau or the World's Best 50 Restaurants, Dubai wants to position itself as a "gastronomic hub", says Issam Kazim, director of a public body responsible for promoting the emirate.

If it welcomed 14 million tourists in 2022, nothing predestined this city to aim for such a title, unlike other regions of the Arab world, from the Levant to the Maghreb, with renowned culinary cultures.

- 'Political voluntarism' -

The Gulf has known neither a history of royal courts, which promote the flourishing of great cuisine, nor a process of "gastronomization" of culinary traditions, explains Loïc Bienassis, scientific officer at the European Institute of History and Cultures of Food, based in France.

But "everything may have to be done and political voluntarism can play a role," he adds.

If Emirati cuisine, which combines the flavors of the Arabian Peninsula with Asian spices, is far from topping the rankings, Dubai relies above all on its cultural mix to develop a singular culinary identity.

A chef prepares a dish in the kitchens of the restaurant STAY by Yannick Alléno, on July 7, 2023 in Dubai © Karim SAHIB / AFP

And the restaurant sector has experienced phenomenal growth, driven by the economic diversification strategy of the emirate, which is less rich in oil than its Gulf neighbors.

By establishing itself as the capital of business and luxury tourism in the Middle East, Dubai has attracted culinary stars such as the French Yannick Alléno and Pierre Gagnaire, the British Gordon Ramsay, the Japanese Nobu Matsuhisa or the Italian Massimo Bottura.

Emirati avocado and food blogger Habib Al Mulla, who has evaluated more than 700 establishments worldwide, testifies to this evolution, where until the 2000s, dishes were mainly eaten at home.

Since 2020, "we have entered a third phase", marked by the arrival of the "gurus" of food criticism and the emergence of a "new generation of chefs raised in Dubai", says Habib Al Mulla.

Chef Solemann Haddad in his restaurant Moonrise, with the imposing buildings of Dubai in the background, July 3, 2023 © Karim SAHIB / AFP

"100% Dubai"

At only 27 years old, Solemann Haddad was awarded a Michelin star for his restaurant Moonrise, perched on the roof of a luxurious tower where he serves only 12 guests per service.

Of French mother and Syrian father, the young chef says he reflects in his dishes the cosmopolitan spirit of his adopted city, combining foie gras with a date syrup and a saffron and pineapple chutney.

"I define my cuisine as a European third, a third Japanese, a third Arab, but 100% Dubai," he laughs.

In a country that imports more than 80% of its food needs, restaurateurs can hardly play the local card, but some highlight the rare local products.

At Boca, a Mediterranean restaurant in the heart of the business district, "80% of the fish and seafood is local or comes from coasts close to the Emirates," says the owner, Omar Shihab.

Chef Solemann Haddad cooks in his restaurant Moonrise, on July 3, 2023 in Dubai © Karim SAHIB / AFP

Between 30 and 40% of fruits and vegetables are purchased from Emirati hydroponic farms, adds the Jordanian-born entrepreneur, admitting, however, that he has no alternatives for meat.

"Let's face it, we live in the desert," he said.

© 2023 AFP