Can the Taste Initiative champion change in Dubai?

The Taste InitiativeA monolith of a concrete structure stares down the Sheikh Zayed; impossible to miss as you drive towards Mall of the Emirates, Dubai-bound. Well that’s The Change Initiative, Dubai’s first sustainable store – you wouldn’t think so given the size of the building. Deep inside past the quirky shop displays, sits the open-plan café The Taste Initiative serving ‘artisan meals with balanced living, environmental footprint and community in mind.’

Well what does that translate to? The menu marries organic with local produce – the latter less carbon footprint – but sadly organic can hardly tick the sustainable box if it’s flown in from another continent. Unless it’s both organic and local. Michael Pollan in his book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual explains, “Just because a food is labeled organic does not mean it’s good for you. Organic soda is still soda – a large quantity of utterly empty calories. We now have a body of research supporting the hypothesis, first advanced by organic pioneers Sir Albert Howard and J.I. Rodale, that soils rich in organic matter produce more nutritious food: that is food with higher levels of antioxidants, flavonoids, vitamins and minerals. Of course, after a few days riding cross-country in a truck, the nutritional quality of any kind of produce will deteriorate, so ideally you want food that is both organic and local.”

Thanks to the advancement of UAE farming initiatives, we have a growing choice of local produce here and I will always opt for local first, with organic second. If I can get both given some of the local farms are now certified organic, then even better.

What else makes this café sustainable? I quote from Ishita Unblogged’s post, ‘The kitchen uses energy saving appliances – induction oven, LEED certified refrigerators, and LED lighting for the whole restaurant. The waste produced from the restaurant is recycled and a dewatering device is used to extract water from food waste – thus reducing the volume of the waste, which is then composted in Bokashi bins. The need for chemicals is eliminated in the entire restaurant by using plant-based Ecover cleaning products – no chemicals!’ The Taste Initiative, you score brownie points here for sure.

Smoked salmon, asparagus and dill quicheThe lunchtime menu features an inspiring selection of sandwiches, quiches and salads. FooDiva’s asparagus, salmon and dill quiche arrived as a mini tower of flaky thin pastry. Crispy on the outside, with a feather-light, fluffy quiche mix bursting with al dente asparagus spears and slithers of smoked salmon – served with a crisp, mixed leaf salad. It would have been beneficial to know the origin of the ingredients given the sustainable promise. My only other qualm, the portion sizes were a tad teeny for my appetite. Perhaps part of the sustainable strategy? ;)

Chicken sandwich with gem lettuce and lemon infused mayoMy lunch companion, one of Dubai’s foremost food bloggers, My Custard Pie opted for the chicken sandwich with gem lettuce and lemon infused mayo – served on a choice of bread – in her case granary. She enjoyed it and the bite FooDiva had was succulent and zesty. Was the chicken free-range though she mused? Local, imported, organic?

Our grapefruit and apple juices were freshly squeezed on the spot even though I would place bets mine wasn’t given the thin consistency. Service was prompt – admittedly only a few tables were occupied on a Thursday lunch, but I expect the place gets busier on the weekend. FooDiva would love to see the waiters explain the sustainable concept and the origin of produce when presenting the menus to customers.

The Change Initiative also houses an organic grocery section, as well as beauty, accessories, clothing and household goods – almost qualifying as a department store. On that note, I couldn’t help but think and feel the full blast of the air-conditioning – hardly energy-saving? Unless the system used is sustainable? One thing’s for sure the menu prices are certainly sustainable at AED 46 per head.

It’s always good to see new home-grown concepts take shape here especially one trying to embrace sustainability and champion change in the desert we live in. I would certainly return to both eat and shop, so please do add The Change Initiative to your wish list.

The Taste Initiative is located at The Change Initiative on Sheikh Zayed Road in Barsha (very near the Ibis). T; 800 824. Open Sunday – Wednesday 8am – 9pm and Thursday to Saturday 9am – 10pm. Price per head AED 46.

What’s your opinion on food sustainability in the UAE? Would you go local or organic? Why?

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

P.S – FooDiva has been nominated in the Expats Blog awards – if you love FooDiva, then feel free to share your love by voting here. Merci beaucoup!

