The sheer numbers at the 9th edition is one thing, but what takes the cake 
is the eclectic mix of expertise and diversity. By Muhammad Asad Ullah
The layer of smoke wafting from Sheraton Grand Doha’s park wasn’t dry this time; the all-pervasive aroma of food taking over the capital’s skyline — as if intent on making a statement — was palpable. 
The eagerly awaited 9th Qatar International Food Festival, organised and delivered by Qatar Tourism Authority, began on Thursday for what promises to an exhilarating ride at the Hotel Park. Where the number of participants has increased considerably — by 37%, with a whopping 177 stalls — the event has now become the largest food festival of Qatar, with thousands of attendees, food enthusiasts and participants making a beeline. It’s that time of the year again where one needs to snub the weight gain game, stop griping and perhaps, even acquit the whining foodie. 
The festival opened with its signature QIFF Cooking Theatre — ushering in one of Hollywood’s favourite celebrity chefs and culinary arts maestro, Wolfgang Puck, along with celebrated Middle Eastern chef, Qatar’s very own Aisha al-Tamimi, extending their experience for learners to prepare, cook, handle and — most crucial of all — present food. It reinforced the corollary about how visual appeal is just as essential as the tasting experience. 
Chef Wolfgang shared his exquisite recipe of Italian classic Seafood Risotto and Chinois Lamb Chops — the highlight remained his shared secrets; the presence of prawns, paired with al dente rice and parmesan — which appeared to be on-point with its taste to indulge one’s Italian food cravings. Not for nothing has he been the in-charge of the feast at the Governor’s Ball — the Academy Awards after-party — for so long. 
The sheer diversity of cuisine on offer should bring in hordes to savour the flavours of the East and West in the days to come. This year, QIFF however, is not only saving its best for food lovers but also giving generous leeway to locally owned coffee shops; the aroma and rich flavour of the beans will, in all likelihood, keep the visitors hooked. The ‘first day, first show’ provided ample evidence. 
Kuwaiti-singer-turned chef Sulaiman al-Qassar was at hand to deliver his customised recipe for traditional Rice and Chicken, the Chicken Kabsa and Potato Kebbah. It seemed luscious with rice, but if one is not really a rice person, a fresh pita bread can work out extremely well, giving a well-balanced flavour with dried lime. American chef and TV host Christine Ha, the first visually impaired contestant of MasterChef and winner of its third season (2012), played safe with her Mexican Beef Steak Fajita and Grilled Corn, but it was spicy enough to hit the taste goalpost. 
There’s some good news for people, who want to have some time to themselves, with no kids around! There’s a set-up for mini zoo where, many people did leave their young ones following the opening ceremony. Then, there’s another escapade that has nothing to do with food: art therapy. One got to see some extraordinary presentations. The pistacolate chocolate presentation and puffytaffyqatar’s cute candy floss floating in the park in Pikachu and Angry Birds formation made one think twice: to eat it or keep it! 
And if you’re not into art, you can always just chill out, listening to some live music by Doha bigwigs based hip hop dance troupe, beats, Doha String Quartet & Friends, Doha Jazz and an American music band, playing throughout the festival.
Foodies will be able to treat themselves to more than ten different cuisines — all under one roof. It sounds as promising as the festival in contributing to the development and promotion of Qatar’s food and tourism industry.

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