Abu Dhabi and the Steve Harvey Open Fire Food Festival

If you had asked me a year ago about visiting Abu Dhabi, I would have said that doing so wasn’t on my radar.  However,  I was invited to attend the inaugural Steve Harvey Open Fire Food Festival, the first of its kind in Abu Dhabi.  If you’re a fan of Steve Harvey like I am, you don’t turn that down.  So, I packed up my bags and headed to Abu Dhabi and the Steve Harvey Open Fire Food Festival!

Melissa and trainees
Some young people with me and Chef Aysha after a demonstration

About the Open Fire Food Festival

Barbecue is not the same all around the world.  Even in the US, I hear people describing BBQ in many different ways.  Some think it’s any time you fire up a grill (“I’m going to bbq some hot dogs,”) some thinks it’s a noun (“BBQ means pulled pork only.”) I’m a bit more lenient on the definition- if you think it’s bbq, you’re correct.  I’ve been in the BBQ world for over 35 years and I’m ok with this loose definition, it’s usually the “just bought my first smoker crowd” that’s the hardliners in this group. However, even those folks would be mystified at what the world thinks of “BBQ and Live Fire cooking.”  Let me tell you, it is amazing!

open fire grill
Nice grill from the Exit10BBQ folks

Steve Harvey is a man who knows what good BBQ is.  He also understands the UAE, as he has been a part-time resident there for years.  BBQ in the rest of the world is more akin to slow grilling than low and slow “pit-made” bbq that we think of in the U.S.  Regardless of what you think BBQ is, the results that I’ve tasted around the world, and especially at this event, were absolutely fantastic.

The Steve Harvey Open Fire Food Festival was designed to bring American BBQ prowess to the UAE, and have it mingle with the endemic open-fire grilling of the region.  I must say, tasty results happened!

About going to and visiting Abu Dhabi

The festival booked me and my husband on Emirates airlines.  We flew from Memphis (my closest airport) to Chicago, then direct in to Abu Dhabi.  The flight was thirteen and a half hours going there (pretty long time!) However, the service was top notch and the flight was uneventful.  The festival was on Yas Island.  Fun fact, Yas Island was literally just desert 15 years ago.  With significant investment from Abu Dhabi, it welcomed more than 34 million visitors!  It now boasts the largest indoor amusement park in the world (Warner Brothers World,) a Formula One race track, hotels, resorts, and so much more.

One thing you’ll note if you visit Abu Dhabi- the cleanliness and safety.  The place is absolutely immaculate, as in no graffiti, no trash, not even a piece of gum on the sidewalk.  Immaculate, and safe.  People literally walk away from their purses, leave cars unlocked, etc.  Steve told me there hasn’t been a car stolen there for 20 years.  Crazy.

Riding Dunes, Playing with Hawks, and checking out a spice market

Melissa on sand
On top of one of the many, many, many sand dunes
spice market
visiting a spice market- what great smells!

The Steve Harvey team really laid out the red carpet for me.  I stayed at the Hilton Yas Island, very close to everything I needed, and a nice hotel to boot.  After an afternoon to relax from the flight, I went to go dune riding in the desert.  I should have known something was up with the roll bar on the interior of the car, but luckily it wasn’t needed.  A rest for my stomach after swerving and sliding through sand dunes was needed, however.  So, after the ride I was escorted to a traditional tent and tea, served with dates.  Arabian tea is traditionally served unsweetened, and the drinker has dates with it for their sweetness.

Melissa with falcon
Please don’t bite my face!
What a magnificent falcon!
Melissa on camel
Camels can be a bit bumpy!

After a sip of tea, I went for a short ride on a very nice camel, then my absolute favorite moment of the trip, holding a magnificent falcon.  The falcon was just strikingly beautiful, and a bit scary.  As in, “please don’t eat my face” scary, but it didn’t.  I did meet a royal later, and hit him up to take me falconing, but I didn’t have time to go.  There’s always next time!

The Steve Harvey Open Fire Food Festival

Melissa with Tom and Jerry

The event kicked off with a mind-boggling array of foods at the welcome dinner, held at Warner Brothers World. Tuesday Leroux was on hand for interviews- she is so amazing!  Yes, that’s her real name, and I’m jealous of that!

Melissa and Tuesday Leroux
Pic with Tuesday Leroux

I am not a fan of buffets, but this meal was truly epic.  I mean, where else are you going to find fresh bluefin tuna sashimi, a 40 foot salad station, and camel burgers all in the same area.  There was so much amazing food I’m still in awe.

From there we started the festival, and if I thought the buffet was epic, the event was over-the-top great.  Tons of vendors, lots of event goers, and beautiful weather.  Not a bad gig!  I was so happy to lead two kids cooking lessons with a local talent, Chef Aysha, plus I did a demo on the main stage.

This was a first year event, and even with all of the first time hiccups, the festival was exceedingly smooth.  The event sold out on both Saturday and Sunday and the crowd was amazing.  All of the vendors sold lots of food, which from my restaurateurs eye is always a good thing.

In Short…

Melissa and Chef Aysha

Though this was a short visit, I was really shocked at how much I loved Abu Dhabi.  Several people explained to me that Abu Dhabi is more about family and friends than the more famous Dubai, which is more about glitz and parties.  Real people vs plastic.  And that’s my cup of (Arabian) tea!

3 Responses

  1. I visit your barbeque restaurant in Horn lake often. Nice food and great service. My name is Jermaine Tucker

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