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27 Responses to “Can the Taste Initiative champion change in Dubai?”

  1. IshitaUnblogged November 28, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Thanks for the ping-back FooDiva. I do agree that the prices are quite sustainable. And it would be nice if the waiters can explain the sustainable concept and the origin of produce when presenting the menus to customers. Did you see the huge Steve Jobs portrait done with re-cyclable electrical junk?

    • FooDiva November 28, 2012 at 6:44 pm

      Yes I did Ishita – I must admit I’d love to return for a proper browse of the store. Some really interesting and quirky ideas.

  2. Sally - My Custard Pie November 28, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Thanks for the shout out. I would certainly go back for a sandwich (harder than you’d think to get nice sandwiches in Dubai). The refillable system for Ecover products looks good too (although the friendly person who explained it all left me baffled!).

    • FooDiva November 28, 2012 at 7:10 pm

      Thanks for lunching with me Sally. Quite…let me know if you return!

  3. Didi November 28, 2012 at 10:54 am

    I think I know what you mean why the concept isn’t sustainable in the purest sense. what slightly irked me was the fact that they had to build a new building to house the shop. with the abundance of retail space in this country, that should not have been the problem. But I guess they needed to exclusively house all those energy saving, recyclable processes into the structure?

    I am really more excited for the farmer’s market. Looking forward to updates on that soonest!

    • FooDiva November 28, 2012 at 6:49 pm

      I have a lot of unanswered questions on their sustainability practices, so I hope they will respond to this post answering your query too Didi.

      • Didi December 1, 2012 at 7:19 pm

        I visited last night and was quite disappointed :(

        • FooDiva December 2, 2012 at 10:16 pm

          Ooh pray tell us more Didi please…

          • Didi December 4, 2012 at 5:31 pm

            i was expecting MORE. They spent for a building as well as can afford advertising (prime space along SZR at that), so the store SHOULD be worthwhile. I don’t know maybe because I’ve seen other concepts of sustainability elsewhere and expect them to at least match it.

            For example on the packaging, why not encourage the shoppers to recycle old bottles / containers by having a refill station for products like liquid soap, shampoo, nuts, grains, etc. so that you end up just buying the amount you really need vs ending up buying more plus adding more junk to the planet.

            I am no expert, but i think this region is a treasure throve of organic, sustainable products and it doesnt hurt to add more of those. If having local products, meaning products from neighboring stores like Ripe, Organics Cafe and Down to Earth (brands which I’ve seen inside the store), then I still need to know where these suppliers source those products if I was really anal about being sustainable / organic / local.

            Educating the consumers about the products also is key. Would love to see more quick tips and information about each product.

  4. Drina C | Eaternal Zest November 28, 2012 at 11:11 am

    The huge signage on the outside threw me off as well.. sustainable?? and how much of it?

    But i still believe it is an initiative,.. a starting point and a perfect example to learn from.

    Hope to see more shops/groceries/cafes like this.
    with all the farmers markets and organic hoo-haa Dubai is taking a step towards the better.

    • FooDiva November 28, 2012 at 6:51 pm

      If you think how far Dubai has come in the last year, concepts like these are as you said Drina a step forward and can only be good, even if they still require fine tuning.

  5. Geordie Armani November 28, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    I am rather wondering whether the use of the word is sustainable is more of a marketing angle than what is actually in place? As mentioned here why not rent one of the old places that are lying empty post recession? Personally I go local over organic, an economy needs sustaining and buying imported organic doesn’t make sense. As for the chicken if it was organic it will have been imported, 100% sure of that.

    • FooDiva November 28, 2012 at 7:03 pm

      It could be GA, but I expect their heart is in the right place – they just need to explain exactly what they are doing and get their staff better trained. Similarly, I’ve no idea if the chicken was local or imported. Their menu stipulated produce is either local or organic not necessarily both.

  6. Kellie Whitehead November 28, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    Thanks for the opportunity to finally see inside! Somewhere you constantly drive past, but never find myself beside ! Will check out the cafe soon for sure – I hope they keep their ethos and mission pure.

