May 30, 2023


15 recognized chefs representing selected F&B players in Saudi Arabia have competed for the coveted pass to the 2023 final in Milan.

The winner of the Riyadh semifinal is Chef Sanjay Thakur from Saudi Airlines Catering with his recipe Braised Short Ribs With Dates, who received the trophy from Mr. Fahad Alhudhayf, Marketing Director of the National Center for Palm and Dates (NCPD) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Environment of Saudi Arabia.

The event supported by the NCPD, the World Association of Chefs’ Societies and the Saudi Culinary Academy. The Dates Connection involves chefs from 5 countries – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, UAE and Italy. The country semifinals continue until March 2023.

Thomas Gugler, President of World Chef together with the winner, Chef Sanjay Thakur of Saudia Catering and Mr. Fahad Alhudayf, Marketing Director of the National Center for Palms and Dates, Saudi Arabia.

The national semifinals of The Dates Connection, the culinary competition launched by HostMilano and TUTTOFOOD -the two forefront trade shows of the hospitality and agri-food industries in the portfolio of Fiera Milano – heats up in Riyadh, tracing an ideal route from the Gulf to Italy and across the most evocative places of the Levant, highlighting the gourmet creativity of international chefs. The dates, and their contemporary reinterpretations, are the preeminent protagonists, playing the role of culinary bridge between East and West.

A celebration of a cosmopolitan high cuisine
It is not only about dessert, but also bread, main courses based on meat -such as the Wagyu filet with Ajwa dates, lamb stuffed with dates, braised short ribs with dates ribs- and lamb ravioli too by the Italian chef Nicola Offredi. These are just some of the culinary treats that have taken the scene at the Saudi Arabia national semifinal, that took place today 8 of December at the Riyadh International Convention & Exhibition Center during the International Dates Conference and Exhibition.

Thanks to the support of the World Association of Chef’s Societies and the National Centre for Palms & Dates, The Dates Connection has invited chefs from across the flourishing Saudi F&B sector, including culinary academies, airlines, restaurants and hotels. A total of fifteen chefs created special recipes using dates as the key ingredient. Some of them have reinterpreted traditional recipes with a modern touch, mostly on the dessert front, while others created totally new dishes, such as the dates ravioli. The videos showing the preparation of all the recipes are available at the YouTube channel of the Emirates Culinary Guild.

Choosing the winner was a challenging task for the jury led by Chef Thomas Gugler, President of the World Association of Chefs Societies, because of the high-quality dishes prepared by the award-winning semifinalists that represented some of the top fine dining destinations of the region:
Chef Mohamed Panjbeer Mustafa of Saudi Airlines Catering, Chef Nicola Offredi of Annabella Ristorante Italiano and Chef Sanjay Thakur of Saudi Airlines Catering.

The much-expected prize was finally given to Chef Sanjay Thakur of Saudi Airlines Catering, who won the hearts and the palates of the jury and the audience with his recipe Braised Short Ribs With Dates. The winner of the semifinal received the trophy from Mr. Fahad Alhudhayf, Marketing Director of the NCPD.

The National Centre for Palms and Dates, an institution of the Saudi government responsible for promoting the production and consumption of dates in the Kingdom and in the international market, supported the Saudi Chapter of The Dates Connection and will participate in TUTTOFOOD 2023 introducing to the Italian market more than 300 varieties of Saudi dates. Indeed, the NCPD has chosen Fiera Milano as partner for the international promotion of dates and the long-term activities planned for that purpose in Europe and the Middle East.

Another important contribution for the success of the event was the participation of the Saudi Culinary Academy, where international chefs are dedicated to bringing to life a new generation of Saudi chefs capable of creating sophisticated dishes, such as the lingue di gatto, and conjugate them with more traditional foods like the dates and the Saudi coffee.

Chef’s creativity meets business opportunity
The Dates Connection is not only a first-class international gourmet event, but an important networking moment for buyers, companies, media, associations and institutions linked to the business opportunities of an industry in constant growth. It is remarkable just to consider that in 2020 the world dates production reached 9.5 million ton, harvested from a total of 200 million palms. Over 33 million of these palms are in Saudi Arabia, which produced 1.5 million tons of dates in 2021, representing close to 16% of the total and positioning itself as the third producer of dates in the world. Saudi Arabian dates exports grow 12% yearly.

The Dates Connection will continue until March with the semifinals in the other participating countries: Qatar, UAE and Italy. The five finalists will face each other in a big closing event in 2023 in Italy, at a location that is still top secret and that will be revealed in the coming months. This initiative is part of the international promotional tour of the 2023 editions of TUTTOFOOD and HostMilano.

TUTTOFOOD will take place at Fieramilano from the 8th to the 11th of May 2023.
HostMilano will take place at Fieramilano from the 13th to the 17th of October 2023.

For further information:, @TuttoFoodMilano;, @HostMilano.

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