What Kept Me Busy

From Business World Online
Vol. XXI, No. 222
Thursday, June 12, 2008 MANILA, PHILIPPINES
Arts & Leisure

Cooking isn’t for wimps

Ten executive chefs from Manila and Cebu battled on June 5 in a friendly competition over who could produce the best culinary creations using the finest ingredients from Canada for a charity dinner/auction held at the flight deck of Canadian navy ship HMCS Ottawa. The winning recipes they launched that day, along with two of each chef’s all-time favorites, will be sold in a cookbook for the benefit of Bantay Bata 163 in Manila and the Emergency Rescue Unit Foundation (ERUF) in Cebu.

KNIFE at the ready for the 2nd Canadian Culinary Cuisine Cook-Off

There was also a silent chef’s auction.

The 2nd Canadian Culinary Cuisine Cook-Off provided the entertaining sight of chefs of different nationalities, who had attained the highest level in the culinary world and were used to ordering staff about their respective hotel kitchens, blithely beating eggs, bloodying hands while carving the meat, and performing other mundane tasks, all the while cracking wisecracks over each other’s heads. Blame Canada

It has to be said that the good-natured chefs got along just fine before this competition and rarely crossed spatulas. After this stunt, the seeds of rivalry have been sown, and maybe next year we’ll see a return of the contenders, battling it out under the Canadian red and white.

The Manila team was composed of Frenchman Patrick Fournes of the Hotel Intercontinental Manila, Austrian Karl Heinz Krautler of Makati Shangri-La Manila, Swiss Christian Werdenberg of Sofitel Philippine Plaza, Canadian Bill McGrath of Taal Vista Hotel, and Australian Adam Mathis of The Peninsula Manila.

The Cebu team was composed of German Martin Przewodnik of Alegre Beach Resort, Italian Stefano Verillo of the Hilton Cebu Resort & Spa, Canadian Luke Gagnon of Marco Polo Plaza Cebu, Frenchman Emmanuel Guemon of Shangri-La Mactan Resort & Spa, and German Joerg Walter of Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino.

"Canadian cuisine to me represents and signifies multiculturalism, a broad integration of flavor, ingredients, cooking styles, cooking techniques. Canadian cuisine to me is all things to all people... We love all [these recipes] because we all partook in the creation of the dish, we all have an influence — therefore we all hold a stake," Mr. Gagnon told BusinessWorld right before the cooking commenced.

The chefs had deliberated together and created their recipes before the cook-off, although ingredients were brought in from Canada as late as the morning of June 5. The list ranged from prime Alberta beef, prairie bison steak, Quebec foie gras, cold-smoked sockeye salmon, Pacific king crab, British Columbia oysters, Digby scallops, Nova Scotia lobster, Dungeness crab, wild blueberries, and pure maple syrup.

"Canada is 300-odd thousand miles long, so from the East coast to the West coast, there’s a variation of foods all the way across. We even have Lithuanian influences, Indian influences, so it’s a very diverse country... The food itself, the main course ingredients, you have got to imagine we have all the best, really, because we have the land, the water, the fields... I used to be able to pick wild blueberries, wild raspberries, just walking the bush," shared Mr. McGrath.

Fruits of their labor

Around 110 guests attended the charity dinner, with rows flanking 12 VIP tables seating dignitaries, prominent businessmen, as well as the senior officers of the navy ship. The creations were alternately served, and so neighbors could compare and contrast the appetizer, soup, main course, wild card dish, and dessert of each team.

But not even the judges — namely food columnist and chef Claude Tayag, ABS-CBN News Channel host David Celdran, Philippine Daily Inquirer chair Marixi Prieto, Cathay Pacific country manager Vivian Lo, and HMCS Ottawa executive chef P01 Steven Stacyszyn — could tell which came from which team.

THE CEBU team stands beside the HMCS Ottawa.

(Apart from the judges, the rest of the diners had a collective vote.)

"We five judges had no idea who did any of the 10 dishes even when the winner was announced. Each of the 10 chefs was designated to do one dish. Only SGV knew who did what. T’was a close tally though. But each chef won a citation for their dish. Overall tally, Manila won," Mr. Tayag noted in an SMS message to BusinessWorld.

The winning dishes were Cebu’s appetizer of Nova Scotia lobster with spicy mango salsa; Manila’s soup of Nova Scotia lobster bisque, lobster salad green pea shooter, lobster foie gras terrine, and mango ravioli, Cebu’s wild card of smoked B.C. sockeye salmon and crab meat; Manila’s main course of slow-roasted Alberta prime rib with pine cone potatoes, maple leaf root vegetables served with Yorkshire pudding and rich au jus; and Manila’s dessert of maple chocolate fondue, chocolate mud pie with maple Saskatoon berries, macaroon almonds, and aum?niere maple berries.

Creativity, appearance and taste were factors, of course, but it was a very close fight, with Mr. Tayag being much impressed with the "flavorful" Manila wild card of B.C. sockeye salmon ravioli in truffled forest mushroom nagé, scented with fumé de sal Chardonnay sauce — which didn’t actually win.

Mr. Stacyszyn, who donated two of his best cooks to the teams, observed the process from start to finish and noted how the chefs worked together. "My judging [includes]... how they got to that creation, because my cooks are going to get some experience today, and hopefully they’re going to bring that back to us, under the ship, and we’ll try some of it," he told BusinessWorld.

The auction of the chefs will be tallied this week, with the top 10 bidders able to select a private dinner for four to be prepared by their chosen executive chef at their respective hotel properties.

Last year, the first cook-off in Cebu garnered P240,000; it’s expected that the final count for this one will be much higher with minimum bids for the auction starting at P15,000 and the added fun value of pitting Cebu vs. Manila.

At the end of the day, the winning team won a trophy (which they’ll be surrendering to the winners of the cook-off challenge next year), and the chefs their citations and goodie bags, but the real winners were the dinner guests who had a gustatory experience anyone would envy.

Of course, one could shell out P1,000 for the cookbook, which will be sold in each hotel and participating bookstore, and try out the recipes for themselves. — JDP

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