    • FooDiva November 28, 2012 at 7:05 pm

      Thanks for dropping by Kellie. Love to get your feedback when you do go.

  7. Sarah@thehedonista November 28, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Went myself the other day but didn’t dine. I think it needs more product, and although some of the non-food range differentiates it from Organic Foods and cafe, it’s still a long way behind. Is there an intention to introduce retail fresh food, do you think? That would be a plus.

    • FooDiva November 28, 2012 at 7:06 pm

      Good question Sarah – not sure. Let’s hope they are reading this post :)

  8. Stacy November 28, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    In answer to your question, I always choose local first over organic that has been flown in. Both is the holy grail. I read “Animal, Vegetable, MIracle” a number of years ago and local has been my goal since then. Not always attainable, but, still, a worthwhile goal. I like that even the large grocery chains here have signs with the origin of the produce. Seems to me that a restaurant that advertises itself as sustainable should do the same.

    • FooDiva November 28, 2012 at 7:09 pm

      I agree Stacy – apart from staff training, they could add the origin of produce to the menu. The only challenge being that this could change given consistency can sometimes be a procurement issue here.

      • Stacy November 28, 2012 at 7:17 pm

        I agree! But UAE would be good enough for me. I don’t need the name of the farm. Or say just imported. But at least we’d know. Imported goods hardly fit the sustainability criteria, I’d have thought. Perhaps they need a more flexible menu, (big erasable whiteboard?) rather than something that is printed.

        • FooDiva December 2, 2012 at 10:16 pm

          Yep agree the blackboard idea or a sustainable version would work well.

  9. The Change Initiative December 5, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    Hello All,

    We would firstly like to thank you for your interest in The Change Initiative marketplace. The feedback we have received here is definitely great food for thought! We are keen to receive feedback and use it constructively.

    We are glad to learn that you enjoyed your meals at The Taste Initiative restaurant. As commented by few on the portion size – we try to keep the portion sizes moderate to reduce wastage and as being sustainable is what we believe in, it has been our endeavour to reduce food wastage in our kitchen. However, if your portion did not satisfy you – we have a policy of giving our customers a second plate on the house if they are still a bit hungry following their first portion.

    Our menu does include elements that may not be entirely sustainable at the moment but we are working on improving and expanding the range of local produce. However, the rest of the restaurant, including the furniture, lighting, kitchen equipment, and the manner in which kitchen waste is dealt with is all very sustainable.

    The Change Initiative building is not a new building, it has existed in the same location as far back as we can remember. We didn’t want to take the character of the building away but add to it and therefore, renovated the store in a manner which was both appealing to our customers and environmentally friendly. Taking ahead our concept, we have applied for the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum certification, which rates the environmental performance of a building.

    To apply for this certification, we had to retain and reuse many of the fixtures and fittings that existed in the building prior to renovation. Most of the entrance, reception area and floor tiles were kept as they were or reused in an innovative way elsewhere within the marketplace.
    We are working and supporting local businesses, and our latest move has been to introduce Ripe vegetables and fruits in the store.

    I hope this answers some of your questions or concerns, however if you have any additional queries, please feel free to contact us directly on info@tci-mail.com.

    We genuinely believe in sustainability.

    We hope to see you in the marketplace and we will be happy to take you around the premises to discuss the sustainability elements and provide information on our range of products.

    • FooDiva December 5, 2012 at 6:33 pm

      Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to this post and the comments and questions raised. It’s always great to see a restaurant/ cafe publicly note feedback.

      I think the challenge here is not so much how sustainable your concept is, but training staff to explain the sustainable elements to customers, so other than what I mentioned in my review, perhaps asking diners if the portions were adequate and if not that you would happily offer more. Education is so important in taking any concept forward.

      Thank you and for sure I will return.
      FooDiva. x

      • IshitaUnblogged January 4, 2013 at 6:12 pm

        Brilliant example! A restaurant gets back on a review and working on it.

  10. The Change Initiative December 6, 2012 at 9:51 am

    Thank you for your comment FooDiva, we will definitely take your comments on board and will work on improving our diners’ experience at The Taste Initiative.

    We look forward to having you visit us again.

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