Leading regional and international chefs will gather to showcase their culinary repertoires as they compete for top honours at the Emirates Salon Culinaire 2013, which commences today at Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC). The mouth-watering three-day contest organised by the Emirates Culinary Guild — the region’s largest association of professional chefs — has long been a highlight of the Gulfood show.
“I expect this year’s event to be on a par with any other culinary competition in the world,” says Uwe Micheel, President, Emirates Culinary Guild and Director of Kitchens, Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek.
With more than 2,000 chefs from around the globe competing, contenders must serve up their best dishes to impress the panel of 25 international judges who have been mandated by the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS).
Micheel says, “Fifteen years ago we asked international judges to go easy on the candidates and we told the young competitors that a gold medal in Dubai would be equal to maybe just a bronze in Singapore or Germany. Every year the bar was raised a little higher until about seven or eight years ago when the judges started to adhere 100 per cent to WACS rules. Since then, the WACS judges have confirmed that UAE chefs can compete with the rest of the world.”
Once awards were being won on home ground, the chefs decided to go international. “After lots of training and hard work we started sending our chefs to other big culinary events a few years ago. They attended competitions in Singapore, Bali, Beijing, London, Korea, Chile and the Culinary Olympics in Erfurt (Germany), and came back with gold or silver medals for every event. The latest biggest success was in Erfurt, where we had 17 entries and got 16 gold and one silver medal,” Micheel adds.
At Salon Culinaire, professional chefs in 23 classes are tested for their gastronomic and artistic acumen and teams are judged on timing, efficiency and collaboration. Competition categories include the preparation of five-course gourmet meals, baked goods and desserts, confectionery and creating free-standing ice and chocolate carvings.
Chef Raimund Haemmerle, Executive Chef, DWTC, believes that Salon Culinaire brings together top-notch talent and expertise to Dubai and has played a major part in raising the city’s position on the culinary map of the world. “DWTC has participated in Salon Culinaire for about 14 years and we have seen the show grow alongside Gulfood over the years. We have won the award for Best Effort of a Single Establishment five times so far, and in 2012, our team walked away with 44 medals. We’re striving to surpass this achievement this year,” he says.
He adds, “Preparing for Salon Culinaire is a continuous, year-long effort for our team, which includes everything from selection of members to competition training. It is an opportunity for our chefs to work with new recipes and concepts and to improve and develop their skills. It’s definitely challenging to find the extra time to train, but our team is extremely motivated to outdo their performance this year.”
Chef Nitin Mehrotra, main kitchen Chef De Cuisine at Burj Al Arab, says that the competition is an opportunity for chefs to learn new things and how to work under pressure, be creative, and most importantly, have fun cooking. “I do not participate in the competition, but I have the pleasure of coordinating the participation of 22 chefs from Burj Al Arab. In 2012, 21 chefs from our company competed and won a total of 19 medals: nine bronze, seven silver and three gold. We also won the Best Hygiene Award Trophy,” he says.
Chef Rohit Sharma, Senior Chef de Partie at Terra Firma Steakhouse, InterContinental, Dubai Festival City, who won the title of Middle East Young Chef of the Year at Salon Culinaire 2012, agrees. He says, “This competition is a great platform for any chef in the Gulf to perform, as you meet a lot of different talented people here. It’s all about how creative you are and that’s what shows in your presentation.
“I applied for the Young Chef of the Year category in 2012 to challenge myself. I think I did well. In my opinion, all the senior chefs should encourage the junior chefs to participate in such competitions as it increases their confidence and develops their ability to think, imagine and explore,” he adds.
Every year the contest is different, with new ideas, presentations and people, which makes it more interesting, says Georgy Danilov, a junior sous-chef at Grand Millennium Al Wahda Hotel, Abu Dhabi. “For the 2013 competition, I did some research and a lot of practice, combining classic and modern ways of cooking and presentation. I look forward to this competition where I will meet a lot of fellow chefs, suppliers and most importantly have a wonderful experience.”
K.A.C. Prasad, Vice-President, Emirates Culinary Guild East Coast, and Executive Chef, Miramar Al Aqah Beach Resort, says, “This is one of the most prestigious competitions for our profession. It’s as important for us as the Olympics are for a sportsperson. This is our fourth continuous year of participation at Salon Culinaire. So far we have received more than 40 medals including three best trophies. Last year we won nine medals out of which two were gold.”
He explains the effort that goes into preparing for the event every year. “Our preparation starts two to three months in advance. More than preparing, packing needs to be very organised and safe. As most of the showpieces are very sensitive, they need to be transported well or months of hard work can be destroyed. One miscalculated move and you will be out of the game. Every year the participation of different countries continues to increase and it’s great learning for all young people. The pride of winning medals goes beyond the contest alone as it adds value to their resumés, making them stronger.”