The Cayman Islands Culinary Society recently held its annual Culinary Awards of Excellence Competition at The Ritz-Carlton with Bacchus chef Indika Kumara taking award the Chef of the Year award and Bamboo/Beach Suites Renata Kecskes winning Bartender of the Year. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull reports.
A scaled down version of Cayman’s annual culinary awards competition took place at the end of October, with fewer contestants (just one in the ice block carving and just three in the bartending competition) and fewer visitors, perhaps indicative of the current economic climate with cutbacks and scaling down taking place within the hospitality scene. Never-the-less, skill levels were still high and turnout was also high for the culinary competition itself, with judges finding it just as hard to decipher a winner as in any previous competition.
Chefs from across the Cayman Islands are encouraged to participate in this two day event. The first day requires them to produce dishes in a variety of categories: hot soup, cold soup, hot appetiser, cold appetiser, main course, dessert and showpiece. Chefs can enter as many of the categories as they choose but no more than two dishes per category. The chefs then have to present their dishes cold and the judges then undertake the methodical task of inspecting each and every dish, which is presented along with a detailed recipe in each case. The eight winners of this initial competition are then required to take part in a live cook off the following day, when a basket of previously unseen ingredients are presented to them, along with a pantry stocked with ingredients that can be used, should the contestant wish to do so.
If they reach the cook off on day two the eight remaining chefs have just one hour to come up with a menu that comprises of one appetiser and one main course and then a further hour in which to prepare their dishes. It’s a high stress situation in which they compete in groups of four against each other and also against the clock. Upping the stress levels even further is the open location whereby visitors to the event can watch the chefs create their dishes live.
Contestants stood to win one of five top prizes: The most innovative Caribbean recipe; The Best of Show; Spirit of the Competition; The Philip Pratt Memorial Trophy and The Chef of the Year Award. Medals are also awarded for those chefs who attain between 91 and 100 points (gold), 83 – 90 (silver) and 75 – 82 (bronze).
Bartenders compete on day two of the competition and are given 20 minutes to create three drinks for the judges. The first drink should be a rum cocktail, the second a vodka cocktail and the third a non-alcoholic signature cocktail. Only three bartenders took part in this year’s competition.
A live ice carving competition normally takes place however there was just one entrant at this year’s event.
Judges were advised to award between 0 and 10 points for presentation, 0 – 20 points for Caribbean influence; 0 – 15 points for practicality; 0 – 20 points for cooking skills; 0 – 15 points for balance and 0 – 20 points for taste.
Roland Schaeffer and Michael Lodge were two judges at this year’s culinary competition, both of whom are American Culinary Federation (ACF) certified judges; Augusto Schreiner is certified by the Caribbean Culinary Federation (CCF) as is Cayman’s own Keith Griffin, Executive Chef and owner of Bacchus restaurant and the fourth judge in the competition.
Keith says that the overall level of skills at the competition was very high and he was surprised at the turnout, given that the event had been put together at very short notice, in just four weeks.
Keith says: “I had expected fewer entries, but we actually had 45 chefs entering 160 plates for the cold salon.”
All the judges were extremely impressed with the standard on display and the final judging and allocation of medals was quite difficult, Keith says.
“The decisions came down to half points, even in the finals. Credit must also go to the chefs who took part in the live cook off at the event, as these chefs not only endured the mystery basket challenge under the close scrutiny of the judges, but did so in a public forum with spectators that include many of their colleagues and industry professionals. They were therefore under a lot of pressure and each of them deserves to be recognised for their positive attitude and professionalism,” Keith adds.
Augusto Schreiner sys that presentation was a key starting point for the judges: “You eat with your eyes first so presentation needs to have eye appeal.”
Michael Lodge adds that recipes have to display a level of craftsmanship but not lose sight of the importance of easy replication in a busy restaurant: “Dishes have to be practical so that they can easily be reproduced. The key as well is to not handle the food too much. The food produces a better dish the less it is handled.”
All the judges were looking for innovative usage of local ingredients, which was a key theme throughout the competition and all judges say they were impressed by the interesting use of local ingredients, such as local fish and seafood.
Keith notes that once his chef, Indika Kumara, who works at his Bacchus Restaurant qualified for the final eight chef live cook off he immediately withdrew from judging to avoid any conspiracy theories.
Read more on winners of the Chef of the Year and the Bartender of the Year in future Journals.